ECM : State of the industry

28 05 2010

I have just been going through some of my “Friday” reading, and cam across a couple of articles that look at the May AIIM report called, “State of the ECM Industry 2010”. For a look at one of the articles, visit and read Dick Weisinger quick review of the AIIM report.

Reading this got me thinking a lot more about the actual state of ECM and the businesses that use it, or who should be adopting it.

Drivers behind implementing ECM

There are numerous business drivers for ECM, and I have posted about savings and business drivers on this subject a number of times ( I have a series of posts on True ECM Savings which highlight many business drivers). But what were the “highlights” from the AIIM report.

Apparently the biggest reason to adopt ECM is to optimise business processes, which for me shows the link between ECM and BPM growing stronger and stronger. I no longer see ECM as separate to BPM, rather see the two as a single entity. It is also worth noting that this business driver was with a ratio of 2:1 when compared to compliance…Which is interesting and I believe shows the state of the economy and its impact on business thinking and drivers for investment…

Compliance came in as the second biggest driver for adopting ECM, and this is no surprise. Litigation, regulatory demands, financial reporting, audits and of course fines for non compliance means businesses have to take control of their content in a big way, and the only real way of doing this is by implementing good ECM and BPM practices.

Backing up these two main reasons as that 60% of new adopters cite “Content Chaos” as a business driver in its own right. This is in some ways a pre-cursor to driving for greater efficiency, but does highlight just how problematic varying forms of content can cause businesses, especially as they grow.

Finally, 37% cite “Green IT” benefits of ECM as a driver. Again this shows the state of the economy, not just thinking of the green benefits in the longer term, but how being “Green” can actual make real monetary savings  across any organisation.

The Sharepoint factor

Microsoft Sharepoint gets its own special mention in the report, mainly because it is the new mover so too speak in ECM, though I don’t see this as a pure ECM solution, simply because it lacks so many ECM type functions (again this is something I have posted about in the past). However, it does show that sharepoint has reduced the barriers to entry for ECM, especially at a departmental level.  Apparently 32% of companies have implemented Sharepoint in some way. It is also worth noting that only 11% of these though use SharePoint exclusively as their only ECM solution, probably due to its short comings as an outright ECM platform…

Cloud computing and SaaS

Now this is an interesting area, especially when looking at the barriers to entry into ECM and why SharePoint has seen such massive growth at the departmental level. SaaS really does provide even fewer restrictions to organisations wishing to use ECM, especially at the departmental level. So does this mean with the trend of SaaS that we will see SharePoint face stiff competition at the departmental level of implementations? My own feeling is yes….I have myself already been in talks with organisations that are looking for quick SaaS based solutions, rather than opting for SharePoint.

Apparently in the next 18months the number of companies using SaaS for Document Management (DM) will double to 12% and the number for Records management triple to 6%. I am a little more sceptical about this, especially with Compliance being the second biggest driver for adopting ECM. There are many issues with SaaS, cloud computing and compliance which means for many uses of ECM, SaaS and the cloud will face many issues….However, if you think of smaller uses of ECM at the departmental level, then yes, I can see a massive growth in the use of SaaS for some ECM type functions. Please note some…..

SaaS provides a real quick implementation of areas of ECM. However, it is very restrictive, not just by potential compliancy issues, but also by application integration barriers. If the biggest driver for ECM is business optimisation of processes, then these businesses will be looking to integrate their ECM platform with many other applications within the organisation. Doing this means, you won’t be looking to Cloud Computing or SaaS, as this really does and will limit the potential of integration and therefore the effects ECM can have on business process optimisation. So when looking at the figures in the AIIM report, you have to think of ECM in different ways, with various requirements and regulations….

