What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

…And what’s behind the move to content services.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has been a major part of corporate technology architecture for over a decade. Traditionally, it’s been a set of processes, strategies, and tools that allow an enterprise to capture, manage, store, and preserve content throughout the organization. But enterprise needs, and Electronic Content Management solutions, have changed radically. In today’s world, information sharing and collaboration with colleagues, customers, suppliers, and other trading partners is essential part of business. To meet the demands of global enterprises with far-flung, digital workforces, ECM has morphed into content services—but what does this mean?

The answer begins by recognizing that the concept behind ECM software is a very good one. The content created within an organization is its most valuable asset and needs to be managed throughout its lifecycle so it can be effectively accessed and used. The best ECM tools were developed with this in mind. Success, however, isn’t always about what you do, but how you do it. The traditional approach to ECM necessitated organizations making large investments in enterprise-wide content platforms that were often unwieldy and complex. In many cases, that resulted in slow adoption by end-users and sophisticated features that were under-used.

New generations of digital-native knowledge workers want to be able to access and use content when and where it’s appropriate to their task. They want content in a format that’s easy to work with and available immediately within their application of choice. Content needs to be the fuel that drives business process, not just a corporate asset to be controlled and protected. Content services provide a new approach to Enterprise Content Management where ECM functionality is extended into the lead applications—in the form of micro-services—that people use every day, while a Content Service Platform sits in the background to ensure the same level of control, security, and compliance that has long been a hallmark of ECM solutions.

To understand why this dual approach to content services is necessary, it’s useful to look back at the development of ECM.

A brief history of ECM

Growing out of the Document Management systems of the 1990s, Electronic Content Management was designed to bring an enterprise layer to the automation of core back-end, document-focused processes. It endeavored to create a repository—a single source of truth—where content could be stored, managed, searched, and retrieved. It provided new levels of information control and governance that hadn’t been possible previously. These ECM solutions were incredibly powerful in document and records management. As more and more content—in both structured and unstructured formats—was created, the best ECM software ensured it was all searchable and accessible for users, auditors, and compliance.

So why, with so many important business functions, have many ECM implementations remained under-utilized? There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is that the focus of ECM solutions was originally on the technology rather than the business process and the people using it. Organizations were more interested in getting control of their content than what their people were doing with it.

This led to systems that were excellent at capturing, storing, and managing content but could be difficult to use and labor-intensive for the end-user—often asking them to change their work processes to accommodate the ECM system. The result was that users often resisted the move to ECM and continued to work as they had before. They persisted in saving their content to hard drives and file shares, only passing content to the ECM software when their task was completed. The ECM system became primarily a system of record—great for control and governance of official business records—while isolated silos of information spread throughout the organization as people created new content in the different systems they preferred to use.

It became clear that ECM software forced the user to come to the content and, to be effective, ECM needed to bring the content to them.

Why ECM has changed?

Digital transformation has become a key strategy for every organization; the ability to make the most of the data and information they control is a cornerstone to success. In the context of ECM solutions, this means moving the focus from managing content to using content to support process productivity—through the effective capture, delivery, and integration of content—and personal productivity—with simple, intuitive tools for information access and sharing. In this scenario, the information control and governance features of ECM move to the background, underpinning how content is delivered and presented within the lead applications.

Changes in Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

Modern business is no longer an internal exercise. It involves increasing integration, collaboration, and connections with customers, suppliers, and other trading partners. This means that all organizations must be able to deal with content in a wide variety of structured and unstructured forms from a wide variety of sources, through a wide variety of channels. The idea of a single enterprise repository for your content now seems very outdated.

In addition, digital transformation has been driven by a range of disruptive technologies that all impact on how an organization works with its content. In fact, it was this emergence of digital business needs that led Gartner to re-assess the Electronic Content Management space in 2016:

“Cloud, social collaboration, mobile and analytics technologies have transformed demands and expectations for content in digital business. The variety and volume of content continue to grow. So does its importance: increasingly, IT and business leaders use content to complement or even drive digital business processes.”

According to Gartner, the term ‘Enterprise Content Management’ no longer fits the dynamics of the market and should be replaced by ‘Content Services’ driven by a Content Services Platform’.

From ECM to Content Services

The move to content services defines a new way of connecting content to your digital business. It delivers tools, techniques, and strategies to empower end-users by making it much easier to work with, share, and collaborate on content. It lets them have access to the right content within the applications that they are most comfortable with. At the same time, it builds on control and governance functionalities to enable secure information sharing and collaboration across the enterprise and with external partners.

Move from ECM to Content Services

AIIM suggests some of the capabilities of content services within its excellent ebook ‘Revolution or Evolution? 10 strategies to navigate the shift from ECM to Content Services’:

  • Cloud First
    Content applications quickly deployed, elastic, available from anywhere, with constant updates. These integrate seamlessly with on-premise systems to provide hybrid content services.
  • Intelligent Capture
    The ability to standardize disparate input streams and connect or embed them directly with core business processes.
  • Consumer-Grade User Experiences
    Drive adoption with simple, clean user interfaces, self-signup and simple administration with instant subscription provisioning. Simple and transparent consumer-grade knowledge worker tools designed for mobile workers.
  • Repository Agnostic
    The ability to work independently, or with existing repositories, to eliminate migrations and leverage existing ECM investments—including the capability to connect with repositories inside and outside the organization.
  • Integrated Collaboration Tools
    The ability to incorporate knowledge worker tools into the overall content strategy.
  • Automated Governance
    Take as much of the human element as possible out of governance by applying semantic and auto-classification technologies.
  • Open Content Services
    The ability to easily link low-code and no-code process-specific applications and platforms to content assets—both SaaS and on-premise options.
  • Auto-Classification and Analytics
    The ability to infer metadata where it doesn’t exist and use that data to provide the context for unstructured content. This leads to less searching, less manual work, and less manual classification.

All this helps create decentralized, purpose-built, lightweight applications that organizations find much easier and effective to implement and use.

The need for a Content Services Platform

Organizations still need the core functionality that ECM software has always provided. This isn’t about a ‘rip and replace’ strategy, but building new content services upon the foundations that most organizations have established with their ECM solutions—creating a Content Services Platform.

Gartner describes a Content Services Platform as “a set of services and microservices, embodied either as an integrated product suite or as separate applications that share common APIs and repositories, to exploit diverse content types and to serve multiple constituencies and numerous use cases across an organization”

Where ECM was once about establishing strict control over the user of content, a Content Services Platform’s primary role is to provide users with the content they need, in the format they want, at the time and on the device that they want. It allows for flexible deployment on-premise, hosted, or SaaS. It involves advanced analytics to drive insight and action based on all the data within your content.

Why choose OpenText for your Content Services Platform?

OpenText has been a leader in ECM for over a decade—delivering the best on-premises and cloud-based ECM solutions—and is the first organization to fully embrace the transition from ECM software to Content Services.

This is reflected in recent analyst reports:

Forrester reported: “OpenText continues to execute on its strategy to embed content and process services into core business systems, including Salesforce, SAP, and other cloud and on-premise enterprise applications. Its application data archiving, BPM, life-cycle management, and foundational content services all support this extended ECM market position.”

In our next blog we’ll look in more depth at the Content Services Platform and the benefits it brings to digital business.

Alison Clarke

I'm the Product Marketing lead for OpenText ECM products such as Content Suite Platform and Content Server. I'm passionate about helping customers find new ways to distill value from information, making end-users and teams more productive with ECM-enabled solutions.

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