Content services: confusing or crystal clear?

Content services. It’s the new catchphrase you’ll hear frequently in the information management space. But what does it mean? And, more importantly, how can it benefit your organization?

Attendees at this month’s AIIM Conference discussed this very topic, hashing out the differences between the term and its evolutionary “predecessor,” enterprise content management (ECM), as well as the benefits it provides.

The evolution of the ECM industry

The promise of ECM was the ability for organizations to utilize one content repository for business needs and users across the enterprise. However, the reality is – and really, always has been – that content lives in multiple places, from different content management systems to SharePoint sites to core applications like ERPs. For attendees, narrowing the volume to one central location seemed unrealistic.

“ECM was all about driving people toward that central repository,” one attendee explained. “The enterprise in the title scared people away from it. They dismiss it because it sounds expensive and impossible to achieve.”

Content services, on the other hand, embraces the more realistic multi-repository environment, taking advantage of key capabilities like integration to connect different information sources.

“When I hear something like content services, it sounds like a solution – something I’m trying to deliver,” said Jim Cincotta, senior technical product manager of content services at Northwestern Mutual. “We have pockets of information in scattered repositories, and what we’re trying to do is abstract those things, providing a layer of services to all of those repositories that are common capabilities to all of these disparate data sets.”

In fact, the true focus of ECM was purely that – content management. With the evolution to content services, the focus is broadened. While conversations in the past included technology like capture and workflow, content services spans even further and takes a user-centric approach, including areas like enterprise search, collaboration and case management.

“The term ECM is limiting in nature because it has ‘content’ in it,” said Glenn Gibson, director of product communications at Hyland. “Just think about case management – there’s conversations, phone calls and other pieces of information that don’t fall into traditional content management. Over time, ECM picked up capabilities, but it still felt limiting. What we found is that content services broadens the conversation, and it goes beyond simply the management of content.”

The need for content services

As organizations move away from the pursuit of a single content repository, the focus now is on building solutions that connect multiple repositories together and allow users to access and interact with information using the systems and methods that specifically work for them.

For Cincotta, his need for content services involves records management across the enterprise. Staff struggle to ensure records retention for each new channel of data ingestion as well as document versioning.

To solve this problem, Cincotta is looking at content services as a “logical layer on top of these content repositories.” The records can live anywhere, but a content services approach will make their management successful across all repositories.

“The idea meshes with me,” he said. “It’s not a box solution, but a set of capabilities that serve specific needs.”

It’s all about choice

Instead of buying a monolithic system designed for the entire enterprise, the promise of content services is that you purchase only what you need. In fact, 74 percent of respondents said they would like to pick and choose the services they want rather than buying everything, according to AIIM research.

“It’s a reset of expectations,” Gibson explained. “You don’t need to buy an entire product suite – you buy just what you need.”

The appeal of low-code, rapid application development adds additional benefits to this approach.

“You can take low-code platforms and build the common framework for content services; you don’t have to build it from the ground up like you had to in the past,” said one attendee.

And as Craig Hatfield, lead developer at Sherwin-Williams, explained, utilizing a content services platform has enabled him to “only write code when it’s a last resort.”

What’s in a name?

Although some attendees found it easy to articulate the evolution of the information management industry, many still were unsure about the new terminology.

This is likely due to the fact that term is still new – many companies have only just made their debut with the term after Gartner published its first Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms, 2017.

If you’re looking to learn more about the topic, I encourage you to download the report. Or, spend some time reviewing our content services pages on There, you’ll find a variety of information on the topic.

And, if you have questions, post them below. Your curiosity is our opportunity to help educate the community on this evolving industry.

Katie Alberti has expertise in content services platforms and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.
Katie Alberti

Katie Alberti

Katie Alberti has expertise in content services platforms and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.

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