Open Source

This is a surprise to me, with more organisations looking to open source based solutions. I myself am not a lover of open source solutions, I have always argued that they can never deliver the real security needed for business, and I stand by this. In addition, their cost savings are never as great as initially thought, and there are real concerns with ongoing maintenance and product road-maps. Apparently though, this won’t stop 9% of organisations using open source solution by 2012 (I am not so sure…)

The enterprise 2.0 and Social Media

Though organisations want to be seen as “Enterprise 2.0” many don’t know what this is, or have any idea how to actually go about implementing this lovely idea. Social Media technologies, well their use, is on the up within businesses, you need only look at how many organisations use Twitter and blogging tools on the web. These are key tools to an organisations marketing, communications and PR, however for many they are overlooked as actual organisational content, which is wrong.

29% of respondents view enterprise 2.0 as signification to their organisations business goals, looking at such things as knowledge sharing, collaboration and coordination, making ECM a core technology for them. However, there is a down side to Social media, and that is the negative impact it can have on productivity, with, unfortunately, many employees wasting more time on these websites than actually doing work. The only surprise knowing this, is that only 45% of companies bar access to Facebook, Twitter, You Tube and instant messaging.

A good illustration of the lack of understanding that social media interaction is still organisational content, is that 80% of companies that use Twitter and blogs, do not archive the data, nor have real access to the data from their internal systems (ECM or others).

Last word….

All in all the industry looks set to grow, and there are many newish areas in which ECM can bring new benefits to organisations, social media being the most obvious. However, there are areas where things don’t add up in the AIIM report, the growth of SaaS compared to the quest for full compliance being just one area. In addition, I haven’t read anything about mobile based ECM and the need to access repositories and content across multiple devices, something I feel will become increasingly important in the next 24 months, perhaps more so than SaaS…

No matter what, the next 24 months will be interesting within the ECM market, with lots of new drivers and solutions bubbling to the surface I am sure…

Collaboration in your business?

26 01 2010

After doing my usual scouting around blogs and discussions, I noticed that there are quite a few people not grasping what Collaboration is, and more to the point wondering who would take responsibility, or be a business sponsor if you like, of collaboration within an organisation…

So what is Collaboration?

Well let’s not get caught up in too many definitions here. Basically Collaboration is a way of working together to achieve a similar (or the same) goal, be it individuals within a department, departments within an organisation, or organisations with other organisations. For me a big “No No” is thinking of collaboration as a set of “tools” or “workspaces” such as wikis and blogs. I think of Collaboration as a group of many different elements, each element being made up of a particular tool or technology… So let’s work on the basis that Collaboration is a goal and a way of working, which may well utilise many tools and multiple mediums.

How do I understand Collaboration in my organisation?

Like many questions / problems I find it best to break down Collaboration in this sense into smaller chunks or in this case, categories. By understanding each category and what it is, we can soon start to grasp where collaboration occurs currently in an organisation and also start to understand what it can do within an organisation (also – sometimes more importantly – start to assign a business owner to collaboration)

Messaging Collaboration: Think of how messages get sent around your organisation. Typically you will use eMail, but messaging collaboration also includes instant messaging and SMS texting for example. This type of collaboration can lead to some rather bad practices – such as multiple large attachments embedded within emails, massive Cc and BCc lists in an email etc.

Content Collaboration: Think of working in a group to put together and create a word document – say a contract or proposal for example. ECM is a great example of a tool within this type of Collaboration,  allowing multiple people to work on single files, providing annotations, and generating multiple versions, all working to get to the goal of a “Published / released” version

Conversation Collaboration: Think conversations you may have between individuals within an organisation – especially those that are spread geographically across the country or the world. You can also lump into this form of Collaboration certain forms of Social media. Tools within this form of collaboration include micro-blogging, blogging, wikis, instant messaging.

Business Process Collaboration: Think people working together within a business process to complete “work”. In essence, true workflow and BPM is a form of collaboration as it brings people / departments / organisations together to complete the workstream. However, you can also collaborate at singular steps within a process to move the process along or deal with exceptions. BPM can pull in other forms of Collaboration quickly at this point – such as messaging, conversation and content – just to process a piece of work more efficiently.

