ECM: A Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet – and I do mean Sweet

Picture 2A week ago, my long time colleague, whose opinion I respect, Whitney Tidmarsh, (@whitneytidmarsh) EMC Documentum CMO and AIIM Board member tweeted the following: “ Great discussion with #AIIM board about the relevance of the term #ECM today. Does #ECM mean anything to you? What would you call it?” I immediately tweeted back “Duh – ECM”. I was pleased to see a others chime in on my side of the debate – including @Bduhon and @piewords.

While Twitter gave us a forum in which to quickly and succinctly express our views on this issue, the issue is one I am passionate enough about to want  (OK need ) to expound further. (Whitney are you listening?)

When I first saw the tweet I immediately thought of one of my favorite Shakespearean quotes “A Rose By any other name would smell as sweet.”

I know there is something to be said for the value of labeling a market the “right way”, but why would AIIM, “The ECM association” spend so much time on this acronym. I know from meetings of the past this is often a topic. As @Piwords tweeted “ECM is a known term. I can’t imagine starting education process over. Fix the definition.”  How true. Why waste time pondering the acronym? What does the acronym stand for – not in the literal sense, but the functional sense – that is the issue.  I have always liked the acronym because it is so rich in meaning and potential growth. As I stated in my inaugural blog post, I take ECM literally and broadly:

Enterprise – business focused across the organization, directly tied to business processes and value propositions;
Content – in today’s digital age virtually everything, from paper in filing cabinets to know-how in people’s heads, text to video, from html-based web pages to PDF’d contracts;
Management – the manipulation of content to promote and/or accelerate education, decision making and collaboration and full lifecycle control from authoring and scanning to myriad electronic displays – A full lifecycle cradle-to-grave proactive management of the content.
In this definition, ECM includes: tactical technologies such as records management, imaging, search and retrieval, digital rights management, enterprise rights management, web content management; related technologies such as workflow and BPM; and broader applications and disciplines such as Information Architecture, Knowledge Management, Innovation Management and Enterprise 2.0.

With such an appreciation for all that the acronym stands for you can appreciate the almost limitless possibilities for ECM. Although the market enjoys a solid past (steeped in ground-breaking imaging systems and pre-web search tools), it enjoys a vibrant present (characterized by Web and Enterprise 2.0) and has a rich future ahead (with emerging new digital content types, increasingly portable and flexible interfaces/devices and burgeoning new approaches to dynamically manipulating content in context on the horizon.) This is what keeps my passion for ECM alive.

So it being the end of yet another year, I thought I would expound just a bit more on the future of ECM, not just into 2010, but beyond. These are some of the issues that I think keep ECM relevant, vibrant and ripe with opportunity.

ECM May Divorce from Component Technologies, But Joint Custody Must be Granted

Coincidentally, earlier this week Lawrence Hart (aka @piwords) and I engaged in some further Twitter banter regarding ECM vs. WCM. Lawrence was attending an AIIM webinar on the future of ECM, and commented that he believes WCM and ECM will soon part. As he put it – a quick divorce was best. We ended up agreeing that this was OK – as long as there was joint custody of the children (i.e. content.) The point is ECM is not a technology or product per se, but an underlying foundation/system. Organizations will likely not deploy this system via a single tool – maybe even single vendor. Strategies will lead to, in most cases, deploying best of breed functionality for specialized instances. This is fine, in fact in some instances much encouraged – as long as the strategy does not lose sight of the overall system/foundation. Management and access must appear to the business user as a single system. Please – no more silos.

The Definition of Content will be Challenged and Enriched

For years I have been extolling the ever-broadening capability of digitizing content. With the same level of activity and disruption that scanning/imaging had NEARLY 3 decades ago – look for serious business application of video and audio content, imminently. Further out on the horizon, keep an eye out for the inclusion of touch and smell in the definition of ECM. I know I have been talking about this for quite awhile, and it likely will not take off in 2010 – but it is clearly on the horizon. You may recall in one of the last reports I wrote for AIIM, I reported that 1% of companies surveyed indicated that digital smell (i.e. olfactory content) and digital touch technology, are used within their organization.. Although AIIM editors struck this finding from final publication, as it was seen as too radical, I believe it is very much a real issue. Start thinking creatively. How might not only audio and video content bring new value to your business applications, but also touch and smell. Some more forward thinking organizations clearly already have. Just last month, TIME Magazine (Note: not a techy magazine), ran an article on the business value of smell. With such attention, it is only a matter of time (pun not intended) before we are all provided smell-based messaging, encouraging us to make purchases, make decisions and enhance customer satisfaction.

Hardware Creates an Untehered World

Ah – speaking of such applications, we cannot forget the hardware that will enable this as well. In 2009, devices such as SmartPhones, Sony Reader and Kindle became most familiar to the ECM crowd. (“Yeah, there’s an app for that.”) But we are just scratching the surface. E-paper and digital display technologies/products will continue to morph in creative new was (e.g. rolled up portable newspapers to intelligent dynamic nametags at conferences).

Context is King

In this vein of thought, look to advances in e-publishing technology. I foresee great advances in the ability to “publish” content in context, via combinations of RFD, e-publishing, text analytics and BI. Yes, E-publishing vendors such as MarkLogic and PTC will  have a much more prominent place at the ECM table.

2.0 Heralds in Greater Need for Security

And now for a more tempered voice. The Web and E2.0 movements will grow in stature and notoriety,  and collaboration will be the buzz word de jour. But with this, the lawyers, compliance officers and records managers in the ECM industry will again raise their prudent and knowledgeable heads and push the security-side technology providers just a little bit further.

So there you have it. ECM a dull old topic – I don’t think so.

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