Dazed and confused: A decade spent trying to define and promote the value of ECM (or document management or content management)

I’m in Philadelphia, PA, this week, attending the AIIM International Exposition and Conference for the tenth consecutive year.

I normally don’t brag about such impressive personal stats. I find some people become intimidated in the face of such accomplishment.

Actually, the only reason I’ve given my tenth pilgrimage to the ECM industry’s signature event a second thought is because 10 years seems like a nice, tidy timeframe to put the evolution of the ECM industry into perspective.

In 2001, the more prominent members of the vendor community were doing everything possible not to mention “antiquated” technologies like document imaging and capture. Our message then was: “Get with it people, it’s 2001! Who needs to manage paper when business is moving to the Web? It’s all about content. Don’t you fret about that “dip” in the tech stock market; this is the New Economy. It’s a happy, happy place. People who get it read Red Herring magazine and the Cluetrain Manifesto. People who question it, like that old coot, Warren Buffet, are destined for irrelevance.”

Hmmm. Now I know why people don’t like to put things in perspective. Because it forces you to remember that you were naive enough to buy into all that bunk.

Fast forward to 2010. EMC, one of the top sponsors of this year’s event, is posting boldly colored advertisements featuring an end-user demanding, “I WANT PAPERLESS.” Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on the critical role of (you guessed it) document imaging and management technologies in helping hospitals meet “meaningful use” requirements for electronic health records.

In 2010, the technologies that support transaction processing and business process automation (e.g. document imaging and management, workflow software, e-forms, COLD/ERM) remain cornerstones for any successful ECM strategy. Why is that? For one, they deliver measurable benefits. They help organizations of all shapes and sizes to save money. They offer proof as to whether or not you’re obeying the law. They provide high-value employees the time to focus on the high-value aspects of their jobs. They contribute to saving lives.

After a decade of trying to figure out how to best define and promote the value of ECM, I’m encouraged. There are signs that the collective members of the industry (i.e. vendors, AIIM, industry analysts, procurement consultants and trade media) have woken up to the reality that we need to educate the market about proven technology capabilities that many organizations are in dire need of putting into production. The fact is, we still have people from both public and private sector enterprises walking into our booth who haven’t yet digitized a single paper document associated with their mission critical business processes.

Having said this, I’m also getting the sense from conversations with my peers at this show and elsewhere, that, while our industry is finally giving transactional ECM technologies their due, secretly, we don’t exactly feel they’re…well, y’know…cool. Transactional ECM technologies may be valuable, but Enterprise 2.0 is cool.Don’t get me wrong. Enterprise 2.0 technologies are capable of revolutionizing many aspects of how an organization conducts its affairs. But they don’t make technologies that support business fundamentals – like process automation, expense reduction and regulatory compliance – irrelevant.

Ten years ago, the ECM industry turned its back on business fundamentals. We may have sounded cool then, but I think we left the market confused and jaded about the business value our technologies are truly capable of delivering.

From my perspective, it took nearly ten years to mend the error of our ways. Here’s to not making that mistake again.

Ken Burns

Ken Burns manages the Analyst and Influencer Relations program globally for Hyland, creator of OnBase. He is responsible for keep leading industry analyst firms informed about Hyland’s company and product... read more about: Ken Burns

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