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Choosing the right ECM tools

Expert Pat Brans examines the top nine commercial and open source ECM tools to help you determine which product is best for your organization.

Choosing the enterprise content management (ECM) tool that's right for your organization shouldn't be a daunting process, but it does require some thought. You should have a clear understanding of what you need the software to do and outline your must-have features before building a request for proposal (RFP). The final step is evaluating ECM tools, weighing their strengths and determining which best fits your company.

In this article, we examine eight market-leading vendors of ECM tools -- EMC, HP, Hyland, IBM, Lexmark, Microsoft, OpenText and Oracle -- along with a ninth vendor, Alfresco, which provides open source ECM software. We'll also examine Box, Dropbox and Google -- three products that hover on the periphery of ECM and offer file-sharing platforms frequently used by enterprises to provide a subset of ECM functions.

Document management

If your main requirement is document management, consider Dell EMC Documentum and Hyland Software's OnBase. The Documentum suite provides content analytics and a highly scalable repository for storing and retrieving content quickly, with fine-grained access control. OnBase manages content coming from transactional systems and can serve as a central content repository, linking documents from other enterprise applications so users don't have to change screens to find information in different applications.

Records management

If records management is a priority, consider OpenText Content Suite and HPE. Compliance is a core strength of OpenText, and the company has a comprehensive ECM portfolio for managing the complete document lifecycle. HPE ECM tools are especially attractive to enterprises that need to manage high-value business content in regulated or compliance-sensitive markets.

Workflow

If workflow is an important requirement, consider IBM and Alfresco Software. IBM Case Manager enables users to analyze content and take action within the context of a workflow. After the action is taken, the complete case is stored with full audit control and analytics can be performed to improve the process. Alfresco Activiti is a workflow and business process management platform that developers and administrators can use, as well as more technically challenged end users. Note, however, that Alfresco tools are open source modules that need additional development work to fit your enterprise needs.

Collaboration

If collaboration is your main concern, look at Dell EMC Documentum and Hyland OnBase. Documentum provides an intuitive interface for accessing enterprise content, along with secure file sharing and synchronization. OnBase enables users to access content no matter where they are, using their preferred interfaces. OnBase also stores content in a secure manner, safe from disaster and with an audit trail.

Web content management

If a major concern is the ability to automatically publish internal content to external or internal websites whenever the internal content changes, consider Microsoft SharePoint and Oracle WebCenter Content. SharePoint was originally designed for portal development, linking internal content to Web content. Oracle WebCenter Content is part of a set of tools specifically designed for Web content management.

Social media

If integrating with social media platforms is a priority, look at Lexmark and OpenText. Lexmark's Perceptive federated search features allow users to retrieve results from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media platforms and aggregate the results in a single view. OpenText's Tempo Social add-on allows organizations to interface with various social media platforms and tag, rate, review, comment and monitor content on social media sites.

Integrating ECM with other enterprise applications

If you run one or more enterprise applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or ERP, chances are you will want to consolidate at least some of the content generated by those systems under your ECM system. Most ECM vendors provide APIs and/or out-of-the-box connectors to facilitate interfacing ECM with specific enterprise applications.

Beyond that, some ECM vendors provide additional development tools to make it easier for systems integrators to custom-build interfaces between the ECM system and other enterprise applications.

If your primary concern is integrating with enterprise applications from Oracle or Oracle subsidiaries, such as JD Edwards, PeopleSoft and Siebel, you should start your product search with Oracle WebCenter Content. Likewise, if your priority is to integrate with enterprise applications from Microsoft, look at Microsoft SharePoint first.

ECM tools should be a cornerstone in your enterprise information toolkit. ... Choosing the right platform requires consideration of your objectives, existing software and in-house resources.

If you want to customize a solution by integrating ECM tools with one or more enterprise applications, Alfresco open source platforms might provide a good foundation from which a systems integrator or in-house developers can develop a system specifically for an enterprise.

If you want a full-featured platform that also integrates with other ECM systems, you may wish to consider Dell EMC Documentum. If you want to connect with several enterprise applications, look at HPE, IBM and Lexmark, as these companies' ECM platforms come with connectors for a large number of applications. Note also that Microsoft SharePoint comes with APIs to facilitate integration with enterprise applications.

You may also want interoperability between two or more ECM systems. Virtually all ECM vendors claim compatibility with content management interoperability services (CMIS), which is designed to enable the integration of two or more ECM systems. Beware, however, as there are different degrees of compatibility with CMIS. Alfresco products are generally regarded as highly compatible with CMIS and are a safe bet.

Finally, you may want to develop applications to work with your content. These applications may work on top of an ECM platform. Consider OpenText Content Suite, which comes with a rich set of development tools to create applications on top of OpenText platforms and also makes it easier to integrate with other enterprise systems.

Cloud-based file sharing services

Several vendors that offer cloud-based file sharing services are vying to increase their shares of the ECM market. The best examples of these companies are Box, Dropbox and Google with Google Drive.

These products provide adequate enterprise file sync-and-share services but lack the workflow features and integration with enterprise applications. However, if users just need to share files from common folders, these products will do the job.

ECM tools most appropriate to your industry

ECM software solves business problems that are frequently specific to an industry, and that should be considered when evaluating vendors.

For example, if you're in the energy industry, you may wish to examine Dell EMC Documentum, IBM Case Manager and OpenText Content Suite. If you're in telecom or communication industries, you may wish to consider IBM Case Manager. If you're in media and entertainment, start your search with OpenText Remote Content Suite.

Companies in engineering or construction industries should consider Alfresco, Dell EMC Documentum and OpenText Content Suite. Companies in life sciences should examine Dell EMC Documentum and OpenText Suite.

