ECM and Zombies

Image by April McGuire – @octipuff – Used With Permission.

ECMS’ are graveyards and they are a dead end. They may be called digital landfills or “deep archives” or enterprise document management storage systems.  But they are where content goes to die.  Content that is coughed up by these information catacombs is a husk withered by the desiccating lack of context and lurching through presentation memes that were full of life in a previous digital age.  (JOKE: if deep archives are content graveyards what does that make eDiscovery lawyers?)

The goal of information management is to foster re-use, sharing, and to decrease the extreme amount of re-creation of existing (but hidden) content that goes on in organizations.  The idea of businesses saving information its own sake is silly.  Look a bit deeper and there’s always a reason, rationale or ROI lurking nearby.  It might be to manage risk.  It might be to foster accidental collaboration. It’s never “because we like spending money on storage for stuff we’ll never use, never want to use and poses no risk to us if found.”

So what’s the point of ECM?  The big vendors – IBM/Oracle/Microsoft/OpenText/EMC etc keep searching for their purpose.  Right now it’s web engagement.  A couple of years ago it was a one-giant-size-fits-all portal/platform/wcm/collaboration story.  Before that it was WCM, Invoices, Documents.  The story changes.  Analysts help that story change with each new wave, quadrant or expensive report on industry trends they put out.

It’s a tired but true platitude that we are generating more information than ever before.  We’re swimming in it.  Mining it for value and reusability is tough.  We’ve tried our hands at baked in search engines.  We’ve tried integrated search engines.  We’ve created metadata schemas that are inhumanly complex and disposition rule frameworks written by lawyers for lawyers and delivered to us mere mortals (to our horror).  We’ve coined new compliance and reusability standards (SCORM, DoD5015, CFR 2111) and even developed new integration standards (CMIS) because we realized one size doesn’t fit all.  Unfortunately CMIS tries to solve the problem by pulling one too-big platform together with three or four others (gaaaahhhhh!!!!).

So what SHOULD be the point of ECM?  ECMS’ should exhibit, not exhume. ECMS’ need to curate information. They need to tap into social power to do it.  Nothing else (yet) scales.  But they wont.  So it is left to the start ups.

Look at all the start up trends getting funding and getting acquired. There are TONS in the content/info distribution, content branding and content app-ification space.  A quick review of TechCrunch at the time of this writing shows 6 articles on content related startups.  Twitter acquired Summify today. Hmmm, sounds like someone with a lot of content (twitter) acquired a technology that helps raise personal relevancy to the top of the heap (summify). How many ECMS’ make those same claims? (answer – all of them in one way or another).

Others have pointed out that the legacy brands still carry “trust” with the buyer (e.g. the old saying, “you’ll never get fired for hiring IBM”).  But this “trust factor” is aging as fast as the Boomers who control the purse strings. Millennials give trust first then take it away. Legacy trust carries less weight with these new buyers and influencers – especially when it comes with the IBM/ORACLE/MICROSOFT/EMC/OPENTEXT price tag attached.

Your action: adopt a new mindset.  You are the Sommelier.  Seek to exhibit.  Museums have vast areas of storage with amazing collections.  The exhibit curators understand what will be interesting to the public; what will challenge them; what is an old favorite or a needed reminder.  Adopt that mindset and then appreciate your content managers the way you appreciate an amazing gallery.  Empower your content managers, your “corporate librarians” your “archivists” to pulse your community and display, showcase, advertise and foster an ecosystem where the past is not all rot but is rather an inspiration.

About billycripe @billycripe

7 Responses to “ECM and Zombies”

  1. It must be 4:00 PM somewhere, so a toast to you! Good discussion.


  2. I agree 100% that having the right tool for the job ….

    What I am, trying to, rail against is the notion that FileNet, Documentum, Opentext, et al are the “problem”. Companies spent thousands of dollars defining requirements, writing RFPs, going through evaluations and site visits, and then, of their own free will, purchasing the system. Don’t blame the tool you knowingly researched and bought.

    When those tools were originally designed, they were state of the art and did wondrous things compared to what else was available – file shares and C-drives. Also, when they were designed we didn’t have all of the Internet infrastructure and power that we have today that allows companies like Box, Dropbox, Igloo, and Huddle to exist and to allow these applications to connect to other SaaS applications providing even more functionality. As in other blogs I’ve read, I don’t have any hope that the legacy systems will ever be able to rewrite their core code to make them true web applications and so they either will live on only as a legacy system, die a slow death, or reinvent themselves with all new web code and applications. (BTW, beware of “cloud” ready applications from the legacy group – these will be the same old stuff offered as an ASP – old code in a new wrapper)

    But the point is, even if we bury the legacy systems, and blindly adopt the new systems, we have still not diagnosed the actual problem – which is the problem that makes us keep the data even though it should have been legally destroyed years ago, keep sites that are no longer in use (sloppy governance), keep adding new technology on top of old (we keep hoping for ECM Silver Bullet), and the general undervalued/misunderstood complexity of today’s content.

    The real problem is that we don’t understand what problem we are trying to solve, partly because the problem keeps morphing and partly because corporations under fund the resources need to solve the problem. (another whole track to this discussion)

    • I should be more clear with regard to the tools. They are amazing sets of technology! They have an incredible amount of latent capability. If it were physics, they’re full of potential energy – the boulder perched atop a pinnacle. What the *companies* lack is the internal will or wherewithall to tap that potential energy. Look at the startups you mentioned – all of the legacy ECM technology sets have the ability to do collaboration, information sharing, seamless CRM notification (if only via standards compliant integration apis), or even predictive recommendation and push delivery of content. This was one of my biggest frustrations working as Director of E20 Product Management at Oracle – huge opportunity with released software but if it didn’t conform to the existing database delivery model then it was a no-go. To be sure, I understood the *financial and business* reasons for those decisions. However, the lack of vision and understanding of where the market is going has opened up the market for the startups.

  3. It is a poor carpenter who blames his tools………….

    If you look deep enough into this problem, you will find that it is a fleshware problem, not a technology problem. ECM systems actually do what they are supposed to do, but it is people who don’t know how to manage them, use them, and spend enough money to make them work properly. It is like someone who buys a big truck but forgets to measure his garage door and then doesn’t have enough money to fix the garage. And then blames the truck and car dealer who sold him the truck.

    Start ups are not the answer and will, in fact, exacerbate the problems because there will be even less control by corporate – unless of course someone wakes up, but I’m not counting on that.

    • thanks for the comment BudPR.
      Still, having the right tool for the job makes the job a TON easier and improves the quality of the output.
      Quick analogy – I have a small screwdriver in a leatherman I keep in the kitchen. One day I needed to tighten a screw in the kitchen. The leatherman had a TON of tools packed into it including said screwdriver. I tried using it and while it kind-of worked, it was too short and stubby to really tighten down the screw I needed. What I had to do was put away my tool platform (leatherman) and go into my garage, into my toolbox and pick up a simple, old school screwdriver. It was purpose built for something completely different than the leatherman. It worked much better, and with substantially less heartache.

      So the leatherman, with all of its latent capability, remains in the kitchen drawer and pulled out only when I need a quick pliers. This then means that the knives, bottle openers, cork screws and fish-scalers become a tool-graveyard. In a disaster scenario I’ll be really happy to have that leatherman. But then, that’s its purpose.

      The startups are the purpose-built tools. You need more of them to fill your tool box but they work so much better than any fold out leatherman tool. THAT is the world in which we live. Yet the platform and legacy ECMs are still talking about how the screwdriver in their leatherman is just as good as that one you have in your toolbox. Simply not true.


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