Collaboration Management: Think sharing calendars and workspaces. This type of collaboration is ensuring people are free to collaborate at a particular time.

Now that you can understand the different components of Collaboration – you can quickly see that your organisation already uses a number of collaboration tools and elements.

Using collaboration more effectively

This is where tools for that are good for a particular form of collaboration help. Obviously collaboration goes on every second of every day within your business in some form or another. The trick is to make collaboration on a particular piece of work / topic easier to occur and manage. This means you need a good and clear strategy on how you wish to use collaboration within your organisation, more importantly where do you see collaboration taking place and how does it take place. Once you have done this your business can start to identify tools that are easy to integrate into other areas of your business – so pick an instant messaging tool that potentially can be added to your BPM software. Far too often organisations end up with a multitude of collaboration tools, many of which do the same job and are costing the organisation a fair few pounds and pennies in licensing…

 Identifying a singular business owner as such is tough. I think it is better to identify as many business owners as possible and bring them together in a “steering” type group. After all, with Collaboration your business professionals must collaborate with your IT professionals to ensure Collaboration is a success…(oohh the irony…)

Integration is Key (ECM / BPM / Social media)

11 11 2009

For many years I have waved the banner for single application experiences for end users. If you can deliver a single application that allows the end user to carry out all their work, gain access to all the files they require, interact with many other LOB applications (without knowing it), just think what a positive impact that would have on any organisation. Think how better informed that user will be, how much improved their decision making will be, how much customer services will be improved along with customer satisfaction, and also, think how much of a gain that organisation will make in efficiency, productivity and ultimately profitability…

Integration has long been the key to this ideal, and ECM and BPM often show how this can work, integrating with key LOB applications.


The problem is that people want everything to integrate without putting any effort in. This means that organisations spend a lot of money in getting applications to integrate with other companies applications and software. While this can be great for the customer (if you have the same selection of applications and software) it isn’t always practicle. Throw into the mix different operating systems, different versions of software and the daddy of all, different business requirements from that integration….All of a sudden you see how muddy the water can get and just how complicated system integrations can be, and why that single application experience is so hard to achieve…


With the bright invention of XML has come a whole host of ways of integrating applications. It has provided the bridge between old COM and COBRA components, interopability between application components, and most importantly, delivered us XML Web Services and Service Orientated Architectures (SOA).

I love XML Web Services and the capabilities these alone can open up to organisations. If applications deliver good APIs through web services, then integration is made so much easier, be it integration “out of the box” with connectors, or more efficiently through actual developers and professional services.

Is Social Media leading the way here?

Yes…There you go, a nice short answer. Basically Social Media is leveraging web services (especially RESTful services) to allow integration between web sites / applications. Take the recent joining of forces of LinkedIn with Twitter. LinkedIn can now pull in your “tweets” and have these shown as status updates within your LinkedIn profile. Now think back to a business environment and you can see how using one application therefore effects data / content on another application / area of the business. This type of seamless integration is what adds real efficiency gains across an enterprise.

One Degree of Separation

When I founded One Degree Consulting, one of my main aims for the consultancy was to be able to provide consultancy services and solutions that delivered a single degree of separation between the end user, the data / content, and the functions they required to do their job. This may sound a little idealistic, but it can be achieved and should be the goal of business decision makers in all organisations. To be blunt, to achieve this, application integration is key and should be at the forefront of any decision making when it comes to IT based projects and solutions.

If Social Media sites hadn’t have seen how powerful joining forces could be and had maintained a closed API that couldn’t easily be integrated, then the whole point of Social media and sharing may well have been lost….Businesses, take a leaf out of their book, think integration for everything…Its key….

ECM barely being used?

10 11 2009

Today’s post has been inspired by some web reading I have been doing earlier this morning. Open Text, (one of the largest ECM players) have made claims that ECM is still only in 20% of the available market, and that tools just aren’t being used by corporations. From my experience, this is probably true, and of the 20% that do have ECM, I would say 10% of these, just don’t use their ECM capabilities correctly if at all.

