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Enterprise content management software vendors' midlife crisis

Enterprise content management software vendors have taken a hard look in the mirror and decided to modernize.

Enterprise content management software has undergone an identity crisis of sorts.

Lauren HorwitzLauren Horwitz

Historically, ECM software has been costly and difficult to use. But as cloud computing, mobile devices, social media and the consumerization of IT have permeated organizations everywhere, ECM software vendors have had to wake up: They could get left behind if they don't modernize.

File-sharing applications like Dropbox have revolutionized the ECM industry -- and user expectations about what content management software should look like and do. Now, companies not only want a central place to collaborate and share files, but they also want a simple, secure user interface -- as well as the ability to use applications on mobile devices without complex logins. If enterprise collaboration tools are difficult to use, adoption rates suffer and employees are likely to find risky workarounds.

To thrive, enterprise content management software vendors need to adopt greater flexibility in design and pricing. The key is to approach information from a holistic standpoint, embracing new types and integrating ECM data into other business systems. Hybrid clouds may be one way to address users' desire for easy access to files they can share and collaborate on -- and do so easily while out of the office. Some businesses will never feel comfortable placing records in the cloud, but the future of ECM will be at least partially cloud-based.

As major technology developments shape ECM of the future, the potential benefits of cloud-based ECM become clear. In many cases, a hybrid approach may be the best way to allow users freedom while maintaining some of the security of on-premises ECM. However, this model has its downsides, and many companies want to keep content behind company walls, for both security and performance reasons.

ECM software is also an important component of business process management. For most companies, "mature, enterprise-class" ECM really means maturing beyond basic document management. Of course, ECM centralizes, manages and tracks documents, but it will show return on investment only when it also makes everyday processes more efficient.

Finally, business applications consultant Shawn Shell zeroes in on two trends that have forced change in the ECM software industry: social media and collaboration platforms. While not every tweet, comment or chat interaction is relevant, businesses want to encourage these forms of collaboration-- and find ways to mine the ideas they may generate. Shell notes, "ECM software vendors are under pressure to address gaps in their management policies and solutions."

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