The current state of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

I went to the AIIM Roadshow at Wembley Stadium last Friday (June 5). The main draw was the advertised keynote. Steve Marsh, SharePoint product manager for Microsoft UK, would give a talk entitled

‘How SharePoint fits within the ECM spectrum’

I was intrigued by the title, it implies that SharePoint is nestled proudly and comfortably underneath the umbrella of ECM. The reality is that SharePoint 2007 has driven a coach and horses through the ECM market, and we are only just beginning to see the impact of this on vendors, on professional practice and on standards.

My main interest in the product manager’s talk was to hear the messages he would give to AIIM. AIIM represents both ECM vendors and individual professionals interested in ECM. It must feel very ambivalent towards SharePoint. Many of the big vendors, particularly those with full blown document and records management systems (EDRMS) that meet TNA 2002 and MoReq2 requirements, are suffering from SharePoint’s huge grab of market share.

ECM vendors now have to make their products relevant to the post SharePoint 2007 world. Vast swathes of the document management functionality of their products are duplicated by SharePoint. Their unique selling proposition is now their robust information governance features, including their capacity to hold and apply fileplans and retention rules.

Two very recent developments pose risks for the big ECM vendors:

  • There are rumours that SharePoint 2010 will have better records management features. This is a risk even if these features do not transpire in any particularly useful form (I am thinking of the much-hyped but hardly-used SharePoint records centre). The mere hint that SharePoint 2010 will make a reasonable hash of applying fileplans and retention rules will lead organisations to postpone buying decisions.
  • New products are coming onto the market, that are not full blown document management systems, but which simply try to plug the governance gaps in SharePoint 2007. These products claim to be able to apply a fileplan and retention rules in the SharePoint environment. They claim to be able to protect those documents, document libraries and team sites needed as records. It is possible that such products may be offered for a fraction of the price of the big TNA 2002/MoReq 2 compatible ECM systems.

Doug Miles speaks on the changing model of ECM

The first speaker was Doug Miles, head of AIIM Europe. He said you can’t speak about ECM without mentioning SharePoint, and rolled out some statistics from AIIM surveys:

  • only 12% of organisations surveyed have succeeded in implementing ECM systems corporate wide.
  • 50% of organisations surveyed are now using SharePoint and a further 12% have plans to use it.
  • 30% of the organisations implementing SharePoint already have an ECM system in place within their organisation. Doug spoke about the fact that some of these organisations are experiencing conflict and confusion, with the scope of their SharePoint implementation cutting across existing ECM system.

Doug Miles contrasted two alternative models for ECM:

  • ‘ECM central’ : the old model for ECM involved using one ECM system to hold, govern, classify and apply rules to all your organisation’s important content (records, documents, webpages, etc).
  • ‘manage in place’: the new model for ECM allows organisations to accept the fact that they have many different repostories and systems. They use ECM as a management layer to govern, classify and apply retention rules to records in many different systems, by enabling the ECM to set up connectors to these systems.

Doug said that the key supporting standard for the ‘Manage in Place’ ECM model will be the CMIS standard, generated by the some of the big ECM players, including Microsoft, EMC, IBM, Open Text and the open source provider Alfresco. The CMIS standard for document management has been agreed but the records management standard has not yet been finalised. CMIS is a technical standard that allows different content repositories to inter-operate with each other. Doug predicted that CMIS will be hugely important over the coming years.

My thoughts on Doug’s talk are:

  • The ‘ECM central’ model was extremely challenging for organisations to implement (as Doug’s stat that only 12% of organisations surveyed by AIIM have managed to implement an enterprise wide ECM system shows).
  • The rise of SharePoint 2007 will accelerate the move away from the ‘ECM central’ and toward the ‘manage in place’ model.
  • The ‘ECM central model’ had the backing of standards issued by governments and national archives (TNA 2002, MoReq2 etc.) which offered reassurance to buyers. The big marketing challenge for the ‘manage in place’ ECM model is that there is no equivalent standard for that space. (CMIS is an enabling technical standard issued by the vendors).