Is this a worrying fact for ECM?

Well probably not. ECM in some form or name (Document Management, Image Management, EDMS etc) has been around now since the 80’s, however, it is still an immature sector, and still seen as a very niche market place. Often customers of mine state ECM hampered by far too much jargon and far too much emphasis on out of the box connectors across the complete enterprise. This “enterprise” view, can often scare organisations away from looking at the benefits ECM can bring to each department for example.

Back to basics

Organisations and more importantly their users, sometimes don’t get how to use ECM correctly, and it’s not surprising. Many of the users, and business decision makers, will think nothing is wrong with saving files down onto their local machine (or network share), and organising these folders in a logical way. In addition, users when on their home PC won’t really be using anything that resembles ECM, though there are plenty of reasons why perhaps they should…

This is where education of what ECM can provide is really needed. The whole profile of ECM within the corporate world, and small business world, needs to be raised. Because of this lack of understanding or profile if you like, it is often hard to communicate to businesses just what a positive effect ECM would have for the overall running of their organisation. Of course over time, more and more businesses will grasp the many benefits and real world savings ECM brings to businesses, but hopefully this will not be so far down the line that the market place has only a few massive players left.

The large players provide really powerful solutions, and very powerful demonstrations, backed up with great consultancy work and number crunching to illustrate ROI and future efficiency gains and savings. However, sometimes you can take a good thing too far. Often the case for ECM should be a basic one, leveraged at a departmental level, as opposed to the complete Enterprise. By addressing an organisations needs, department by department, you vendors ensure real business requirements are met immediately and that they are not lost in the mass of other requirements when looking at an enterprise as a whole. It’s also worth  noting that organisations purchasing ECM will not be so worried about implementation complications etc. when only looking at an individual department, things are simpler.

Going forward

As vendors, let’s keep things simple, let’s try to raise the profile of ECM and its benefits, let’s try to remove some of the jargon behind ECM and let’s sometimes step back from the concept of a solution for the whole Enterprise. If we do these things, business decision makers will find it easier to grasp the many benefits of ECM and when this happens, ECM will be being used in many many more organisations. Correctly I hope…

How much do ECM solutions cost?

15 09 2009

Now this is a question isn’t it? I often get asked how much something would cost, and to be honest, the two most frequent areas I get asked this about are ECM solutions, or websites. No matter how many times I get asked this, it’s always hard to say, ‘Well it depends on your requirements, what you want to achieve’ as I often find a blank face looking back at me. Sometimes followed by, ‘Come on, a ball park figure’

Let’s talk price

Like all software solutions you get a wide variety of prices, with price often being linked to the amount of functionality that solution offers. However, ECM can be a little more tricky, as vendors often look at the amount of content you want to store and the amount of users who will be accessing this content. Traditionally this has lead to a ‘dedicated licensing’ approach. What this means is that you pay for your server license and in essence the platform. On-top of this price you will find a ‘volume’ license cost, based on the amount of usage the system will get (content to be stored). You will then pay a license for each individual user that then uses the system. This is only if you are using out of the box solutions too. If not, you will have to fork out for whatever professional services / consultancy / development (though often termed configuration) work you will need. Then each year, you pay a fee based on all of this (typically around 20-25% of your total outlay) in order for you to operate with valid licenses and receive full support and maintenance…

I can hear some people saying now ‘So tell me the price of a server’. Again, depends on your vendor and the platform you choose, however smaller solutions can start around a couple of thousand pounds, with larger more complex and enterprise spanning platforms costing tens of thousands of pounds.

Other price options

My own company provides an ECM platform, however our licensing is a little different. We do have a server based license, which does take into account volume. This license is required to be renewed every year. However you don’t pay anything additional for support and maintenance, no matter how much professional services you required to set up the system. We also only operate a ‘concurrent’ user license model, which means for every 10 users you may have you only purchase one user license. Why? Well it’s simple, our system is thin client, and we disconnect users when they are not using the system, effectively saving you licenses and logins…(Nice of us really).

