ECM and BPM jargon. It doesn’t help!

26 05 2009

Today I have been talking to a number of people on twitter about the issues of using too much jargon, something that ECM and BPM companies and consultants seem to do all the time. What triggered this off was reading a couple of articles where people thought BPM / workflow was something new. Then in their own descriptions of BPM got it wrong, and more importantly started comparing their own services to BPM, which they weren’t at all. The articles also talked about BPM as if it didn’t really exist….why???

I also have been reading a number of articles where explanations of ECM and BPM are just so complex to read or full of jargon that, well they don’t make instant sense to anyone outside the ECM / BPM market place.

Firstly, BPM (Business Process Management), well workflow, has been around and used in IT since the 1980’s. It’s nothing new or revolutionary, though to many businesses, it probably is. Many organisations either don’t understand it, or have not yet recognised the amounts of benefits such solutions bring to organisations.

Secondly, ECM (Electronic Content Management) has been around in some form again since the 1980’s. Though its current badge of ECM is quite a bit younger, essentially, ECM solutions have been round a while.

The simple truth is, if ECM and BPM solutions cannot provide simple descriptions of what they actually do, what hope is there for describing how these technologies help businesses….Which they do, very well.


So what is ECM?

Ok, now if you know about ECM, please have a go at describing ECM simply, in a single sentence, and add to the comments for this post…..But I am looking for simple definitions without jargon.

What I constantly see on the web is a paragraph of a description. Something, that for many people may read as meaningless twaddle created by some smart a** in marketing. This is one of those examples I see frequently on the web, and funny enough in Wikipedia. Oh, its also one of the better examples, though I think you may agree, still a little…well, read for yourself:

“Enterprise Content management (ECM) is the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content and documents related to organisational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organisations unstructured information, wherever that information exists”

Great…..So I am new to ECM, this is my first venture into reading about it and I am presented with that….Not good, though technically correct, how hard is it to understand. Mind you, I don’t like the word processes there really….But that’s another post..

For me we have to make things simple, even if that means we don’t describe it as accurately as we should do. After all, a business isn’t going to buy into ECM based on one description of what it is. It may though get them interested, or turned off. So what’s my description of ECM…Ok, well I use a few, many of which my company use and, well clients seem to grasp what we mean straight away.

“ECM is a large digital storage area; in it you can place and manage anything that can be stored electronically and or recognised on a computer.”

Now I know that sells ECM short. However, it’s a single sentence. It helps the customer or newcomer to ECM understand a core principle.  Once they understand that, you can explain more about ECM.


So what is BPM?

Again if you know about BPM, this is going to seem silly, but try to describe BPM in layman’s terms in the comments of this post. Again I have seen some shocking explanations that just confuse the matter, or make people believe it only relates to software….Here is my own shot at it:

“BPM is a computer based solution that allows you to bring together all the elements of a particular process / job within an organisation and help your staff get their work done efficiently”

Again, I am selling BPM short here, but it gets across a core principle. Is there really any need to talk about mapping business process work flows? Using abstract modelling to deliver strategic management of processes reducing process cycle times? I don’t think so.

Again, simply is best to start with.

So why the jargon in the first place?

Simple…..I have no idea!

Sometimes I think it is genuinely due to people trying to describe ECM or BPM in its entirety. However, more often than not I think it’s the way people seem to want to do business today. Thinking by using some jargon or glossy terms they look more knowledgeable or make their product much better. If you have watched the Apprentice you will see a lot of this rubbish in the board room…

I’m worried, and am sure people walk away from ECM and BPM solutions, simply because they have got lost in the jargon.


Is there a point or conclusion????

My point is this. Jargon and lengthy descriptions of ECM and BPM just isn’t good. Anything with that much jargon in it or complex descriptions will have people outside of the market scratching their heads and “best guessing” just what ECM / BPM is all about. More often than not, with them getting it wrong!

By keeping it simple, we get across our core selling point. Once people have a basic grasping, then they can be exposed to the more complex areas of both ECM and BPM, but please, with real world examples businesses can relate to and without the massive amounts of jargon.

A friend today said, “We need to humanise our literature”. I think he hit the nail on the head…



5 responses

26 05 2009
Theo Priestley

Well said. There’s enough confusion between client and vendor with the constant jargon and creation of new buzzwords to follow the latest trends in the market (Cloud BPM for starters) but it also doesn’t help there’s no common message or language coming from the ECM and BPM professionals either.

