Disillusioned With The Current Definition of ECM

I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. For over two months now, to be exact!! So here it is, finally!

I think the traditional definitions of ECM swirling around are flawed. In this post I review some of the traditional definitions of ECM from AIIM, Gartner, and Forrester, and then propose a new “BetterECM Definition of ECM”. This new definition serves to answer the broader question of “How do we effectively manage the content across the enterprise and create a culture of information sharing?” 

So let’s look at the current definitions:

From AIIM

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization’s unstructured information, wherever that information exists.

From Gartner’s Client Issues for Enterprise Content Management, 2005

ECM has emerged after 10 years of market consolidation. Vendors from various areas have entered other markets by developing new functions, or by acquiring companies and technology from related markets. As a result, few stand-alone vendors remain in some of these markets (for example, Web content management and record management). Today, ECM encompasses the following core components:

  • Document management for check-in/checkout, version control, security and library services for business documents
  • Web content management for automating the webmaster bottleneck, and managing dynamic content and user interaction
  • Record management for long-term archiving and the automation of retention and compliance policies, and to ensure legal or regulatory record compliance
  • Document capture and document imaging for capturing and managing paper documents
  • Document-centric collaboration for document sharing and supporting project teams
  • Workflow for supporting business processes and routing content, assigning work tasks and states, and creating audit trails

From Forrester’s Topic Overview: Enterprise Content Management

ECM must be a strategy for: 1) how to manage all unstructured information — images, Web content, rich media assets, and corporate records; 2) how to integrate the many content repositories within an enterprise; and 3) how to put content to use — by making it contextual within business processes and user experiences.

What’s wrong with these definitions?

Well, all of the above definitions primarily focus on the technologies used to manage content across the enterprise. Forrester’s definition is getting closer to my idea of the ideal definition, but does not quite get there. It’s almost like the common definitions of ECM are based on the consolidation of the technology components that now make up the ECM suites. The do not address the necessary cultural aspects, processes, policies, and procedures which would support a culture and the practical application of effectively managing information throughout the enterprise.

I really like the Gartner definition of business process management (BPM): From the Gartner research report “Business Process Management: Preparing for the Process-Managed Organization”, they define BPM as:

BPM is a management practice that provides for governance of a process environment toward the goal of improving agility and operational performance. BPM is a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage and continuously optimize an organization’s activities and processes.

The BetterECM definition of ECM:

So, based on the less than ideal definitions of ECM so far I propose the following “BetterECM Definition of ECM”

“ECM is a management practice that provides for governance of an information management environment toward the goal of improving compliance, information reuse and sharing, and operational performance. ECM is a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage the lifecycle of information and to continuously optimize an organization’s collections of information and information management processes.”

Tell me what you think. Based on your feedback this definition may evolve.

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27 thoughts on “Disillusioned With The Current Definition of ECM

  1. I find it interesting that the “E” stands for enterprise and you don’t like that it focuses on the enterprise. What I also find interesting is that “E” doesn’t stand for electronic instead… which I think is far more applicable.

    Sure, there is plenty of content that is not electronic that needs to be managed, but all the definitions focus on the electronic aspect of ECM. They talk of “web content” and “version control.” They talk of “document capture and imaging” and “rich media assets.” Aren’t all of these electronic and don’t they apply across an enterprise? But, they also apply for departments and individuals… which leads to your point.

    I agree that ECM is a structured approach. I find it fascinating that Forrester’s says that ECM is a strategy for managing unstructured data. I think that ECM is a structured approach for managing structured, unstructured and semi-structured data.

    I do think that a far more interesting definition would be to define content and how that should be applied to an organization of any size.

  2. You’re right that ECM in many ways is not a perfect term. It implies a “technology” that you unwrap rather than a discipline or practice or approach. At least you’re not proposing changing the “ECM” acronym. I find that even if it’s not perfect, at least end users have begun to have some concept of what the heck we’re all talking about.

  3. You’re right that ECM in many ways is not a perfect term. It implies a “technology” that you unwrap rather than a discipline or practice or approach. At least you’re not proposing changing the “ECM” acronym. I find that even if it’s not perfect, at least end users have begun to have some concept of what the heck we’re all talking about.

  4. Like the definition with one suggestion: “ECM is a management practice that provides for governance of an enterprise environment…” Information does not exist for its own sake, but for enterprise purposes. I think the rest of your definition adequate incorporates information–but asis common, records management as a discipline is omitted. We’re working on a model that integrates the rigour of RIM and find that its a hard sell, but an important one.

