Rock is dead. ECM is dead. Do we mourn or celebrate?

Being a drummer and a music lover, a headline recently caught my eye: “Rock is dead.” This bold article quotes from no fewer than 17 music legends all proclaiming the death of this music category.

“How can a whole genre suddenly be over?” I wondered.

This, though, was not the only “death of a genre” proclamation this year. “ECM is dead,” wrote a Gartner analyst. “Finite. Kaput.”

“How can a whole genre suddenly be over?” I wondered again.

While these are very separate topics, they both happen to be close to my heart, having been a drummer all my life and having worked in the enterprise content management (ECM) industry for the last 12 years. All this things-that-I-enjoy-doing-are-dying talk started to make me feel nostalgic. And, as usual when you learn of the passing of someone or something you loved, you spend some time pondering, thinking about, and dwelling on them.

What I started to realize was quite surprising. There are interesting parallels between both seemingly unrelated worlds. Both rock music and ECM emerged from a convergence of innovations that CREATED the genre, both had a profound impact WHILE they were in their prime, and both were necessary to inspire what happened NEXT.

So do we mourn or do we celebrate these genres? Let’s consider.

Where did the genres come from?

It’s hard to imagine a world where there was no such thing as “Rock” music. But that was the case in the late 1940s. At that time, several musical styles were popular in the United States: jazz, gospel, boogie-woogie, rhythm and blues, and country and western. Around the same time period, innovations in musical instruments were taking place with electric guitars, electric bass guitars, and amplifiers all becoming increasingly available and popular.

As all these styles and innovations combined into new forms of music, in 1951, a radio broadcaster in Cleveland, Ohio (disc jockey Alan Freed), coined the phrase “rock and roll.” On that day, a new category of music was born.

It’s a very similar story with ECM, although not as long ago. In the late 90s, the term ECM didn’t exist. At that time, there were several technologies emerging in the workplace: scanning and document imaging software, workflow engines, and document management repositories. Combined, these became known as electronic document management systems, integrated document management systems, and more.

At the same time, innovations in hardware devices were taking place: high-volume scanners, faster networks, and desktop PCs replacing mainframe “dumb terminals.” As all these software and hardware innovations were being combined into new and inventive solutions, in the year 2000, AIIM, the Association for Information and Image Management, coined the phrase “enterprise content management” for this new breed.

On that day a new category of technology was born.

Clearly then, both genres were born from innovations, experimentation, and everything that came before. These new categories started to make their mark on the world. To what extent?

The profound impact they had

Rock music’s impact on society has been undeniable. A walk through the hallowed halls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland, Ohio, reveals how rock and roll challenged and changed popular thinking on topics such as fashion, love, and individuality. The social impact of rock music is the subject of this Wikipedia article.

Some believe that rock music was at its prime in the 70s, although glam rock “hair bands” were going strong into the late 80s. Perhaps, as a society, we’ve outgrown some of the ideas, ideals, and fashions that rock music channeled in its time, but we can look back with some amount of fondness.

Similarly, there’s no denying the profound impact enterprise content management has had on the world. Some of the amazing stories out there illustrating ECM’s incredible impact include:

Yet, as is the case with rock music fashions, not all ECM ideals have stood the test of time. The idea that ALL enterprise information would ever be consolidated into one single repository, with one common taxonomy, and rolled out in one humongous, enterprise-wide project is almost as dated as acid-washed jeans and unnecessary eye patches.

So it’s clear that both rock music and ECM have made a significant impact on the world, and yet time moves on. The best part of both, though, is that these were necessary steps for what comes next.

These genres inspired what came next

There are an impressive array of “music maps” online showing the inter-correlation between rock and roll and all subsequent genres (I like this one). What is abundantly clear in all of them is that rock and roll music has forever shaped the future generations of sound and song.

Without rock and roll, there would have been no U2, no Bruce Springsteen, no Nirvana, no Oasis, and indeed no Justin Bieber (is that a good thing or a bad thing?). Regardless of whether you or I like any of these bands or not, the point is that if you tune in to any music streaming service right now, the songs you enjoy are only playing because rock music happened, unless of course you’ve tuned in to “Baroque Classics” or another pre-1950’s genre mix.

In a similar way, just because the world might be moving on from the term enterprise content management, what we must recognize is the incredible influence that this technology sector continues to have on the world. That “digital transformation” is a hot topic right now, can in many ways be attributed to the digitization technologies and workstyles ECM brought into to the mainstream.

The term “Content Services,” being touted as the replacement term, is really as much of an evolution from enterprise content management as “digital-electronic rock” was an eventual evolution from rock and roll.

This is where these two seemingly unrelated genres come together in a spectacular way. What is blindingly obvious is the fact that technology innovations were the driving force behind the past, peak, and future evolution of BOTH categories. Rock is a category of music, and music will forever inspire us. Meanwhile, ECM as a category of technology forever redefined expectations for how organizations provide access to the information people need.

They are not dead, they are immortal

So with all of that said, I’d argue that not only are rock and ECM not dead, they are also in many senses immortal. Both emerged from incredible innovations that gave birth to the categories in the first place, both had a profound impact on the world, and the influence of both will forever live on through the future innovations they inspire and will continue to inspire.

So do we mourn their passing or celebrate? I think the answer is simple.

Read our new eBook,, to make sure the next huge swell that changes the entire landscape doesn’t catch you by surprise.

And then join Kool and the Gang in Celebration.

Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson

Glenn Gibson is Director, Global Technology Evangelist at Hyland. With 20 years working in the IT industry, he’s collected several certifications over the years as a VMware Certified Professional, Citrix... read more about: Glenn Gibson