It’s not a case of ‘dumbing down’ the messages, it’s a case of looking at it from a fresh perspective. If you were encountering ECM or BPM for the first time, what would you want to hear about it ? What would make you want to learn more ? And what would switch you off completely ?

For some (CTO, CIO levels) the jargon is necessary to impress them about your technical prowess and solution’s robust ability to integrate with infrastructure (or so they want to think….) but in most cases the first person making the enquiry is a curious business focused person looking to solve a thorny problem.

Do you use the same techno-babble on them as you do to a techie ?
Of course not, but it seems vendors just sell on one style of message and hope it hits the mark at some point or blind them with science and hope the ‘kid in a candy shop’ stare doesn’t falter.

Poor effort. And just plain lazy in fact. At the end of the day, it’s the business user community who’ll have to suffer another IT choice so at least allow them to understand what’s coming their way.

Perfect phrase: humanise your literature.

26 05 2009
Sue Kerridge

This whole issue has been a bug-bear of mine for way too long. I come from that strange netherworld that exists between the business and IT, and which (on a good day) acts as the translator between the two… leading to real communication & common understanding. That’s on a good day.

I won’t take you up on the challenge to define either ECM or BPM in one sentence on here; hey – better qualified people that me have tried (and are still trying…) – and it’s telling isn’t it that the debate and discussion still rages on?

The thing that really, REALLY bugs me, is the view that BPM is ‘sold’ as an IT solution.. complete with jargon, techno-babble and impressively animated slide-decks… usually to a group of people who are trying to run (and improve) a business and who really don’t have the time or inclination to worry about .net, APIs, BizTalk, Clouds, (can you tell I’m not a geek yet?).. or anything else that sounds impressive but is really meaningless to the people with the problem.

And that’s the dangerous part. It’s sold as a solution… a bit of technology you can plug in (“it’ll be easy, honest, we’ve plugged it in lots of places before”), and hey presto, your business will run itself as if by magic. Ignoring the (usually false) claims about how easy this stuff is to develop / install / deploy (another post Andrew?)… what isn’t talked about, and what really, really should be – is the business itself. What is the business problem, what are the goals, what is the end-game for the customer…. and with (or without) technology, how does the business need / want to change to achieve this. There’s a little thing called change management….

The thing is – and this is why the whole jargon, techno-focus gobbledegook is pointless really (even self –destructive) – if the solution doesn’t work (and it won’t if there isn’t sufficient attention to the non-IT elements), who loses? The business / customer, sure… but it doesn’t do the vendor any favours either.

It’s called BPM. There’s a clue there – it’s all about the business, so surely better to talk in terms the business can understand, about what matters to the business. (Normally businesses are run by humans… so go on “humanise that literature”.. and those slide-decks…. and…)

26 05 2009
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I agree Sue, far too many IT people focus on a concept of “Product” and “Solution” that is completely out of the box and will work for everyone.

The key focus is Business as you said, and too often the jargon and “selling points to get across” lose sight of the actual business requirements. Solutions, such as BPM, need to show real world examples of how it solves a particular business issue or meets business requirements.

I guess, humanising your literature, must include providing real world and relevant examples for that particular business. No abstraction and jargon…

17 09 2009
Bryant Duhon

I’m heartened to read that you find the definition of ECM I worked up for an AIIM poster published five or six years ago is one of the least objectionable out there! I agree 100% with your post. Jargon stinks and I’ve heard many vendors over the years use buzzwords to obscure that they either have no clue what they are talking about or that their particular product isn’t particularly good.

That definition was the last thing I wrote for the poster. I was a bit hamstrung by having to use the AIIM “capture, manage, store, preserve, deliver” wording. I wanted a single sentence, but couldn’t get there.

I always think of ECM as the technologies/strategy that allow you to save and then find the content you need. As you say with your definition above, that is very simplistic, but that’s pretty much what all of this stuff we spend our careers writing about (in my case) or doing (in yours) does.

Good blog, by the way.



17 09 2009
Andrew Smith @onedegree

I think having to include certain words in a definition will always make it a little less readable and no doubt a lot harder to write.

I have had many a meeting with business decision makers and they dont grasp quite what something is, often due to complicated descriptions, or people trying to describe in too much detail. I believe ECM is one of those, that becuase it deals with something so big, as an organisations content, that a simply description never really does it justice. Which is why we have to make the simple description that bit longer, and then longer ….

Thanks for your feedback, I look forward to further discussions in the future…

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