  5. Like the definition with one suggestion: “ECM is a management practice that provides for governance of an enterprise environment…” Information does not exist for its own sake, but for enterprise purposes. I think the rest of your definition adequate incorporates information–but asis common, records management as a discipline is omitted. We’re working on a model that integrates the rigour of RIM and find that its a hard sell, but an important one.

  6. Hi Russ,

    I agree that the current definitions are rather technology focused and this is a real issue. As we all know the effort around any ECM solution delivery, whether it be departmental or organisation wide is (or should be) 80% People & Process and 20% technology.

    As the ECM Practice Manager here at Gen-i I have already been through the mill trying to put together a statement that can adequately express what is ECM to sales teams and customers, without trying to boil the ocean. My definition; One that is modeled on the AIIM one is as follows:

    ECM is

    “The methods, tools and technologies that enable an organisation to manage, process and deliver content across the enterprise”

    To me the methods (methodologies) and tools represent the people and process part of the ECM solution, including the elements of Governance, Policy, Strategy and the inclusion of the ConOps as outlined by AIIM in the ECMs training. Not forgetting the ever important Change Manaqgement and communication that make or break a project as well. Drilling into the tools (more specifically) we can then talk about the way that we will turn content into information. I use the premise that

    Content + Context = Information

    Tools such as the development of a BCS the identification of organisational metadata and controlled vocabulary all help to add context to the content in the organisation.

    These delivered through a solid methodology supported by the change management and solid communication and the appropriate technology adds far more opportunity for success in any ECM project.

  7. Hi Russ,

    I agree that the current definitions are rather technology focused and this is a real issue. As we all know the effort around any ECM solution delivery, whether it be departmental or organisation wide is (or should be) 80% People & Process and 20% technology.

    As the ECM Practice Manager here at Gen-i I have already been through the mill trying to put together a statement that can adequately express what is ECM to sales teams and customers, without trying to boil the ocean. My definition; One that is modeled on the AIIM one is as follows:

    ECM is

    “The methods, tools and technologies that enable an organisation to manage, process and deliver content across the enterprise”

    To me the methods (methodologies) and tools represent the people and process part of the ECM solution, including the elements of Governance, Policy, Strategy and the inclusion of the ConOps as outlined by AIIM in the ECMs training. Not forgetting the ever important Change Manaqgement and communication that make or break a project as well. Drilling into the tools (more specifically) we can then talk about the way that we will turn content into information. I use the premise that

    Content + Context = Information

    Tools such as the development of a BCS the identification of organisational metadata and controlled vocabulary all help to add context to the content in the organisation.

    These delivered through a solid methodology supported by the change management and solid communication and the appropriate technology adds far more opportunity for success in any ECM project.

  8. Wow, some great comments. Thanks for your contributions and feedback.

    Corey: Not sure why you think I did not like that ECM focused on “Enterprise”. Clearly content is created and consumed everywhere within the enterprise and to have an effective strategy and program organizations must ensure that they take an enterprise approach. Also, my proposed new definition was not focusing only on electronic content, but all content including paper or physical records.

    John: Thanks for your feedback. I agree that the term or acronym “ECM” is getting traction in the marketplace and I don’t propose a change. My goal is to start a deeper discussion around the best practices, processes, governance aspects of successfully managing enterprise content. The ECM suites and technology is the enabler.

    John: Thanks for your suggested addition to my ECM definition. I like it! I think I will update the definition with that addition. I was incorporating records management in the statement “ECM is a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage the lifecycle of information”.

    Paul: Thanks for your feedback. I like your idea about information “Content + Context = Information”. I think it is dead on.

  9. Wow, some great comments. Thanks for your contributions and feedback.

    Corey: Not sure why you think I did not like that ECM focused on “Enterprise”. Clearly content is created and consumed everywhere within the enterprise and to have an effective strategy and program organizations must ensure that they take an enterprise approach. Also, my proposed new definition was not focusing only on electronic content, but all content including paper or physical records.

    John: Thanks for your feedback. I agree that the term or acronym “ECM” is getting traction in the marketplace and I don’t propose a change. My goal is to start a deeper discussion around the best practices, processes, governance aspects of successfully managing enterprise content. The ECM suites and technology is the enabler.

