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All ECM is the same these days – so throw a dart already and get on with it

April 10, 2013

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been feeling especially cantankerous these days when I sit down to write. It all started with my “SharePoint can’t do records management” series, and I hoped I would cheer up once that was done, but I haven’t.

So, with my heightened cantankerousness in mind, I want to explore something that’s been on my mind for a while now and also see what folks think about it (because you all know how much I love a good heckle-fest).

Basically, I feel like the few viable enterprise content management (ECM) platforms out there (IBM P8/FileNet, EMC Documentum, and OpenText EIM) are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable, i.e., you could throw a dart to choose one and be as successful as if you did a full, due diligence RFP.

klugman stainThere is no 100% solution

Let’s face it, the answer to “what ECM  system should I use?” is (almost) never black and white. In 99% of the cases, the answer is, “You could use any one of the three market leaders and meet 70% of your needs”–but each will meet a different 70%, and you’ll need to decide what 30% you can live without.

And what’s more, for core ECM, you really could just throw a dart and be successful with any of the three, provided you tackled the people/process aspects (policies and procedures, governance, information architecture, etc.) successfully. If you don’t tackle these things, it likely won’t matter which solution you pick: you’ll almost certainly fail.

Can I really throw a dart?


Why not?

Because despite the high-level overlap between the ECM platforms offered by OpenText, IBM, and EMC, there are some important, more granular distinctions and contextual differences that make one solution a clear winner over others in certain situations. For example:

  • The incumbent is always the presumed first choice – in order to justify the switching costs involved in rip and replace scenarios, there better be some huge problem with the current platform or vendor, and “huge” does not mean “we find the UI kludgy” or “adoption has been low”, it usually means something like “we have no clear upgrade path from version X to version X+1, so it’s the equivalent of a new install”, and so on
  • Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance will tend towards IBM
  • Heavy Industry (mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, construction) will tend towards OpenText
  • SAP shops will tend towards OpenText
  • If you need SharePoint integration, OpenText is the only one with proven success
  • Pharmas will lean heavily towards Documentum

Some generalizations

Over and above these situations, we can make some generalizations about each platform to help drive a decision:

  • OpenText will be amazing…if you survive the first 18 months – built from a wide range of acquired products on different code bases, with a technical complexity that approaches an ERP platform, and offering the FULL STACK of ECM capabilities, you will have everything you need to succeed with OpenText…if you can manage to successfully deploy it and don’t collapse under its weight.
  • Documentum has been a market leader for years, but is struggling of late to find its way – five years ago, they were consistently a top contender; today, they have to fight hard and swim upstream to hold onto their market share. Some of that has to do with misses on the sales/account management side of the house, but a good deal of it has to do with missteps on the product development side. The product development teams have done a tremendous job of late to articulate a compelling vision, but the jury’s still out on whether EMC will manage to execute on it and deliver the goods in time to remain relevant.
  • IBM is the middle of the road, solid choice – no one gets fired for hiring IBM, or so the saying goes. They are also pushing the envelope with information life cycle governance and advanced case management solutions–giving them an edge in organizations where these are key use cases.

The final word

I could go on, but this captures the main outlines of the differences (and similarities) between the Big Three ECM vendors. Jump in and let us all know what you think of my take on the ECM vendor space–let’s get the conversation started!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Graham Sibley permalink
    April 10, 2013 11:04 pm

    Joe, you’re calling it like it is and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. I spend every day fighting the same fight, but with one difference. Collabware is attempting to solve the problem with SharePoint, and more importantly the problem with Records Management, which is ultimately end user adoption (or lack there-of), and I think we have proven that success can be achieved.

    • April 11, 2013 10:29 am


      Thanks for joining the conversation and for your kind words. I think what Collabware (and others in the SharePoint partner ecosystem) are doing is going to ultimately be very valuable for the marketplace as a whole. SharePoint is nearly everywhere, but organizatons struggle to get good value from it for a range of reasons (functionality gaps, lack of planning and governance, not part of overall vision for enterprise information management, etc.). Given Microsoft’s long development cycles, partners hold out the most promise for closing some of the gaps and accelerating value for SharePoint shops…so keep up the good work!



