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Forrester suggests a content-centric approach for an ECM strategy

A Forrester Research report says a multivendor ECM strategy might be wise for businesses needing expert functionality in multiple content segments.

Companies developing an enterprise content management (ECM) strategy should consider how different content functionality supports specific business uses rather than focus on a single ECM vendor to take care of all their needs. That’s the thrust of a new Forrester Research Inc. report titled Plan Your ECM Strategy for Business, Persuasive, Transactional, and Foundational Needs.

There are four categories of content that serve the needs of most businesses today -- business content, persuasive content, transactional content and foundational content. Those four areas are served by four distinct technologies, according to the report from the Cambridge, Mass.-based research firm. Approaching each of these technologies strategically and individually as needed can supplant the requirement for an all-inclusive ECM suite.

According to the report: Business content drives the day-to-day tasks within a company; persuasive content influences external audience behavior like marketing, lead generation and e-commerce activities; transactional content has to do with back-office processes that might have originated outside the enterprise; and foundational content that supports the first three like collaboration tools, archiving and workflow matters.

While foundational content as a distinct functionality is not new, it is a category worth examining, said Stephen Powers, a principal analyst at Forrester.

“We were always focused on the types of content ECM would support and realized there were three [distinct types],” he said about Forrester’s approach. “And then there was this fourth category that could support any one or all three types of content. … So it’s more an evolution of our thinking.”

According to the report, traditional products like document, records, Web content, digital asset and customer communications management applications generally include some foundational content functionality. So do some customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning products, but few of them encompass all a company’s needs, and if they do, Powers said it was unlikely they provided best-in-class functionality across the four categories.

“Don’t be afraid that you might have to source specialized technology for a specific need,” Powers said. “You may have one ECM vendor that supports foundational [content] plus one or two other types. … Our clients don’t generally have a single ECM suite in place, and there’s no need to have a goal of having a single ECM suite.”

The rise in the volume of content and the varying types collected by business remains a continuing struggle for enterprises, according to Forrester. As content types have diversified, the professionals in charge of maintaining and enabling their colleagues’ use of all that information have historically taken a “product-specific” approach to manage it all (e.g., Web content management for online assets, records management for corporate information).

On top of the rising volumes of content and an expanding array of the types of content an organization now has to manage, changing corporate and governmental regulations and shifting compliance issues are just adding to the headaches for many people in charge of content and collaboration.

While most ECM vendors don’t equally support all four content segments, they remain relevant, according to the report. Vendors with strengths in persuasive content management like Alfresco Software Inc. and Microsoft might not support transactional content very well, while the reverse might be said of vendors like ASG and Hyland, which have transactional content chops but don’t have best-of-breed functionality in the persuasive segment. A technology that streamlines the processing of high volumes of transactions is different from those used to support the content collected via interactive, multichannel customer experiences, the report points out.

A multivendor strategy might be just the way to go if your business needs expert functionality in multiple content segments. The report ultimately recommends that when considering what content needs are primary, a company would serve itself well to think beyond traditional ECM components and consider how collaboration, social media and other emerging technologies might help support its content management needs.

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