Duncan Williams on SharePoint 2010

After Doug Miles we had an announcement that the Steve Marsh, Microsoft UK’s product manager for SharePoint wasn’t able to attend. He was replaced by Duncan Williams of DeltaScheme (a Microsoft Gold Partner). He explained that Steve Marsh was busy at work and was getting married shortly. It didn’t seem a terribly strong excuse.

In his talk Duncan gave some statistics to demonstrate the massive growth of SharePoint and the huge revenue stream it is giving to Microsoft. He told us that Microsoft no longer allocated a marketing budget for SharePoint, they don’t need to market it. They have changed the way they are incentivising their sales staff – they now reward them for increasing the adoption and usage of SharePoint by existing clients rather than for winning new customers.

The reason Steve Marsh didn’t speak at the AIIM roadshow was because he doesn’t need to. IT departments are buying his product anyway.

I later found out that Steve had told AIIM several weeks before that he was unlikely to be able to attend but it was convenient for AIIM to keep his name on the advertised programme. (I have no complaints about that: Duncan Williams gave a very useful insight into Microsoft’s roadmap for SharePoint, he was more candid than a Microsoft speaker would have been, and I very much enjoyed the event. It simply shows how much AIIM and any other event organiser in this space needs to cover SharePoint to draw in the crowds).

Duncan Williams said that Microsoft’s strategy is to integrate Outlook, SharePoint and Office together more and more tightly. He thought that Microsoft had missed an opportunity to get the integration between SharePoint 2007 and Office 2007 really tight, but he expected them to get it right with Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.

Duncan hadn’t seen the beta code for SharePoint 2010, but he had heard from Microsoft that it would offer ‘better support for hierarchical fileplans’. Duncan pointed out that as SharePoint 2007 provides no support for hierarchical fileplans it is probably better to say that it will provide ‘some support’ for them. He also expected SharePoint 2010 to have improved social networking features.

What do you do if you have a successful EDRMS, and your IT department starts piloting SharePoint 2007?

When the keynotes were over I had a wonder around the exhibition.

I spoke to the information manager of one of that minority of organistations that has an enterprise wide EDRMS in place. It has been in operation for several years and covers all of the several thousand employees of the organisation. It houses their fileplan, applies their retention rules, and has enabled them to switch off access to shared drives. In other words, an EDRMS success story.

He told me that his IT department has recently bought SharePoint and is now piloting SharePoint team sites.

‘Don’t tell me’ I said ‘your IT department says they are only piloting team sites for collaboration, and that people won’t keep records in the team sites, even though the team sites contain document libraries with capability for version control and customised metadata’

‘Thats right’ he said ruefully

We talked about the options open to him: none of them were particularly attractive:

  • He could chose to do nothing and watch SharePoint team sites get rolled out. This would provide an alternative place for people to store and manage documents, confuse staff, and undermine their EDRMS
  • He could insist that SharePoint team sites have document libraries removed so that documents have to be saved into the EDRMS. This would neuter the SharePoint team sites and render them far less effective as a collaboration tool
  • He could integrate his EDRMS into SharePoint, so that SharePoint document libraries are replaced by a web part leading to the EDRMS. Colleagues could save and view documents within the team site, but the documents would be stored and managed within the EDRMS. This option may become less attractive over time, if Microsoft integrate Office and Outlook more and more tightly with future versions of SharePoint.

3 thoughts on “The current state of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

  1. James,

    many thanks for posting such an extensive and perceptive article I will be passing the link on.


  2. Great post,

    I am really looking forward to seeing if SharePoint 2010 will be an improvement from 2007.

    I would really like to see

    (a) Better overall categorization of information (nothing like trying to hunt down information on a corporate intranet running MOSS2007

    (b) Less complex programming model. MOSS 2007 is just a pain to work with

    (c) site vs site collection thing finally wrapped up and bundled in a way that makes sense without requiring hours of reading to get your head around it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s