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I’ve got those ECM blues

August 11, 2010
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I was talking with an old friend recently and lamenting the fact that ECM never seems to get the push from organizations that big-ticket initiatives like ERP do. And this despite the fact that organizations have only three things they manage: human assets, physical assets, and information assets. So you would think that ECM, as the domain concerned with one-third of what all organizations do, would be well-funded at any successful organization.

Although we didn’t solve the ECM problem that night, we did come up with some reasons why ECM typically gets such low traction at organizations.

  • 95% of executives don’t “get” ECM–it’s nebulous to most leaders. What is this content ECM manages? How is it different from the information in our transactional systems and databases? If we already manage information with our data warehouse, CRM, and ERP systems, what will ECM give us that we don’t already have?
  • Unstructured data is perceived as lower value/less business critical than structured data. Executives struggle to understand why Office documents on shared drives need an enterprise strategy. Compared to information that’s more obviously business critical (like claims data, corporate financial records, or customer transactions), the relevance and value of these PowerPoint presentations, Word docs, who-knows-what-else that lurks on shared drives, C drives, and email attachments is harder to see.
  • ECM champions typically come from back-office functions like IT, records management, legal, or compliance. These folks tend to be less able to articulate the business value of ECM because most of the work they do gets done whether or not is has an ROI attached to it–and in some cases, is done for reasons other than ROI, like risk mitigation or legal mandate.

Given all these challenges, and given the struggles I see organizations facing every day to get ECM funded, I found myself wondering whether ECM will ever evolve beyond this point and get the recognition (and dollars) other enterprise disciplines do. What do we need to do as practitioners to speed this evolution? What different (and complementary) roles do consultants, vendors, and clients need to play to get ECM to the next level? Or is ECM simply too big a ship on too fixed a course for any of us to steer effectively?

Anyway, no answers here–hence the blog title–but would love to hear from folks out there struggling with these same issues: any fresh ideas? Insights? Encouragement? Jump in and get the conversation started…

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2010 6:02 am

    Joe – good blog post. I wish I had the answer to the question, but I find some of the same issues that you have mentioned. The initial push to embrace ECM technologies and the associated practices is the hard selling job in my opinion. In my previous job as the person responsible for ECM technologies, I found it much easier to continue to get funding for ECM initiatives if I had the users or internal champions tell the story of how having ECM has helped in this area or saved time in this area. Particularly stories about how much time it saved because some previous content was readily found to help with a current issue. As a consultant, when I help companies in that initial sell for ECM I usually don’t have the access to those people that can tell those stories to help create the business case. I have to rely on my sponsor to relate those stories to me. Depending on who invited us in (Legal, RM or IT), their perspective on those stories is different and it may not help the cause for moving forward with ECM. It seems like real life stories is the best avenue for me. I hope others will chime in and help describe the answer.

    • August 11, 2010 8:04 am

      It is a tough sell. ECM isn’t my area specifically, but I’ve spent a lot of time extracting essential data from unstructured sources, building software to pull data from those sources, and lobbying for folks to realize the value of the vast chunks of corporate data that aren’t sitting in a database, especially for business intelligence. That data always seems to be the neglected redheaded stepchild. Compliance issues, and all kinds of corporate problems caused by NOT knowing what’s in that data hasn’t made the impression. If you figure out a way to consistently show the importance of it to companies, I sure hope you decide to share.

      Paige

      • August 11, 2010 1:01 pm

        Paige,

        Funny that you mention the term “redheaded stepchild”: I was toying with the idea of using that in the title of the post but couldn’t come up with anything catchy!

        One of my mentors, David DeLuna, often talks about “making unstructured data structured” as one of the key opportunities for ECM going forward…sounds like something you’re actively engaged in right now.

        Thanks for the insightful comment and the RTs–appreciate it.

        Cheers,

        Joe

    • August 11, 2010 6:16 pm

      Douglas,

      I agree about the real life stories…and with how difficult it can be to find the right real life stories to sell ECM. Much of my time building an ECM strategy with a client actually involves trying to get visibility and awareness with (1) the right folks at (2) the right level at the org. Sometimes this takes up as much as 60% of my time, but it’s worth it, because if the strategy isn’t supported going forward, you’ve built a strategy to nowhere (and ultimately failed).

      Thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to comment…

      Cheers,

      Joe

  2. Lee Smith permalink
    August 11, 2010 10:09 am

    Good post Joe. I think though we are starting to see the answers emerging with the focus on Case Management from vendors such as IBM and EMC. Deploying an ECM solution as part of a vertical proposition is much easier for the business to understand and accept. Getting the base platform deployed through this and then exploiting it is how I see ECM being sold in the next few years. Unless of course we see a more rapid move to ECM as an Infrastructure and Cloud service.

    • August 11, 2010 3:41 pm

      Lee,

      I think you’re right about the importance of case management to the evolution of content management. Lee Dallas had a good post on this recently (http://bit.ly/bSVKPJ) as did Pie (http://bit.ly/crCrvg), and almost every conversation I have with ECM practitioners eventually comes around to it.

      I also completely agree with your point about “vertical propositions”: going vertical rather than horizontal (both in terms of business processes and industries) is critical to getting ECM “right” at any given organization.

      Thanks for joining the conversation with your insightful comments!

      Cheers,

      Joe

  3. August 11, 2010 2:59 pm

    Making unstructured data structured is exactly what I’ve been doing for more than ten years. I used to be the engineer on this chunk of the Pervasive integration product stack: http://www.pervasiveintegration.com/data_connectors/Pages/unstructured_data_integration.aspx

    I was actually serious when I said that unstructured data was my passion. They called me the Cambio Queen back when the Extract Schema Designer was called Cambio and sold as a separate product. Extract Schema Designer Queen doesn’t really have the same ring to it. Nowadays, I’m more of a data integration generalist, but I still have a soft spot for pattern recognition and turning big blobs of mess into neat little labelled, queryable rows and columns.

    ECM is more of a “making unstructured data useful, organized, and accessible” kind of philosophy, so it’s not quite my favorite niche. But, making the data structured is really just one strategy for the same goal. And either way, it always seems to be tough to get folks to realize the value they’re missing out on with no strategy at all to access that data.

    Paige

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