  2. April 11, 2013 8:15 am

    Nice work, Joe.

    It’s funny how you, and many others, have been leaving Oracle (my former employer) out of the conversation when speaking of credible ECM vendors.

    • April 11, 2013 10:07 am


      Thanks, as always, for jumping in and for the support–I appreciate it.

      Oracle has really struggled to find their sweet spot in ECM for folks who aren’t Oracle ERP customers or legacy ECM clients who got sucked up into the mothership as part of acquisitions. Some of this may be due to the products they bet on for building their ECM platform, or to difficulties managing the acquisition, or to the fact that ECM is very different from ERP (doing, selling, supporting, profiting from it, etc.) and ERP (and the hardware it runs on) is where the money is for Oracle (or some combination of all three).

      Despite all this, I think you can be successful with Oracle for ECM (and folks are), but they haven’t gotten the same marekt penetration and traction as the big three.



      • April 11, 2013 1:20 pm

        I think Oracle lost their way a couple years back (yeah, I was there then) when they got all mesmerized by social, collab, mobile, etc. At the time the core UCM/URM stuff was actually pretty solid, regardless if you were an Oracle ERP shop or not.

    • April 11, 2013 11:35 am

      I leave out one other significant ECM player here: Hyland OnBase. They are a historically mid-tier vendor that’s making a good run in the last few years at bigger clients and opportunities.

      And whay they may lack in enterprise footprint in the marketplace or deep experience with records management, they make up for with a singular focus on customer saitsfaction that’s more like a boutique consulting firm (*warning: this is a shameless plug for my own industry*) than a software vendor: you have to look really hard to find a single customer who will say anything bad about them (even if a deployment didn’t go well); for years, clients got Chris Hyland’s cell number to call if they needed anything; CSRs train for 18 months before they get on the phone with their first customer; they bring, like, two (two!) people to an RFP final presenetation and will actually quote a price range in that presentation if you ask them how much OnBase costs–it’s just a whole different approach to software sales and service that is frankly a breath of fresh air.

      But because of their size and relatively new entry into the world of large scale ECM (i.e., Fortune 500, global organizations), for my money they’re not quite yet at the level of “just throw a dart”…although they are a great fit in lots of situations for many different organizations and will be right up there with these three in the near future if they keep on the right track.

      • April 11, 2013 1:22 pm

        I’ve obviously heard the Hyland name, but I’ve never really looked into them. I’ll have to address that sooner rather than later.

        And there is no shame in plugging one’s industry and/or firm.

  3. April 11, 2013 10:50 am

    Multiple points. First, kudos on the 70% and what 30% can you live without. It’s a very apt statement. Second, remember where each of the big three platforms came from and their core competencies. That is (and, yes, I’m a 21 years running FileNet guy, but my partner’s been doing Documentum for just as long), FileNet P8’s strength is content-activated workflow. Documentum does true document management – check-in, check-out, versioning, etc. – really well. OpenText’s core is still LiveLink and that’s really good for collaboration.

    Third point, go with what you know. It’s not as hard and fast as, say, operating systems or programming languages, but again it goes back to “what do you know?” If you’re a Microsoft shop and have a lot of SharePoint activity going on, OpenText is a good solution (just one example).

    Fourth, that “rip and replace” scenario. It’s almost invariably licensing costs. I’ve seen Fortune 100’s toss Documentum for FileNet, FileNet for OCS, etc.

    Last, and again, it really is about execution and perseverance as with the last time I weighed in.

    Cheers, Pat

    • April 11, 2013 11:15 am


      As usual, great comment!

      You’re spot on about where each platform came from and how that can drive much of the 70/30 for a client, but the industries they’ve historically had success with are important as well (think about Documentum’s staying power in the pharma market through good times and bad).

      And the “go with what you know” is also an important point, which I would expand to include, “what you can find folks to do”. I have Oil and Gas clients in Houston on FileNet, for example, who struggle to find development resources–something my east coast banking and insurance clients have no problems with. (This is a chronic and significant problem in the doc comp/CCM world for Doc Sci, Thunderhead, Documaker, and Exstream customers.)