    John: Thanks for your suggested addition to my ECM definition. I like it! I think I will update the definition with that addition. I was incorporating records management in the statement “ECM is a structured approach employing methods, policies, metrics, management practices and software tools to manage the lifecycle of information”.

    Paul: Thanks for your feedback. I like your idea about information “Content + Context = Information”. I think it is dead on.

  10. Hi Russ,

    At cBrain we are coming at ECM from the “Project world” where we talk about Project Portfolio Management (PPM), Project Workflow, Skills Matrix, etc.. I could apply your BetterECM definition to PPM and it would fit quite well.

    As vendors we have created application suites (and tools) and invented system silos (ERP, PPM, ECM, BPM, CRM, etc..) with help from the research firms. I think those distinctions are blurring and you are seeing ERP providers like SAP beginning to claim a major ECM component in their offering. No wonder the end-users are confused!

    I like your last phrase “… continuously optimize an organization’s collections of information and information management processes.” That kind of system agility (constant change) is what our customers are looking to system vendors like us to provide and with XML, WEB Services we just might get there.

    We have tried to coin the term “Process Driven Document Management” with some luck.

    However your definition of ECM is the best one I have seen so far.

  11. Hi Russ,

    At cBrain we are coming at ECM from the “Project world” where we talk about Project Portfolio Management (PPM), Project Workflow, Skills Matrix, etc.. I could apply your BetterECM definition to PPM and it would fit quite well.

    As vendors we have created application suites (and tools) and invented system silos (ERP, PPM, ECM, BPM, CRM, etc..) with help from the research firms. I think those distinctions are blurring and you are seeing ERP providers like SAP beginning to claim a major ECM component in their offering. No wonder the end-users are confused!

    I like your last phrase “… continuously optimize an organization’s collections of information and information management processes.” That kind of system agility (constant change) is what our customers are looking to system vendors like us to provide and with XML, WEB Services we just might get there.

    We have tried to coin the term “Process Driven Document Management” with some luck.

    However your definition of ECM is the best one I have seen so far.

  12. Poul,

    Thanks for stopping by BetterECM. I’m glad you like my proposed definition.

    I agree that the vendors have made ECM very confusing. I like you idea of applying my definition to PPM.

    russ

  13. Poul,

    Thanks for stopping by BetterECM. I’m glad you like my proposed definition.

    I agree that the vendors have made ECM very confusing. I like you idea of applying my definition to PPM.

    russ

  14. Hi Russ,

    Thanks for starting this discussion / debate. I think your focus on governance is bang-on and I think you’ve got technology in the right place (as an enabler, not an end in itself). Your definition is a great way for ECM professionals to think about our industry, but I wonder if those new to ECM might get lost? I’ve had some success with a short, plain-language definition which I’ve used as a starting point for non-ECM folk. The definition is below, and I’ve also written about it on my blog at http://www.c3associates.com/2007/03/28/ecm-resources-and-thoughts-on-the-definition-of-ecm/

    I’d appreciate your thoughts as well. I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

    G.

    Cocktail-party / elevator ride definition of ECM:

    Enterprise Content Management is about helping us manage our information better. It’s about helping us work together by providing simple tools to share our documents and communicate with one another. It also helps make sure that we’re in compliance with the rules that govern our organization by providing a secure central location to store electronic files and references to paper files so we keep what we need to keep and get rid of what we’re allowed to get rid of.

  15. Hi Russ,

    Thanks for starting this discussion / debate. I think your focus on governance is bang-on and I think you’ve got technology in the right place (as an enabler, not an end in itself). Your definition is a great way for ECM professionals to think about our industry, but I wonder if those new to ECM might get lost? I’ve had some success with a short, plain-language definition which I’ve used as a starting point for non-ECM folk. The definition is below, and I’ve also written about it on my blog at http://www.c3associates.com/2007/03/28/ecm-resources-and-thoughts-on-the-definition-of-ecm/

    I’d appreciate your thoughts as well. I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work.

    G.

    Cocktail-party / elevator ride definition of ECM:

    Enterprise Content Management is about helping us manage our information better. It’s about helping us work together by providing simple tools to share our documents and communicate with one another. It also helps make sure that we’re in compliance with the rules that govern our organization by providing a secure central location to store electronic files and references to paper files so we keep what we need to keep and get rid of what we’re allowed to get rid of.

  16. Greg,

    Thanks for your Elevator pitch definition. I agree with you completely that my new definition may be overkill for the business person or non-ECM professional layman. I guess when I started down this path I was only thinking about addressing the ECM folks involved in the “big Market” which I think is comprised by ECM professionals, the Analysts, and IT professionals.

