Dazed and confused: A decade spent trying to define and promote the value of ECM (or document management or content management)

I’m in Philadelphia, PA, this week, attending the AIIM International Exposition and Conference for the tenth consecutive year.

I normally don’t brag about such impressive personal stats. I find some people become intimidated in the face of such accomplishment.

Actually, the only reason I’ve given my tenth pilgrimage to the ECM industry’s signature event a second thought is because 10 years seems like a nice, tidy timeframe to put the evolution of the ECM industry into perspective.

In 2001, the more prominent members of the vendor community were doing everything possible not to mention “antiquated” technologies like document imaging and capture. Our message then was: “Get with it people, it’s 2001! Who needs to manage paper when business is moving to the Web? It’s all about content. Don’t you fret about that “dip” in the tech stock market; this is the New Economy. It’s a happy, happy place. People who get it read Red Herring magazine and the Cluetrain Manifesto. People who question it, like that old coot, Warren Buffet, are destined for irrelevance.”

Hmmm. Now I know why people don’t like to put things in perspective. Because it forces you to remember that you were naive enough to buy into all that bunk.

Fast forward to 2010. EMC, one of the top sponsors of this year’s event, is posting boldly colored advertisements featuring an end-user demanding, “I WANT PAPERLESS.” Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the critical role of (you guessed it) document imaging and management technologies in helping hospitals meet “meaningful use” requirements for electronic health records.

In 2010, the technologies that support transaction processing and business process automation (e.g. document imaging and management, workflow software, e-forms, COLD/ERM) remain cornerstones for any successful ECM strategy. Why is that? For one, they deliver measurable benefits. They help organizations of all shapes and sizes to save money. They offer proof as to whether or not you’re obeying the law. They provide high-value employees the time to focus on the high-value aspects of their jobs. They contribute to saving lives.

After a decade of trying to figure out how to best define and promote the value of ECM, I’m encouraged. There are signs that the collective members of the industry (i.e. vendors, AIIM, industry analysts, procurement consultants and trade media) have woken up to the reality that we need to educate the market about proven technology capabilities that many organizations are in dire need of putting into production. The fact is, we still have people from both public and private sector enterprises walking into our booth who haven’t yet digitized a single paper document associated with their mission critical business processes.

Having said this, I’m also getting the sense from conversations with my peers at this show and elsewhere, that, while our industry is finally giving transactional ECM technologies their due, secretly, we don’t exactly feel they’re…well, y’know…cool. Transactional ECM technologies may be valuable, but Enterprise 2.0 is cool.Don’t get me wrong. Enterprise 2.0 technologies are capable of revolutionizing many aspects of how an organization conducts its affairs. But they don’t make technologies that support business fundamentals – like process automation, expense reduction and regulatory compliance – irrelevant.

Ten years ago, the ECM industry turned its back on business fundamentals. We may have sounded cool then, but I think we left the market confused and jaded about the business value our technologies are truly capable of delivering.

From my perspective, it took nearly ten years to mend the error of our ways. Here’s to not making that mistake again.

Ken Burns

Ken Burns manages the Analyst and Influencer Relations program globally for Hyland, creator of OnBase. He is responsible for keep leading industry analyst firms informed about Hyland’s company and product strategies. He has worked in the ECM industry for nearly 15 years and is a keen observer of the customer and competitive forces shaping the software segment.

3 Responses

  1. Ralph Gammon says:

    As a football fan, I’ll compare imaging (transactional content processing?) technologies to the offensive linemen. No, your center or right guard is not your coolest player – the backs get all the interview opps – but, they’re getting stuff done in the trenches where the game is often won. Maybe you can invite Mike Holmgren down to Hyland for a strategy session.

    Regarding the AIIM show, it’s nice that imaging has made a comeback, but it would be nice if we could get the attendees to come back as well….

  2. Owen Allen says:

    I think you’re right on, Ken. In anothe rten years, transactional ECM will still be doing great work.
    The transactional ECM pieces provide a bang for the buck for enterprise that is significant regardless of the phase that the business cycle is going through. People all over will be talking about the cool thing each quarter, trying to show which books they’ve read, and often switching lanes to follow the new race leader, but transactional content management will be consistently improving the lives of many an information worker.
    It was great to see you and Hyland at AIIM this year.

  3. Ken Usman-Smith says:

    I began chasing the grail of efficiency and ICT opportunities 20 years ago as I embraced GIS in local government in the UK.
    I then moved from microfiche to EDRM some 10 years ago as I explored the emergence of ON BASE. And I felt I was fighting the inertia of ignorence every step.
    ‘Because the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer, the business enterprise has two-and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs’. Peter Drucker

    This month marks the centenary of the birth of Peter Drucker and its fitting that we are returning to the understanding that the Public Sector is also a business. We need to innovate and we need to sell what we have, the structures we have built up over time may simply no longer be fit for purpose. We need to consider ripping up the rule books and starting again. And that seems to be finally shining light on EDRMS and BPR in the drak corners where I sit promoting its ROI.

    FAHRENHEIT 451: The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.
    If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. – the quote on the first page by Juan Ramón Jiménez.

    In the public sector leaders and staff must now deliver real and cost effective innovation, to deliver a world class performance as a business. Not just by ‘acting’ as virtual markets and business units. It will have to be real and it will have to be radical. And it must be at least paperlite if its not paperless.

    We cannot afford to fail in public sector, as we are like the banks, we will not be allowed to fail financially. And that adds to the burden of every man, woman and child in our society. We are at the very core of what makes the society we live in function, and at the very heart of its failure. We will face huge cuts, so we need to embrave the technology of efficiency to only cut waste, not cut services.

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

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