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Second wave ECM

September 9, 2010

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you know that selling ECM to the business is a recurring theme here. In my day-to-day work with clients, this is hands down the most important challenge I have to help them face–otherwise, all the strategy and planning in the world gets you nowhere.

During a trip with James Watson recently, we were having a conversation about this very topic that took a decidedly philosophical turn. Many of you may know James (or may have at least have run across him in your ECM travels) because he’s been in the business for about 25 years now–this is a guy who has seen and done it all in terms of ECM technology and strategy.

So when we started talking about THE FUTURE…OF ECM (em em em em em), I was excited to find out what his thoughts were on the changes going on in the industry.

First wave ECM

James talked a lot about what we might call first wave ECM, i.e., enabling paperless, straight through processing of high-volume transactions. Think insurance claims, bank account openings, or credit card payment processing.

The business activities that fall in this domain are repeatable, measurable, and have a direct impact to either revenue or cost savings (or both). They also tend to be highly visible to executive leadership because they’re all concerned with handling customers or their money, both things near and dear to executives’ hearts. And on top of all this, the industries that had the most need for optimizing transactions with ECM technologies during the first wave tended to be very regulation-, compliance-, and litigation-heavy.

Honestly, with all this on ECM’s side during wave one, you’d would’ve had to do something very wrong to sour the business on supporting ECM technology. And this had nothing whatsoever t0 do with ECM technology in and of itself, but rather with (1) the criticality of the business problems it was able to solve and (2) the transparency of its solutions to the end-user. More claims processed per hour, fewer claims processing errors, lower cost to process each claim (and maybe all three at the same time): who wouldn’t want to achieve that?

Second wave ECM

One of the big changes in the wider world of ECM James and I talked about, however, is that, more often than not, Fortune 2000 companies in banking, insurance, and financial services have already finished putting ECM in place to enable paperless, straight-through processing of their business-critical high-volume transactions. So in order to keep ECM relevant in these organizations, you need to move beyond first wave benefits to find what else ECM can do for the enterprise, i.e., second wave ECM.

This is where the conversation got really interesting for me, because I’ve been eagerly following all the ruminations over the last year or so about what the future holds for ECM, from case management and e-discovery to social media, collaboration, and E2.0.

And as important as all these areas are to ECM, I’ve been running more and more into another area related to the ECM value proposition at my clients over the last 6-8 months: customer communications management (CCM).

Customer communications management

When you get into the nitty gritty details, CCM can mean different things to different people, but in its broad outlines, CCM refers to the way an organization plans, creates, distributes, and tracks its communications with customers across all channels (print, phone, web, email, text, apps).

You’ll notice right off the bat that CCM, unlike paperless transaction processing, touches many more areas of the business; or to put it another way, it is an end-to-end value chain activity rather than a component of a larger value chain. Marketing, sales, customer service, IT, print shop, mail room, corp comm, web team–all these folks (and sometimes more) are involved at one point or another in the process of managing an organization’s communication with its customers.

One result of the cross-functional nature of CCM is that it often has no single owner at the organization…and so can be difficult to address in a coordinated, enterprise way. This is not normally the case with functions like claims processing, which tend to have a single, visible owner.

This federated ownership makes it more likely that the problems and solutions associated with CCM at an organization will have different owners and that few (if any) incentives will be in place to encourage folks to address them. This is one reason why CCM was not part of wave one ECM: it’s just plain harder to tackle a whole value chain than a component of a chain.

The flip side of this federation (and the good news for ECM practitioners) is that the potential ROI for CCM is much higher than for enabling transaction processing. From print/mail costs and process efficiency, to more effective marketing campaigns, improved customer retention, and increased revenue, CCM offers the promise of tremendous (and tangible) benefits to an organization.

The final word

I think I’ve said enough about what CCM is and why it’s going to grow in importance for ECM practitioners. In the next post, however, I’d like to illustrate how the CCM value chain is manifested at the typical organization…and how ECM capabilities enable CCM throughout its lifecycle.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from folks out there: Agree/disagree with my take on ECM waves? Have a better candidate for second wave ECM? Think CCM is just another flash in the pan? Whatever your take, jump in and let’s get the conversation started…

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2010 8:54 am

    I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

  2. September 9, 2010 1:02 pm

    As always, Joe, good stuff. I would just say that while I agree with you (and Forrester just published research on this exact topic by Craig Le Clair, which is very good and reinforces your argument), I’ll also say that this is a back to the future emphasis.