    Also, I was cheating and took the Gartner BPM definition as a starting place. Their definition is rather formal and targeted at the BPM professional and the analyst.

    I think your definition below is “bang on” and will really resonates with the folks who have to deal with this proverbial crap every day; the “Information Workers”.

    I will write another Post which highlights your scaled down definition (with your permission) and see if this stimulates the conversation/debate further.

    Thanks,
    russ

  17. Greg,

    Thanks for your Elevator pitch definition. I agree with you completely that my new definition may be overkill for the business person or non-ECM professional layman. I guess when I started down this path I was only thinking about addressing the ECM folks involved in the “big Market” which I think is comprised by ECM professionals, the Analysts, and IT professionals.

    Also, I was cheating and took the Gartner BPM definition as a starting place. Their definition is rather formal and targeted at the BPM professional and the analyst.

    I think your definition below is “bang on” and will really resonates with the folks who have to deal with this proverbial crap every day; the “Information Workers”.

    I will write another Post which highlights your scaled down definition (with your permission) and see if this stimulates the conversation/debate further.

    Thanks,
    russ

  18. The best definition I have seen of ECM because it is all encompassing.

    Not only a single ECM process plus software package, but collections of processes and software tools. All too often, we see ECM vendors fighting for position across all aspects of ECM. To me, the solution for the masses will be higly driven by processes and software tools from barying vendors and OS developers. No one package could ever provide complete ECM to the masses.

  19. The best definition I have seen of ECM because it is all encompassing.

    Not only a single ECM process plus software package, but collections of processes and software tools. All too often, we see ECM vendors fighting for position across all aspects of ECM. To me, the solution for the masses will be higly driven by processes and software tools from barying vendors and OS developers. No one package could ever provide complete ECM to the masses.

  20. The elevator speech is a good starting point. I think it misses a couple of aspects that would make it complete, at the risk of bleeding over into that other undefinable: knowledge management.

    Proposal:

    Enterprise Content Management is about helping us capture and manage our information better. It’s about helping us work together by providing simple tools to share what we know and what we’ve done and written and to communicate with one another. It also helps make sure that we’re in compliance with the rules that govern our organization by providing a secure central location to store electronic and paper files so we keep what we need to keep and get rid of what we don’t need to keep.

  21. The elevator speech is a good starting point. I think it misses a couple of aspects that would make it complete, at the risk of bleeding over into that other undefinable: knowledge management.

    Proposal:

    Enterprise Content Management is about helping us capture and manage our information better. It’s about helping us work together by providing simple tools to share what we know and what we’ve done and written and to communicate with one another. It also helps make sure that we’re in compliance with the rules that govern our organization by providing a secure central location to store electronic and paper files so we keep what we need to keep and get rid of what we don’t need to keep.

  22. Try mine;

    In addition to ERP, SCM, BPM, PPM, et., ECM is yet another HIGH-FLYING term invented for selling a simple concept of managing unstructured data. Although there is nothing wrong in creating such terms but I fail to see any SINGLE term out there that truly reflects the entire organization goal instead of reaching to the boiling point of one day in future, seeing an INFORMATION WORKER buzzing TOCM in my ears i.e. Toilet Odor Content Management. Phew!

    Where are the true business management people handling these techno-jargon for a better and common understanding of business? How long and far will these greedy companies continue to invent such terms only to exploit HUGE enterprise funds instead of creating a simpler and more affordable solution? Now, pls. don’t look at this as if I am trying to have a free lunch.

    Amir Ali Tayyab
    http://softwarepk.com

  23. Try mine;

    In addition to ERP, SCM, BPM, PPM, et., ECM is yet another HIGH-FLYING term invented for selling a simple concept of managing unstructured data. Although there is nothing wrong in creating such terms but I fail to see any SINGLE term out there that truly reflects the entire organization goal instead of reaching to the boiling point of one day in future, seeing an INFORMATION WORKER buzzing TOCM in my ears i.e. Toilet Odor Content Management. Phew!

    Where are the true business management people handling these techno-jargon for a better and common understanding of business? How long and far will these greedy companies continue to invent such terms only to exploit HUGE enterprise funds instead of creating a simpler and more affordable solution? Now, pls. don’t look at this as if I am trying to have a free lunch.

    Amir Ali Tayyab
    http://softwarepk.com