Craine Art 0917by Kevin Craine for Workflow

Is the term “ECM” still current? About a year ago, the idea began creeping into executive discussions and podcast interviews that “enterprise content management” just doesn’t cut it for describing what is possible and happening with today’s technologies and approaches. Indeed, just as old-school handles like “document management, “imaging” or “the paperless office” eventually gave way to newer concepts and designations, is it possible our old friend ECM is on the way out of industry favor?

Analysts Work to Redefine the Market 

In January of this year, Gartner posted a blog post titled, “Death of ECM and the Birth of Content Services” from Research Director Michael Woodbridge. The assertion caused quite a stir… and for good reason. “I have been working with my team to kill off a market definition I have spent the most significant portion of my career serving,” said Woodbridge in the post. “ECM is now dead (kaput, finite, an ex-market name), at least in how Gartner defines the market.”  

Gartner is instead advocating for “Content Services” as a replacement construct that includes content, platforms and components. Forrester also chimed in to support the idea, splitting the market into two parts, Transactional Content Services and Business Content Services. But Woodbridge is quick to point out that the change in perspective is what’s important, not the terminology. “It is only a definition; however, it articulates a different way of thinking about the problem that can be liberating for organizations paralyzed by the apparent need for consolidation.” 

Make it Intelligent 

Gartner and Forrester aren’t the only ones moving on from the term ECM. AIIM International stepped forward recently to propose the term “Intelligent Information Management” (IIM) as a suitable replacement. In his e-book “The Next Wave: Moving from ECM to Intelligent Information Management,” John Mancini, Chief Evangelist at AIIM, puts it this way: “The role we expect content and information management to play in our organizations is clearly more than traditional data-centric ECM, and it is clearly more than Content Services. Neither of these labels will be sufficient. We believe Intelligent Information Management is the new roadmap in a world that is all about Data AND Content, not Data OR Content.” 

A Rose by Any Other Name 

But are we getting hung up on the name we use and forgetting to focus on what counts? Consider the old saying “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – the popular reference to William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo’s last name is “Montague.” The implication is that the names of things do not affect what they really are. Are we in a similar situation with the term ECM? Call it whatever you’d like; the important thing is not the name we use to describe our efforts, but rather the results of our efforts. Does the technology make a difference? Does the approach improve the process? Will the strategy boost the performance of the organization? These are the things that matter.  

A Framework for the Post-ECM Age 

So we move on from ECM. Now what? One way to move forward productively is by looking at three key elements: workflow, automation and innovation. These three elements can help guide our efforts productively. Workflow is how processes get done. Automation is one important way to improve those processes. And innovation is what we hope to achieve in order to move the organization forward in ways that make a difference.  

Workflow 

We talk a lot about “workflow,” but what does it really mean? The term describes the sequence of steps and processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion. Naturally, this can mean a lot of different things and can be applied to a wide array of applications. Indeed, the workflow of creating a rocket engine is significantly different than that of creating an insurance claim, yet the principle is the same: simply the steps taken to achieve the desired outcome.  

If we understand those steps clearly we can use the concept of workflow as an incredibly powerful way to design important process improvements. Before we begin doing anything it is important to understand how the process really works — not how we think it is, or how people say it’s done, or how we wish it was, but how the as-is process really works. This is important because when you clearly identify the problems in your current workflow, it is easier to be clear about the solutions that you need to solve those problems and improve the gaps in performance of the process.  

Automated Intelligence  

In case you hadn’t noticed, there is an “AI revolution” underway today. In Gartner’s hype cycle, which ranks technologies based on how the market perceives them and how far away they are from mainstream adoption, machine learning and artificial intelligence are right at the top. According to Gartner, AI is two to five years away from mainstream adoption. The message to those of us in our industry is to get on board or risk getting left behind.  

Forrester is extremely bullish on AI as well, and predicts that investment in AI will increase more than 300 percent this year. And speaking of getting left behind, Forrester does not pull punches when it comes to the impact AI can have. Forrester analysts say that companies driven by data and AI will significantly outperform those that don’t or can’t, and steal $1.2 trillion in revenue from competitors every year. Whatever the numbers, it is clear that AI will have huge consequences. The big players will keep getting bigger since they have the resources to invest in better AI. And at the same time, agile young companies will use AI to outmaneuver old giants—something Netflix and Amazon have already done. The question is: how will you use automation and AI to keep your company competitive?   

Innovation 

In order for organizations to maintain a competitive edge, innovation needs to have a breeding ground for new ideas and process improvements that may, or may not, have anything to do with technology. This is where workflow awareness comes in. How can you expect to improve a process and be innovative if you don’t know much about the process to begin with? Indeed, being innovative has everything to do with how well you understand what happens today, and then having the vision and capability to apply improvements – through technology, automation or otherwise – that make a real difference. That is the true result of innovation.  

 Enterprise innovation must allow for the right balance between workflow automation and process innovation. Many successful organizations like Apple, Google and Southwest Airlines understand this balance, and have carefully analyzed which systems, areas and functions need automation and to what degree, in order to leverage the maximum potential from the system and their employees.  

Moving Forward 

Whether or not you believe the term “ECM” remains an accurate descriptor, one thing is clear. The landscape of our industry is changing. We’ll all need to get on board with quickly evolving developments in areas like artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics (also industry terms). At the same time, a back-to-basics approach using the straightforward framework of workflow, automation and innovation as guiding elements to your strategy is essential. Look for providers and resources with the right mix of expertise, perspective and capabilities that will help you design your plans accordingly.  

Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of Workflow.