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Jack of all trades

August 23, 2010

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, writing, and consulting lately about the use of social media tools and techniques in a business context. And there’s a lot out there on the subject, from work on the nuts and bolts of the technologies available, to their wider business implications, to existential considerations of whether social media as a category identifies something new or simply refers to things that we’ve been doing for years now under other names.

Although my interest amid all this writing is primarily in the business value of the use of social media tools and techniques for businesses, I don’t want to address that here. Rather, I want to speak to something more provocative that’s been nagging at me lately: isn’t social media, collaboration, E2.0, social business software–or whatever you choose to call it–just really content management under another name?

That is, whether you’re using a shared drive and email or the latest and greatest niche application for collaboration and community building, at the end of the day, you’re creating and sharing content…precisely what traditional enterprise content management (ECM) is all about. And if we follow this line of thinking, isn’t just about everything an organization does really just ECM under another name?

BPM? What do all those workflows and queues move thorough the organization? Content (about claims, account openings, customer service requests, etc.).

ERP? What do these big hairy enterprise suites help organizations manage better? Content (about AP, AR, GL, payroll, expenses, procurement, etc.)

CRM? What exactly are relationships made up of in these tools? Content (contact info, sales notes, service history, contracts, etc.)

You get the idea.

And while I’ll admit that I’m being a bit of a smart alec with all this, there’s an observation about ECM at the heart of all this that I think is important: if ECM can be all things to all people, if it doesn’t have an obvious sweet spot like CRM or ERP, won’t it be difficult for business users (especially executives) to get a handle on what ECM is and what it can do for them, where it fits in their organization’s portfolio, and how/why they should fund it?

If this is true, it indicates a possible way forward to make ECM more accessible (and therefore fund-able) at organizations: precisely delineate the scope of what ECM is and what ECM does so that folks know where it goes in their mental picture of the organization. Then maybe, just maybe, it won’t be quite so difficult to get people on board with ECM…

Or maybe it will. But I’d love to hear what folks think about all this–let’s get the conversation started.

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