Social, collaboration platforms hit ECM market like a ton of bricks

Traditional enterprise content management systems have been hit like a ton of bricks by trends such as social media and collaboration software.

The days of the old-school content management approach are long gone.

Shawn ShellShawn Shell

Previously, enterprise content management (ECM) success was gauged by the ability to get a document into a repository and manage that document's lifecycle. At that time, simple check-in, check-out and basic workflow automation were the benchmark features of enterprise content technologies. But today, several concepts -- cloud computing, mobility, social media platforms and collaboration software -- have fundamentally changed that landscape. In this piece, we'll focus on the latter two forces.

Collaboration key to content lifecycle

Though it may seem surprising, the concept of collaborating on content is as old as content itself. But the means of collaboration have shifted over time. Historically, technologies in the ECM market have been slow to adopt features and tools that support effective collaboration.

During the 2000s, many vendors, including EMC Corp.'s Documentum, began bolstering basic file collaboration features by buying smaller vendors (think eRoom). These ECM software vendors are now being forced to accept the new scope of collaboration, which includes new devices, users connected over public networks and content that isn't neatly wrapped in a binary format (e.g., wiki pages and blog posts).

This shift is compounded by the fact that collaboration is happening with increasing frequency, outside email and content itself. Tweets, posts, Snapchats and video mail continue to change the nature of content, representing mere fragments of an end artifact that is a composite of interactions between many users who are inside and outside an organization's four walls.

ECM tools adopt "social" approach

ECM software vendors are under pressure to address gaps in their management policies and solutions.

Consumer social networks like Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn have created new communication and interaction mechanisms. While these largely consumer-oriented services don't necessarily manage enterprise content, they encourage business and technology executives to think differently about how to get work done. Further, companies are using these services to attract business and consumer customers, in addition to potential employees.

ECM software vendors are taking notice. Microsoft, for example, has invested heavily in its "social story" by beefing up features in SharePoint. And, like Documentum and OpenText, it has supplemented internal development and capabilities with acquisitions like Yammer for collaboration.

At the same time, upstarts like Box.net, born without the constraints of history, are aggressively pursuing an alternative, enhanced social story. Sharing a document in a traditional ECM system generally involved IT, changing explicit access controls lists and inevitable delays in access. With Box, users simply "share" the document just as they would a post on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter. As a result, this language and approach have been adopted by some in the marketplace: IBM's Lotus products and Microsoft's SharePoint platform. The consumerization of IT has forced ECM products to incorporate ease of use by mimicking Software-as-a-Service-based products such as Dropbox.

Social interaction generates enterprise content

What constitutes enterprise content? Content that everyone in the enterprise must see and/or the enterprise must maintain (potentially a transactional record). One of the central challenges for the ECM market today is how to capture and maintain content being created in new ways that traditional ECM vendors are not prepared to handle.

Non-enterprise systems continue to press for change in enterprise systems.

While the traditional "collaborative" content (e.g., documents created in a "team space" or a wiki) have largely been accepted (and vendors have created mechanisms for managing this content), the same isn't true for socially generated content. An increasingly significant portion of content is created through social discussions (Facebook-like post/reply mechanisms), group chats (Skype or Google Hangouts) or simple status updates (SharePoint personal sites and Yammer).

Some of this content is temporal or irrelevant for the enterprise. But some content has business uses. Ideation solutions, for example, exploit many social concepts to innovate, create and manage significant content about new ideas, products or business change. The content created using these tools may be official business records or content that needs to be preserved. As a result, ECM software vendors are under pressure to address gaps in their management policies and solutions.

Collaboration requires many devices

The proliferation of mobile devices has had a serious impact on many spheres of technology. Organizations implementing ECM tools continue to largely ignore the necessity to truly enable the mobile through enterprise content management technologies. This is compounded by the relatively weak mobile support vendors have provided. While nearly all will cite their mobile capabilities, far fewer have achieved real mobile adoption in the way of Dropbox, Yammer and Twitter. The upshot is that non-enterprise systems continue to press for change in enterprise systems.

For more on social media

Achieving success in mobile ECM

Outlook for cloud-based ECM hazy

Deploying ECM is all about interoperability

Consumer-oriented services, which employees use, continue to innovate on the use of various devices to create content. Basecamp, from 37signals LLC, for example, allows users to interact via email (sending and receiving), using a mobile app and logging on using your browsers on a PC (or your mobile Web browser). The near full range of interaction types, from to-do lists to discussions and calendar events, can be created with each of these approaches. As a result, their popularity (like consumer-oriented tools) begins to create the new standard for how software vendors and customers see collaboration.

Forward-looking content

Enterprise content management is a changing landscape. Both the concepts of social and collaboration have left their mark on the tools and approaches to content management. Indeed, new entrants to the enterprise content management market have continued to push boundaries on how content is managed, how people interact with that content and what constitutes "enterprise content."

The question is how companies will take advantage of these changes to further improve their use of the tools and the value created within those tools.

This was first published in February 2014

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