The healthcare industry has the most vendors, with several ECM tool choices. Healthcare is Hyland's biggest market, and OnBase supports vendor neutral archive and digital imaging and includes several features specific to the medical industry. It's also the biggest market for Lexmark, which offers a content management system specifically designed for healthcare. Other vendors to consider for the healthcare industry are HP, IBM and OpenText.

Hyland, IBM and Lexmark do well with their ECM offerings in the education industry. IBM and Lexmark ECM have a good presence in the retail and manufacturing industries.

If you're in financial services, consider Dell EMC Documentum, HPE, IBM Case Manager, Hyland OnBase, OpenText Content Suite and Lexmark. If you're in government, look at HPE, Hyland OnBase, IBM, Lexmark, OpenText Content Suite and Oracle WebCenter Content.

If you're a professional services company, you might start your search with HPE. If you're in the legal profession, consider OpenText Content Suite.

ECM tools to suit your company size

Remember also that different-sized companies have different requirements for an ECM system. For example, large companies with a sizable transaction volume often need systems that can operate across multiple company departments and even different countries. In many cases, they also need a system that will consolidate content from other applications, such as CRM or ERP.

If you're a multinational organization that must provide support for multiple languages and needs to process a large number of documents daily, look first at HPE and IBM. HPE uses its own ECM suite internally to capture up to 1 million records daily and has customers that handle several hundreds of thousands of transactions per day through HPE ECM software. Similarly, IBM has several large multinational customers using IBM Case Manager to handle high transaction volumes.

If you're operating in multiple countries and querying content in multiple languages is important, consider Lexmark. Lexmark's Perceptive Search includes a natural language processing (NLP) engine that helps users construct powerful queries in a variety of languages.

Other products that are appropriate for large enterprises are Oracle WebCenter Content, EMC Documentum, OpenText Content Suite, Microsoft SharePoint and Hyland OnBase.

Midsized companies frequently need customized ECM software that fits their specific business needs. If you're a midsized company, you may wish to consider building a less expensive solution with open source tools, such as those provided by Alfresco.

Smaller companies have fewer business processes and, by definition, have little need for systems that operate across multiple departments or countries. If you're a small company with limited ECM needs and budget, you might consider those vendors that offer only electronic file sync and share for improved collaboration, such as Box, Dropbox or Google Drive.

Changes to expect in the ECM market over the next five years

Like all other areas in high tech, ECM continues to evolve. Before selecting an ECM tool, you should take into account some of these changes that are likely over the next five years:

Industry consolidation. The ECM market is still fragmented, but consolidation will occur over time. Over the next five years, larger vendors will continue to acquire smaller niche vendors to enhance their feature sets and provide more complete solutions. Large and small vendors will also partner to combine the reach of established vendors with the latest innovations of smaller, more nimble vendors.

Some ECM vendors will also seek to increase market share through acquisition. A very recent example of this strategy is OpenText's acquisition of Dell-EMC Documentum in September 2016, which made OpenText the biggest ECM vendor in terms of market share and revenue.

Large and small vendors will also partner to combine the reach of established vendors with the latest innovations of smaller, more nimble vendors.

A case-in-point is IBM and Box, who since June 2015 have partnered to combine Box's collaboration tools and ease of use with IBM's analytics, size and customer base. The partnership targets industries with a high need for security, including financial services, healthcare and government.

Improved analytics. A growing number of enterprises see ECM not only as a way to  manage back-end processes, but also as a tool to help them better understand their markets and open new revenue opportunities. Leading vendors will integrate the latest data science techniques into their software tools to improve analytics of both structured and unstructured content in ways that will help enterprises make sense of content captured from sensors and social media -- content that offers a view of the marketplace.

Integration with other enterprise systems. ECM software will integrate more tightly with enterprise applications to further blend content management and cross-company business processes. More vendors will focus on specific business problems in a given industry. For example, Alfresco already integrates with computer-aided design systems for engineering firms.

Language handling. With the increasing consumerization of IT, more customers will expect the ability to query content using natural language interfaces, similar to tools such as Apple's Siri. With ever-improving tools for natural language, a growing number of vendors will respond to demand by offering NLP tools for more powerful queries. Some will offer NLP interfaces in multiple languages, similar to what Lexmark does with its Perceptive Search.

Some vendors already offer tools for automatic language translation of content. For example, Oracle has a partnership with Lingotek to provide this feature in WebCenter Content. These tools will become more common, allowing people who speak different languages to work on the same content base.

Computer vision. Recent advances in computer vision algorithms, which now perform better than humans at recognizing the content of images and placing the images into appropriate categories, will find their way into the content management tools of forward-thinking ECM vendors. Such enhancements will improve the capture, retrieval and analytics of image-based content.

Improved metadata. With data volumes increasing, enterprises will demand richer metadata features for better cataloging and searching of their content. Some ECM vendors already offer the ability to automatically extract metadata from a document (e.g., Dell EMC Document) or the ability for users to add metadata to documents (e.g., OpenText Content Suite).

Blending of structured and unstructured data. Enterprises have an increasing need to manage non-textual content, and many ECM vendors have responded by providing tools to help companies handle unstructured content. For example, Oracle WebCenter Content provides centralized control of unstructured content. Over the next five years, more vendors will offer tools to combine structured and unstructured data in ways that allow seamless processing of either type of content.

The final word

ECM tools should be a cornerstone in your enterprise information toolkit, but there are many variables in play, and choosing the right platform requires consideration of your objectives, existing software and in-house resources. Once that groundwork is set, you're ready to evaluate which products best meet your unique requirements.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2015

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