    I might be mistaken, but ISIS Papyrus has been focusing on this for a while (well, I vaguely recall reading a white paper years ago 🙂 )

    I also ran articles on this now and then — in 2004 one of my favorite mag covers had a Milkman/stork delivery theme. In march/april 2002, I ran an article “The value of personalization in customer management.” In it, Pat Turocy, then with Doculabs, was quoted a number of times.

    I think you hit on a key thing though — it’s harder to do because it involves an enterprise strategy, but CCM has a couple of things going for it (I think):
    1. the companies for which it is really useful are also those who’ve surfed that first wave — insurance, banking, etc. and are well-positioned to move forward because they do already understand how valuable this can be.
    2. As folks continue to struggle with/figure out social media and the marketing side of it, that’s going to point to a need to figure out how to bring a customer communication strategy under a single roof. Which will/should/might/maybe/good lead to an expansion of ECM.


    • September 9, 2010 2:17 pm


      First thanks for the thoughtful comment–always appreciate a good conversation here…

      Second, CCM is definitely a back to future emphasis: all the way back to the days of doc comp and trans promo (terms you don’t hear too much these days), using technology to better structure and manage communicating with customers has been a big deal, and even the early days of structured authoring and publishing using SGML were a link in this same chain.

      What I think has changed this time around, though, is the ability to more easily output to multiple delivery channels and then gather/manage the results of that delivery…this is huge from a marketing, customer service, etc. angle, and gives CCM the ROI legs that earlier manifestations of communication management didn’t have.

      And I totally agree that CCM and SM will come together in the near future to create larger impact for organizations as well as a solid footing for ECM.



    • September 9, 2010 2:24 pm

      BTW: Pat’s still with Doculabs and we work together frequently…I’ll let her know she got some good press from you! 🙂

  3. September 9, 2010 1:58 pm

    Joe, great article, but this isn’t what I would call revolutionary or large change. CCM is great and is tightly linked to the Case Management craze taking place out there. If each interaction is modeled as a Case, it carries forward.

    However, this is just a new business problem that the technology is now getting to the point of making readily solvable. Content Management doesn’t have to change too much. The concepts and tech, as Bryant points out, have been around for a while. The customized communication aspect is the part that lags the most, and it has been around for a while, just not easy to use or implement with the larger systems.

    I view this of the next wave of solutions for the existing Content Management platforms and tech that is out there now. It is definitely not generational and I don’t see it as transformative in the Content Management space. It will help sell licenses and keep us employed, which isn’t a bad thing.

    Pretty sure you saw it, but my latest thoughts on the future of ECM are here:


    • September 9, 2010 2:22 pm


      I agree that the business problem CCM addresses isn’t new–it’s an oldy but goody that’s been around as long as we’ve had customers–but that the technology has had to make some serious improvements to allow businesses to effectively address it.

      As for CCM being transformational, not sure I think it will be either…but I definitely think it’s going to be a huge driver for organizations to evolve their existing ECM programs or to embark on ECM in the first place.

      Thanks as always for the conversation…



  4. September 9, 2010 2:34 pm

    Laurence, Hadn’t thought of the case management angle. To my non-IT mind, that makes some since. Would it work in practice though?

    Joe, I don’t and never have tracked the output side of the industry. I always pseudo-joked that Document and eContent both did that better than I ever could. What’s changed on the output side that makes managing multiple customer communications easier — XML or something else?

    Also, I’m going to ask a rambling question. As you and Laurence pointed out, potential ROI for this is pretty big, but, egads is it dull. Did a topic/potential use case like this need the sexy sauce of social CRM/e20 poured over it to make it palatable or is it just that the technology is getting to the point of being able to do what folks want it to do? Or that the different pieces of tech that need to work together have become more plug and play (SOA, cloud and all that jazz)?

    I was thinking of Lynn, not Pat. I knew Pat had flown the Dlabs coup and then returned 🙂

    • September 9, 2010 3:10 pm

      Ah Lynn…before my time at Doculabs, but we’ve met a few times around the way.

      As for the output side of things, XML (or rather the broader adoption of it as a standard by applications) has definitely helped accelerate things.

      And as for somewhat ho-hum nature of CCM ROI, I think you’ve hit it when you say that the technology is now getting to the point of being able to do what folks have always been wanting it to do, but more easily, more plug and play, more drag and drop, more WYSIWYG, more user friendly-ly, and so on, than it has in the past. And the addition of SM/collaboration to the mix won’t hurt, as just about every executive I talk to these days would mention this as in the top 10 work-related things that keep them up at night.


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