Vendors claim highly scalable technology; so why are the majority of organisations struggling to go beyond successful departmental solutions when they want to expand to achieve an enterprise view?

Is the ECM bubble about to burst, as organisations question the claims of vendors and consultants alike? Or is good quality technology falling foul of inconsistent implementation and piecemeal strategies?

If so, how can the ECM industry address this challenge and enable the delivery of consistent enterprise wide end-to-end ECM deployments that truly maximise return on investment?

Maturing Market

Over the past 10 years organisations have invested in a number of point solutions, often at departmental level, from business process management (BPM) to information capture, document management and archiving. Today, as these technologies come together as ECM, there is a growing awareness of the huge potential benefits that could be achieved by enterprise wide deployments - from improved time to market through to achieving compliance.

Yet far too many organisations ditch highly successful departmental technologies in a bid to achieve an enterprise-wide approach. Indeed, misunderstanding and misinformation about ECM persists. Few organisations have any idea how best to create an ECM strategy or achieve successful company-wide deployment.

As a result, the majority of ECM deployments may be conjured up as multi-million pound enterprise level investments but the reality is limited point and departmental implementations in finance and engineering that patently fail to maximise return on investment.

Tarnished Reputation

Of course, point solutions typically deliver some return on investment. But the benefits are hardly those touted by eager vendors and consultants. Organisations are failing to maximise investment or attain the true benefits that an integrated ECM strategy can deliver.

The reality is beginning to bite: there is growing disdain at board level as ECM goals are unrealised despite what can be a very significant up front investment. The ECM market is beginning to look more than a little tarnished.

No ECM vendor wants to relive the problems endured in the ERP market in its early days. Far too many ERP products were ripped out and replaced simply because the initial implementation was ill thought out or inappropriate for a specific organisation.

There are clear signs that such activity is set to occur in the ECM market as organisations struggle to link up point product deployments into an enterprise wide solution. Before this trend becomes widespread, it is time for the industry to match its technology maturity with best practice consensus on the development and implementation of ECM strategies.

ECM Confusion

With vendors such as EMC, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle making a massive play for this market, there are a growing number of ‘best practice’ models being touted across the market. But each is vendor specific, reflecting the requirements and design of specific product sets. Furthermore, many best practice approaches are limited to specific parts of the ECM solution set such as data capture or BPM.

Such technology specific advice cannot solve the burgeoning problems affecting the ECM market; instead it can in fact spread the problems created by point implementations. Today organisations have little understanding of centralised information management, global repository services, intelligent process infrastructures and knowledge leveraging. As a result, solutions for content, records and processes are being deployed in a fragmented approach across the organisation creating a piecemeal ECM strategy that patently fails to solve key business problems, compounding many issues that initially drove the ECM investment.

Despite irresponsible claims to the contrary, no single vendor can truly offer the full remit of ECM products and solutions for every organisation. Strong integration is essential and creates an ever greater case for a best practice guideline for ECM: organisations need an approach that delivers strategic value irrespective of technology.

In a maturing market experiencing rapid consolidation, the growing dominance of the leading providers and some Open Source solutions, it is essential that organisations have as much choice as possible to use technology effectively. The focus must be less about technology and far more about the best practice required to achieve maximum corporate value.

Achieving Consensus

To achieve this goal, the ECM market needs an industry-wide standard based on a consensus view and, preferably, backed by a recognised organisation such as the British Standards Institute (BSI).

Building upon existing standards for effective records management or the legal admissibility, an ECM standard needs to be created by consensus between experts with domain expertise across the ECM industry. Encompassing all aspects of the ECM marketplace, from capture to records management, BPM to project collaboration, a standard must encapsulate best practice in both strategy and deployment.

The standard needs to lay down guidelines for creating policy for management of content, eliminating replication of content, integrating content services and designing global repository services. It needs to encompass all elements, to ensure organisations understand how content, process and knowledge management interact and fit together.

But it must also address one of the key barriers to successful ECM adoption: cultural change. Without strong communication with the user, community organisations can never achieve the user acceptance that underpins ECM success.

Critically this best practice standard must provide a clear guideline for defining the ECM strategy up front to support the enterprise-wide deployment; ensuring organisations can follow a clearly defined plan from day one to meet the strategic goals of the ECM investment.

ECM needs to shape up

The requirement for a strong standard is now pressing. The industry is increasingly plagued by large scale contracts that are followed by low scale deployments delivering limited business wins. Indeed, whilst the market is undoubtedly maturing, figures for the adoption of ECM are misleading – licenses sold far outweigh actual user numbers.

ECM is proving very successful for many organisations at point level - from project collaboration to invoice processing. But organisations are missing a massive trick by failing to achieve end-to-end ECM; they are not sharing intellectual capital or streamlining processes across the enterprise. By losing sight of the bigger picture, the majority of organisations are failing to attain the true corporate value from the original multimillion pound ECM investment.

Growing awareness of this problem is beginning to tarnish the reputation of the ECM marketplace. Whilst there is no doubting the massive benefit ECM can deliver with it now being a prerequisite for most organisations, unless the industry can attain a consensus on ECM definitions, best practice strategy and deployment, organisations will continue to spend a lot of money for not enough value – but for how long? If the ECM market is to continue its explosive growth it needs to deliver on its promises – and that requires a clear, trusted standard to support rapid and successful enterprise-wide ECM deployments.

The Content Group is a leading provider of integrated Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions