Enterprise Content Management at a Crossroads – The Case for Traditional ECM in a Microsoft World (Part 1 of 2)
After death and taxes, there are two other things in this world that seem to be a certainty;
- If you want to start a debate in the enterprise content management (ECM) community mention SharePoint, and;
- I’m really bad at predictions.
Evidence for point #1 is all over ECM blogs, countless conversations at conferences like AIIM and ARMA, and countless sleepless nights for traditional ECM vendors as they try to think of ways to fend off Microsoft. As for the second point, let’s just say that after I picked my Calgary Flames to win the Stanley Cup they missed the playoffs entirely. Nice call on that one.
The purpose of this post is to list some of the reasons why traditional ECM tools might survive (or even thrive) in the face of Microsoft’s full-court-press into the ECM space. I will leave it up to you, my colleagues in the Electronic Records Management (ERM) community, to expand on this list, tell me where you disagree and have a good discussion about the future of Enterprise Content Management. Next week I will make the case why SharePoint might be the future of ECM.
So, here goes.
- Records Management is not optional. Many organizations wish it was, but it isn’t. Although SharePoint 2007 introduced some records management capabilities and SharePoint 2010 seems to take this to the next level, the critical role records management plays within an organization means it is not something that can or should be done half way. Traditional ECM tools like EMC Documentum, Open Text Content Server (formerly Livelink), Open Text eDocs (formerly Hummingbird), IBM FileNet and open source tools like Alfresco have a several-year head start on Microsoft. This means there is a significant body of best practice built up within the vendor and partner channels associated with each tool. There is a very good chance the issue your organization is dealing with has been seen somewhere else and that you can call on these resources to help get you where you need to go. Can you say that about SharePoint RM? The tool and best practices may eventually develop, but do you want to go first?
- The vertical is steeper than you think. Whenever a client or colleague would ask whether I thought SharePoint 2007 was a viable replacement for their existing ECM system, it was relatively straightforward to explain why most organizations needed to continue leveraging their existing investments in traditional ECM suites. I summarized some the shortcomings of SharePoint 2007 last year, and have found these points to be a very useful “elevator pitch” when discussing the differences between SharePoint 2007 and traditional ECM suites. Admittedly, this discussion gets as lot more muddled with SharePoint 2010. Many if not all of these points have been addressed in one form or another, except for one very important area; solid, mature solutions in industry verticals. ECM vendors have spent the better part of the past two decades developing, deploying, supporting and improving their solutions for specific industries. Will the life sciences industry trust their complex regulatory approval process to SharePoint any time soon? Will the architecture, engineering and construction industry be able to manage multi-billion dollar projects that generate millions of AutoCAD files and tens of millions of facility tags in SharePoint? Speaking in strictly technical terms it is possible that SharePoint can handle the volumes, but for these use cases and others like them, ECM suites offer mature tools that support complex business processes and as above, the vendor professional services and partner networks have extensive experience in implementing these tools in a variety of industry verticals. Although there is a perception that ECM should primarily focus on replacing shared drives, my suspicion is that most ECM is targeted at solving business problems in core operating areas, and it is in these areas that traditional ECM players hold a significant advantage.
- A suite of tools from one vendor increases accountability. Whenever someone questions the ability of SharePoint to meet a particular business need using the product as-is out of the box (as is often the case when discussing the vertical business requirements noted above), the response is usually that a Microsoft partner either has or will provide a module that meets this need. While that may be true in many cases, most organizations end up with many different modules from many different vendors. There are a couple of downsides to this; the testing required each time you need to upgrade goes up exponentially and, if and when things do go wrong you will not be able to hold a single vendor to account. This is often referred to as the “one throat to choke” argument (although my friends in the vendor community prefer to call it the “one back to pat” argument). Although the “suite” approach taken by traditional ECM vendors usually means that some of the individual components are not best of breed, the ability to hold a single vendor to account for their product is a significant benefit, and one that SharePoint cannot offer.
- If Microsoft CRM didn’t kill SAP, why would SharePoint kill traditional ECM? Although there has been a lot of talk about SharePoint overtaking traditional ECM players, why has Microsoft not overtaken SAP in the CRM space? Is there is a case to be made that SharePoint is akin to Microsoft’s CRM offering; a tool targeted at the mid-market, mass-market space but not really suitable for true enterprise deployment?
I hope these questions provide a good starting point for a good discussion about the future of ECM. Next Thursday I will make the case for SharePoint to live up to the hype and change the ECM landscape as we know it.
Until then look forward to your comments.
Cross-posted from my blog on the AIIM ERM Expert User Community.