It may have passed you by, but there was a big funeral in the IT world last year. The public burial of enterprise content management, or ECM.

The instrument of dispatch was a blog from analysts Gartner announcing that ECM was no longer something CIOs and organisations should be pursuing.

The announcement was greeted with shock by CIOs worldwide. That said, many in the market had seen this coming as, for some time, the trend has been towards constructing enterprise solutions as intuitive to use as the solutions in our personal lives, something that ECM solutions had specifically failed to deliver.

What’s more, the term enterprise content management had begun to feel outdated with its inherent monolithic, one-size-fits-all approach. ECM as we knew it has no place in the digital age — a world where information is increasingly moving to the cloud, where content is distilled in various applications, and enterprises look for powerful search capabilities to provide access to information, no matter where it is stored.

However, many organisations have invested significantly in ECM solutions over many years, often with multiple vendors, so currently they are rightly trying to protect their ECM investment.

What’s more, Gartner’s hailed ECM successor – Content Services Platforms (CSPs) – is a similar but very different beast to ECM. So understanding how the new approach and capabilities brought to the table by a CSP can help drive an organisation further towards digital transformation, while still respecting the existing investments and infrastructure, is a key step to be taken.

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Enterprise content management: A look back in time

Let’s review how we arrived at this crossroads. ECM was coined in the 2000s to codify the natural progression of the 80s/90s Document Management (DM) market, which evolved into something broader and more intelligent. ECM was really about a wider spectrum of content capabilities than DM, ranging from records management, workflow, and library services to document output.

However, even from the outset, ECM failed to deliver for many in the business world. Why? Many reasons, but mainly (and fatally) because it never delivered on its promise to improve how organisations manage critical business information.

ECM solutions advised that all content should be stored centrally, in one repository – but this didn’t work. The result was that organisations ended up with more than one ECM system in place, sometimes even more than one system, per department. This multi-repository and difficult to administer environment made it virtually impossible to arrive at a single version of the truth – which ironically enough was one of the key selling points of ECM.

Are we ready to retire ECM?

So ECM needed to change. But did it need to expire? And is content services the rightful heir to the throne? When scrutinised closely, Gartner’s intervention was less a software category death than an acknowledgement of a shift. Gartner’s proclamation was further affirmation that ECM had outlived its relevance in a digital, interconnected, cloud-enabled world, and has now been superseded with the more flexible and dynamic approach offered by content services.

Content services is an inevitable progression from an on-premises, function-specific legacy system approach to information management to something that actually addresses the way people increasingly see digital tools, as flexible, adaptable, intuitive, and continuously improving.

Content services encompasses technologies such as enterprise file synchronisation and sharing (EFSS) tools, and content federation and migration services (Extract, Transform and Load or ETL), which have become core aspects to successful deployments. And as a natural progression, content services of course delivers ECM functions like capture, classification, workflow, and DM (the need for which hasn’t magically gone away – far from it, even in 2018).

So it is time for a switch. And it is end users who stand to benefit the most from an end to ECM and the new content services dawn. Organisations are looking to get more value from information – to use it to power efficiencies and productivity, reduce costs, make better informed decisions and ultimately to drive competitive advantage.

A content services platform (CSP) can facilitate all of those goals by seamlessly connecting content from across the business, making use of the latest technologies, including AI, to understand, interrogate and enhance that content, and by delivering that information to the right person, on the right device, in the right context – sometimes even before they know they need it.

ECM is dead, but not forgotten

Yet while the shift to CSPs certainly reflects what business is actually looking for vendors to deliver, the reality is that many companies have legacy ECM system they can’t easily move off and have no intention of throwing out overnight.

A large financial institution could easily have more than a billion content assets stored in a legacy application; moving that volume of assets with the due care and attention required could take well over a year.

Good luck if you think a bank could last without giving customer access to its online accounts for 12 months. Of course, that would never happen, given that the obvious approach would be to run two systems in parallel for however long the migration takes. But the challenges and costs associated with that approach are equally daunting.

But the connected nature of content services means that you don’t need to rip out the old system and replace it with a new one. Instead the content services approach enables multiple systems to work seamlessly together, allowing the creation of new solutions that take data and content, collectively as information, from multiple systems at once, completely transparently to the end user.

With ECM products now better suited for operating in the background, behaving more like infrastructure, their value will be in serving up content to the systems that need it, through a content services platform, fuelling the decisions, process improvements and service innovation to drive organisations forward.

The future lies with content services, but for the interim the fuel to its modern fire is firmly good old fashioned ECM.