What Is Enterprise Content Management?

Since we each have our own definition for the term Enterprise Content Management (ECM) I decided that in our first post we should devise a good definition. So we did the natural thing and started researching on the Internet. Through my research each of my perceptions slightly changed. Here is what we found.

The first place I headed was the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), the professional organization for enterprise content management. When searching for the phrase “what is ECM” I get a set of results back with nothing interesting in the list. As a matter of fact the first link I choose returned a 404 Error. So I did a Google search for the same phrase, and ironically the second result, What is ECM? is from AIIM. The page defines the terms as follows.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the strategies, methods and tools 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.

AIIM probably spent a lot of time to create that phrase. I am not sure how long,  but I am sure it was a few meetings at least. The problem is that I especially don’t agree with the last part.  Wherever.  What on earth does that mean?  I think I know why its there, because it’s going along with the common and inaccurate belief that people make on ECM, such as this one I found.

Placing all your content spread across the organization under one roof, making it easier to search and retrieve, control on who can read content and who should write, make available the right version and the right content for effective decision making. This is content management in a broad sense.

What is wrong with this? Well the “one roof” part is a big one.  For some reason people think that since things are in one “place” somehow this makes them “managed”. Well that could not be further from the truth. I actually proved that wrong with the very first thing I did.  Searching for something on AIIM and not finding it, then searching on Google and finding it.  So let’s toss out the one roof idea and maybe refine the “wherever it exists” statement.  I agree it should not be in all one system, but wherever seems a bit ambitious to me.

Disregarding the errors and notices, checking Wikipedia tells me that…

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) refers to the technologies, strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to an organization and its processes. ECM tools allow the management of an enterprise level organization’s information.

Yuck! Just read that last sentence again. So what is it? Is it technology? Is it a process? Is it a strategy?  All the above?

So how about something simple, pervasive, and minimalist.  Something we can use discussing this with CEO’s or CIO’s as well as with the systems guys. Something that involves technology and does not paint it as a magic bullet.

Well here’s goes my definition.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the ongoing effort for an organization to use technology to organize their unstructured information and resources.

Here is what its not:

  • A single project
  • A single tool
  • A single repository
  • Business Process Management
  • Nirvana

Most ECM projects fail simply because they do not understand the definition of what they are trying to do.  You simply cannot expect ECM to be accomplished with one technology, one project or in a single repository.  It’s bigger than that, and if you don’t get that going into an ECM project you will be very disappointed in the final outcome.

Here are some important technology practices to employ on the ECM journey:

  • Enterprise Search (such as Google Search Appliance)
  • Web accessible content management systems (such as Oracle UCM or dare I say it SharePoint)
  • SEO Optimized Intranet and Internet sites (yes both should be optimized)

Enterprise Content Management is only achieved one project and one tool at a time.  You must be in it for the long haul to win it.

For fun you might also want to check out AIIM’s Infonomics magazine Video Contest on What is ECM.

I also found this blog from John Mancini titled “Would an ECM Rose by any Other Name still Be this Confusing?” pontificating about the ECM name. Its quite interesting, my take is that is the name should stay. We just need to simplify the definition and make it does not refer to particular technology.

Let me know what you think of this definition in the comments below. Maybe sometime later we can address the question, “What is content management?”.  I am sure this one has some similar fodder.