      I’ve also seen the rip and replace scenario for licensing costs, but also for vendor relationship issues, as well as getting too out of sync with versions and finding themselves faced with an “upgrade” that may be as painful as a rip and replace.

      Finally, couldn’t agree more on the execution and perserverance–a so-so product implemented flawlessly will always do you better than a first-rate product implemented so-so.

      Thanks again for joining the conversation!



      • April 11, 2013 11:34 am

        Do not, repeat, do NOT get me going on oil and gas clients in Houston. I’m in the same place now on that subject as I am on state and local government. 😉

  4. April 11, 2013 11:37 am

    Another great article! To the point of your story – All the more reason why you might want to extend a more malleable platform like SharePoint (with customizations or great products like Collabware CLM that Graham mentioned above) to meet your exact needs rather than adopting a more rigid platforms that try to solve everyone’s problems but never quite do.

    • April 16, 2013 10:41 am


      Your point is precisely the strategy Microsoft has been pursuing with SharePoint since MOSS came out in 2007. And for many organizations, it’s absolutely the way to go. In the end, the deciding factor is not only how well SharePoint meets your needs using the 80/20 rule versus big ECM, but also what it would cost in time and money (and how risky would it be) to augment SharePoint with partners to improve how it meets your 80/20 needs. Unfortunately, most organizations make the ECM decision one way or the other based on factors other than meeting the ECM needs of the organization (which is the subject for another, even crankier post).

      Thanks for jumping in and for your kind words–glad you found the post valuable!



  5. Deepthi Nagarajan permalink
    April 16, 2013 7:37 am

    Comprehensive facts about the Big 3!

    I agree to your 70% : 30 % – ECM system usability rule, but today there is a significant overlap in the demands of “consumers of content” across different industries. It is no more mere storage and retrieval of content, but further going towards using the content. The uses ranging from Sharing the content across the enterprise, using them in a workflow and performing different actions around it across its life cycle.As you have rightly pointed, it would drill down to a vendor who can provide the best solution to tackle the people, process aspects successfully.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on other vendors like Hyland Software, Perceptive Software…


    • April 16, 2013 10:44 am


      A little farther up in the comments (April 11) I talk about Oracle and Hyland in repsonse to christianpwalker–see what you think about that, and let me know if you want me to say more…be glad to!

      And thanks for your kind words and for joining the conversation–I appreciate it!



  6. Richard permalink
    May 8, 2013 2:02 am

    Hi Joe,

    I really appreciated this article and actually quoted it in an internal presentation on ECM – “For core ECM, you really could just throw a dart and be successful with any of the three [main vendors], provided you tackled the people/process aspects (policies and procedures, governance, information architecture, etc.) successfully. If you don’t tackle these things, it likely won’t matter which solution you pick: you’ll almost certainly fail.”

    I think that this is the biggest challenge in global organisations, understanding what their requirements are and how they align with global strategy.

    Thanks again,

    • August 12, 2013 10:26 am


      Sorry for the delay in my reply–we had our third child early May and I’ve been somewhat indisposed since then! 🙂

      That having been said, thanks for your kind words and for using some of this post in your internal presentation–I’m pleased you found it valuable enough to share with your organization.

      And I agree that aligning your ECM requirements with global corporate strategy is *the* biggest challenge. ECM is a means to an end, not an end in itself. So if it’s not contributing to larger organizational goals, why do it?



  7. dhorwatt permalink
    August 8, 2013 8:52 pm

    Really well done, Joe.

    The part that’s not handled by the darts is adoption. If an organization is committed to making the ECM effort work, it will be successful, regardless of the imperfections of the solution. If the commitment to adopting the technology is fragile, then the ECM will die a thousand deaths. In my experience, adoption (management of change) is the biggest challenge.

    • August 12, 2013 10:35 am

      I couldn’t agree more!

      It’s like the old saying goes, “better to implement a poor technology well than a great technology poorly.” It’s the same with ECM. I see so many clients struggling to decide between solutions, spending so much time on evaluating fine grained technical details; yet they spend almost no time preparing the organization for succeeding with ECM from a people-process perspective–and what happens is what you would expect: low adoption, low user satisfaction, money wasted on shelf ware.

      Thanks for taking the time to jump in and offer your perspective–I appreciate it!



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