Many other ECM platforms and vendors offer you similar services / pricing models, so its always worth talking to them and negotiating just what you can get for your money…

It’s expensive…

Well you might be thinking it is expensive to invest in ECM, however, you have to look at the savings a good ECM platform delivers you, year on year. Once you do, you will see they really are systems that are worth every penny. ECM savings / benefits is something I have written a number of posts on, and if you are thinking just what are the benefits and savings an ECM solution can provide, I suggest you spend a little while reading some of the posts available from the following link:

Document and file retrieval metadata

28 08 2009

Far too much focus is made today on providing complex retrieval fields within ECM solutions, and far too much is made of them from customers. For sure, inherited values and properties can be of great use, but when you start to look at your actual requirements, far too often retrieval fields are simply made too complex.

Points to remember

When designing your retrieval fields, metadata or indexes (whatever you wish to call them), keep in mind just what a user will want / need to do to actually locate this file / document. Here is a quick list to help you:

  1. How much information will the user have on a file?
  2. How much time do you want to allow them to enter search information
  3. How can your metadata fields actually assist in this
  4. What sort of results will be brought back and how clear will these be to the user (clear as in how can they quickly see the file they want)

Many systems recently spend a lot of time on very accurately identifying files, however, by doing this they also make it very complex at the data capture stage (scanning and indexing) and also require the user to spend longer setting up their search.

Keep it simple

When designing / identifying metadata fields for files, always try to make and keep things as simple as possible.

First things first, identify the types of files you are storing. This doesn’t mean pdf, word, tiff etc. rather it relates to their type within your business. So some examples may include personnel files, expense claim forms, insurance claim form, phone bill, customer details etc. (dependent on your business).

Once you have made this identification, we get onto the point of retention. How long will a particular file type stay “live”, then move to an “archive” then be completely deleted. When doing this you may find that you logically have some separation of files appearing. NB only create a new classification of file type if it is needed. Don’t do it as some logical separation, rather classifications should only be created to separate either groups of metadata or address such issues as migration and retention periods.

The tricky part is to now identify the metadata fields associated with your types of files. I would always suggest you try to keep these as simple as possible and try not to use more than 7 fields to identify a file. This is where often designers get carried away using inherited fields from different objects within the repository. This is all well and good and can really help in displaying search results back to users (or a heirachyy of files back to a user). However what I try to do is the following:

  1. Imagine you don’t know if there are other files out there in the system (nothing to inherit from)
  2. Identify at least one key field (policy number, customer  number, telephone number etc)
  3. Provide a list of options to the type of file it is (Date of birth certificate, driving license, claim form, phone contract, interview, recorded conversation etc)
  4. Only provide other fields that help logically identify this file from other files of the same type, or they help identify, for example, a customer entity within your business
  5. Provide as many “drop down list” options as possible. This ensures data is accurate and not reliant on spelling or interpretation
  6. Identify any metadata that may be “shared” with other file types. For example a Policy Number may be found on multiple types of files within multiple classifications of files. In addition Policy Number is unique within the business so therefore it can be used to tie together a number of files to a particular policy holder.

If you stick to these 5 principles you will find that 9 times out of 10 you will not have any call for using complex inheritance or complex storage concepts. You more than likely have also identified your classifications in full. Please note that your file types along with classification will also 9 times out of 10 provide you with enough criteria to accurately assign security information to these files.

Once you have identified how information is to be retrieved, think about what information could be automatically captured at the data capture side of things. This sometimes illustrates fields that could be used to help identify files at retrieval; it also sometimes identifies fields that really aren’t appropriate.

Showing results

Often your retrieval system will display results of searches in a format which isn’t always that great to you or your business needs. This is why there are so many “professional services” offered to customers of such systems. As a customer, linking objects together, even showing them in a “tree view” type fashion can help the end user. However, this isn’t a call for inherited properties, rather a call to logically display business related information.

