Guest blog: Reining in the content chaos

Doug Miles AIIM
Doug Miles, AIIM

The Enterprise Content Management (ECM) concept has been with us for over ten years, evolving from localised document management to a much broader role, covering all types of content.

The goal of ECM has stayed roughly the same: to manage electronic content across the enterprise. But we now expect access remotely, to and from staff, mobile devices and third parties. Meanwhile, organisations have multiple ECM/Document Management systems to contend with and these need to be shared and consolidated.

Finally, we also need to extend ECM to incorporate records management (RM) functions for retention management and e-discovery – plus management of new content types, such as social media and email.

Where there was once a clear roadmap for ECM – migrate all the content into a centralised system – there is now uncertainty about the best way to achieve goals such as universal access to information, comprehensive compliance and information governance controls, cost efficiency and greater collaboration. As new technologies have emerged, the community is at a crossroads both at the macro decision level and at a more granular level around such issues.

It’s against this background of uncertainty, that AIIM, the global community of information management specialists, has published a report, ‘ECM at the Crossroads’, that looks specifically at the current state of enterprise content management.

The research highlights the fact that ECM is a work-in-progress for most. A staggering 82% of the 500 senior information management respondents interviewed lack an enterprise-wide ECM strategy – with more enterprise content sitting outside of ECM than inside.

So while there has been rapid change in enterprises with the explosion of dynamic mobile access, cloud, social and email management, all of which require new ways of adoption, the reality is that even without these added pressures, content is spread across many systems and file shares as well as scattered across ERP, HR and Finance systems.

Organisations, on average, manage two or more ECM, DM or Records Management (RM) systems; over one in four (26%) had more than four systems. Four per cent confessed to having over ten of such systems.

Even with multiple systems in place, approximately half of content is held in non-ECM/DM systems, with only 18% of firms saying they had completed an enterprise-wide ECM implementation. This is just a tiny fraction (2%) more than the last AIIM ECM survey in 2011. An additional 36% say they are working toward a central ECM solution, however, many questions remain across the board.

A shift to ECM?

Not only is ECM a multi-system landscape, but in addition ECM is primarily used for document management or file-share replacement by 78%, records management for 66% and collaboration, 46%. More reality checking here: only 3% of organisations have actually turned off their file-share, although 12% have "largely replaced it" with ECM.

Information sharing and collaboration is a key priority, with 64% of respondents acknowledging the importance of the corporate knowledge base. Even with strong interest and steady advances in search technologies, however, the ability to track down information from across an organisation is very much a work in progress. According to our members, more than half of all their content resides outside the ECM system – making search and access a pervasive problem, while also raising concerns about information sprawl.

There’s no question that poor access to information is a major problem as well, exacerbated by the fact that most content strategies are still in the PC-era. Modern business is much more collaborative than it ever has been, so access should also include external partners, customers and consultants. Yet even though mobile devices have gained nearly universal acceptance, only 11% of the respondents say they are providing their users with a mobile-optimised browser interface to their ECM, and only 10% offer a mobile app opportunity. This is despite the fact that for almost half of organisations mobile access to content is ‘very important’ or for 14% no less than ‘vital’.

The issues surrounding connection to company information systems from employee-owned mobile devices have been aired widely (BYOD). What’s going on in terms of information management? In the AIIM global ECM market, 57% are OK with content access from company-issued devices and 32% from compliant BYOD devices – while 22% are tolerating unofficial mobile access (or have no BYOD policy). Meanwhile, somewhat worryingly, more than one in four admit to seeing unofficial use of cloud file-sharing sites – most of which are "consumer-grade".

When it comes to cloud, the AIIM survey results indicate that companies are taking a cautious, incremental approach. Using the cloud for ECM is often considered an all or nothing decision, so no wonder few organisations are fully embracing cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) for all their content – although many are willing to move individual ECM applications to the cloud. Surprisingly, records management is leading the way here, with 14% already doing it and 33% considering it. Cost reduction in IT resource is the biggest driver for putting content in the cloud, followed by better multi-site availability and improved mobile access.

To be sure, reservations about the cloud remain, with 46% of the sampled information specialists confirming that they are unlikely to deploy any cloud-based content. The main concern for users and non-users alike is governance and security (35%), but there is also the fact that cloud-delivered ECM, and in particular SaaS systems, further fragment the available content repositories.

Just under half (43%) are still wed to VPNs for extending external content access, but 17% are looking to a hybrid cloud solution, although the proportion of their content that these users plan to put in the cloud is highly variable. Meanwhile, users are more likely to build an internal social platform as part of on-premise ECM (38%) than use a cloud service (20%) of any type – although content synchronization between a cloud social platform and on-premise ECM could be an attractive way to bridge that divide.

Social content simply wasn’t a factor when ECM began life. Still, given there are so many cloud offerings for social streams and blogs, it is surprising that 38% of organisations are likely to make such content an integral part of an on-premise ECM system rather than use a cloud platform (20%) or on-premise, best-of-breed systems (8%). In any case, social content is an area that will grow – and will need addressing fully over the next few years.

Crossfire hurricane

In conclusion, there is no doubt that ECM is at a crossroads. Implementation of the "ECM ideal" is patchy, with multiple ECM/DM systems – and with few really operational across the whole of the enterprise. As it stands today, more enterprise content resides outside of ECM than in.

Nonetheless, the majority of the organisations we polled have a single ECM system across the business as their strategic goal. That’s a commitment reflected in the amount of money people are investing in the field; ECM has been one of the few areas of IT to maintain double-digit growth in a tough market and software spend looks set to increase in the next 12 months.

However, this investment needs to be underwritten by adequate, enterprise-wide content management policies. In the face of evolving business priorities, the rise of mobile access, and the explosion of cloud, social and email management, a systematic approach is needed if we are to stem ‘content chaos’.

The author is head of the Market Intelligence Division of global information management professional body AIIM.

‘ECM at the Crossroads’ is based on a global survey of over 500 of AIIM’s 80,000-plus members conducted in March and April; respondents were from either the enterprise, midrange or SME categories, with most (68%) based in North America and the majority of the remainder (19%) from Europe. A high proportion, 40%, are in IT, while 42% have a records management or information management role and some 17% are line-of-business managers.

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