Evolution in CM – Cloud CM is Agile’s Disruption of Dinosaur Enterprise Content Management

Dont You Want Spiney Plates TooThis article originally appeared on CMSWire.  There is an evolution happening in the world of content management.  The giant platform systems that have worked to consolidate every functional permutation into one program are simply too big.  They have so much computational flexibility and capability that they have become unwieldy.  After all, massive flexibility is not the goal.  Machine code and a compiler are the most flexible options open to computer users.  But nobody in their right mind wants to build a business solution that way.   The result is legacy ECM dinosaurs offer the convenience of a “buy” solution but force customers into a build situation.  It is the worst kind of bait and switch.  Waves of startups and cloud ECM firms are taking advantage of dissatisfaction and disrupting the dinosaurs.

Evolutionary Disruption

One indicator of disruption in a market is that legacy vendors in that space start fighting over the smaller pool of the high-end market. This is because the high-end market is the only place left where they can compete.  The mid-sized and low end markets are overtaken by more relevant, agile and less expensive (aka “elegant”) alternatives.  Meanwhile the legacy vendors scoff at the startups and their lack of “enterprisey blah-bitty-blah functionality”.

It is the same as dinosaurs snickering at those hairy mammals for how very small and un-dinosaur-like they are.  So the dinosaurs fight with each other over who gets invited to dinner.  Incentives and swaps are offered in an effort to jockey for a better seat at the table.  Meanwhile the start-up mammals are exploding in population.  They’re smaller, agile, easier to deal with and have almost no bloat.  The Stegosaurus of legacy ECM decries the mammals’ lack of truly impressive spine plates.  And it is true. The mammals lack some features and functionality that the dinosaurs have perfected.  But the world is changing.  There is very little need for spiny ridges anymore.

Different Needs

Cloud content management is one of several specials of small furry animal that are happily eating the dinosaur’s lunch.  They have thrown away the starting assumptions of the dinosaurs and focused on a particular need. That content can be successfully and sufficiently managed in the cloud is just one assumption they’ve adopted.  That businesses value convenience over complexity completeness is another.

Agile Sprint Board
Agile Sprint Board. Image Cite: Creative Commons Attribution: Some rights reserved by Plutor, Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/plutor/5260265039/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Consider another evolution in business: Agile project/product management.  This methodology values atomic tasks, minimum viable products, continuous iteration and explicit tracking.  Everything is modular, measurable and minimal.  You do only what is needed to solve the current problem (aka “story”) and let the rest stay in a backlog until it is pulled forward by an explicit need.  This approach to solving problems places an emphasis on the minimum rules, tools and technology that are needed and deemphasizes the extras.  As a result, you will see agile boards in highly productive offices that are full of very low tech – post-it Notes and 3×5 cards and push-pins.  It is low tech sure, but high tech is not needed to achieve the goal. Adding it only increases friction with users, the time it takes to perform a task and management overhead.

This same Agile paradigm is driving the ascendancy of ECM cloud solutions.  Lower the friction with users.  Focus on solving one problem (e.g. sharing documents with colleagues).  Don’t invert the relationship between business goals and the systems that support them.  As soon as managing a content system becomes a business goal something is wrong.  Managing content is not the goal of most businesses.  It is a way to do business more efficiently.  As such it is a support system; an important one to be sure.  The legacy dinosaurs would do well to recognize that customers are wising up to what they actually need.  Their risk of being caught without some piece of key functionality is being addressed by a market full of fill-in-the-gaps apps and integrations.  The cloud content management systems are a next step in the evolution of information management.  The dinosaurs will linger.  Some are even trying out the cloud themselves.  Some are making their own clouds.  But without a change in mindset that better matches the customer’s thinking, their chances of making it is slim. Their food supply is running out.  The mammals will watch as they fight each other for the last scraps.

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