Also remember different types of searches can require different ways of displaying search results. This is sometimes overlooked by designers and system providers to the detriment of the user experience.

Finally, always think past the retrieval process. Once a user has found the file they want they will need to interact with it in some way, this could be to simply view its content or to pass on to another user etc.


I am a firm believer in keeping things as simple as possible and often adopt that IT term the “80 – 20” rule. Far too often IT tries to deliver too much, and in doing so it over complicates areas of the system or worryingly the business. When this happens more often than not a project can be seen as a failure, when really, by delivering less the customer gets more.

When putting together metadata for the retrieval of files remember to try and keep things as simple as possible. Identify key fields and not get carried away in capturing too much retrieval data. Also, always keep your end user in mind, so that’s the end user at the scanning and index stage and end users searching for files. Sticking to these simple rules will ensure you deliver a file retrieval system that works efficiently, quickly and well for your end users and your business…

True ECM Savings…#5

20 07 2009

This is my penultimate entry in this series of posts, and in this post I will be looking at Content Security in terms of not only access, but what happens to content in the case of flooding or fire (something that is often overlooked).

Flooding and Fires…

Not the nicest of titles, but it’s something every organisation must think about, “What happens to our content if the whole building goes up in smoke, or we are flooded out?” This is a question that is more often overlooked than you may think. I have visited many “large” organisations that really haven’t taken such disasters into consideration.

When storing files (especially paper) you will be amazed how often fires do crop up, simply do a search online and you will find examples of fires destroying organisations documents and content, including governmental records. A great example of disasters destroying content can be found looking at the after effects of hurricane Katrina. Warehouses full of content and documents relating to criminal prosecutions were lost, leading to hundreds of criminals being released, simply because the content couldn’t be retrieved electronically.

Now think of the actual cost to your organisation if you lost all of that content and documents. Not only may you be looking at issues regarding compliance, but no doubt massive costs will be incurred not to mention potential loss of business.

If all your content and documents are stored electronically, within a good ECM platform, these issues just aren’t there. Sure in some cases you may still want to store the physical paper, but this can be done off site at dedicated centres (outsourced). You still have access to all that content, even if the physical paper is destroyed. You can also distribute your backups of content easily; having backups at multiple sites ensuring that content is never lost.

And to think, I haven’t even mentioned theft of content…

Our content is secure without ECM?

Well no it isn’t. Paper is the most insecure form of storing content, think, if I can get physical access to the location of a file, anyone can read it, or worse, photo copy it and re-distribute as they choose. It really isn’t hard to open a file cabinet, pull out a file and start reading. Content security is more than just ensuring the office is locked at night, or having locks on the HR file cabinet.

It’s imperative that content is secured, in many cases for compliance, but in general, you cannot have employees looking at information they should have no access to. Think of the issues that may arise, loss of business to competitors, stolen ideas, staff suffering identity theft, I could go on.

Though many of us have watched Hollywood films with computer hackers gaining access to lots of sensitive information, and many of us have read about online hackers gaining access to our personal details, the reality is that electronic content is far more secure than paper.

With a good ECM solution, your content is secured in a number of ways, allowing you to grant different levels of access to content, dependent on individuals or their roles. You can also track just what files have been looked at and or any interactions with that content a particular user may have. No one can tamper with or replace a file, leaving you with false documentation. Such ECM solutions ensure content security is therefore controlled by the organisation itself, and not left open to any form of abuse.


ECM speeds up the way in which people work, by providing them with access to content when they need it. This remains true in the cases of natural disasters and theft. ECM also protects your organisations content and access to that content, reducing many content related risks.

This post can be seen as a post about highlighting the “potential” savings of ECM in times of crises. With this in mind, think of ECM as content insurance. You hope that none of these situations arise for your organisation, but if they do, you will be safe guarded and rewarded for your prudence, and save a lot of time and money.