ECM Is Dead: Long Live Intelligent Information Management

"ECM is dead,” proclaimed Michael Woodbridge in a Gartner blog post earlier this year. And, the fact is, today’s legacy enterprise content management (ECM) systems and other traditional approaches to managing information are no longer feasible in a world where 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day—resulting in general confusion when it comes to document management. The inability to control and manage data and documents properly can literally stymie business practices—creating inefficiencies and confusion that can slow down sales, HR, and other critical processes.

One of the more perplexing pitfalls of legacy ECM is that version control is still a major issue for organizations. Not only is version control time-consuming, but it could possibly be dangerous if mission-critical documents are not easily found and out-of-date information is being used instead—all of which could pose serious threats for organizations in healthcare, manufacturing, and other industries that require timely information. An industry survey by M-Files and Dimensional Research of 300 businesses found that 85% can’t find a document or a file on a regular basis, and that 66% of business users admit to finding different versions of documents or files in different systems or locations.

Another issue arising from current ECM challenges is shadow IT, which refers to the use of applications that are not under the control of a company’s IT function. In some cases, employees are actively avoiding complex and difficult-to-use, company-provided ECM systems and instead are turning to their own personal solutions to store and share content—including confidential and sensitive information.

Forty percent of survey respondents admitted to using personal solutions such as Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive to share and collaborate on work files. However, when organizations turn to an intelligent approach to information management, it can deliver a unified user experience in a consistent and familiar interface—regardless of the original repository or system in which it is stored and managed. This enables simple, intuitive access from any workstation or device, including native mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.

Today’s Information Silo Challenges

In 2018, the “all content must reside in one system or repository” approach to information management is simply unrealistic. In the past, the only option available was to invest in a monolithic ECM or document management platform, whichrequired a herculean effort to migratecontent into that single repository. And, the only way to get value from a system such as this was to move all data into the ECM solution, and thus the entire successof the deployment was contingent uponan effective migration process.

Furthermore, while it takes significant time and money just to move the information, deploying a new system also requires a substantial effort to manage change—and many employees are averse to learningan entirely new system. This aversion to change and the challenges surrounding migration often leads to vendor “lock-in,” which shackles businesses to the fate of the vendors they’ve chosen. As new needs arise, rather than dealing with root causesof their information management issues, a new system is purchased to solve a specificrequirement and a new silo is created.

That said, what is the alternative? John Mancini, chief evangelist at AIIM International, addressed this topic in a recent blog, stating, “After a number of false starts, we are finally in the era of information management.” He went on to say, “The new world is all about data and content, not data or content. We’ve operated in the past with a convenient dichotomy between data management and content management … the kinds of customer- centric problems that must be solved require competencies and technologies from both the data management and content management worlds.”

The new replacement term for ECM, according to Mancini, will be intelligent information management, which is first and foremost the realization that a single content repository to house everything is—and always will be—just a pipe dream. Intelligent Information Management Business requirements, as well as the technology tools for managing information, are rapidly evolving. As demands for “anywhere, anytime access” to content on mobile and cloud-enabled devices increase,end users expect their technology solutions employed at work to resemble those in their personal lives.

The new intelligent approach to information management is repository-neutral and unifies information across the enterprise based on context and need, not based on the system or folder in which it is stored. The industry survey found that 40% of respondents had to look in three or more locations to discover the right file. The new paradigm allows content and data to remain in one place, so that users of existing systems can continue to work uninterrupted. This allows information to be enriched for evolving needs and use cases. For example, a single, unique contract can show up in a search with other customer-related information for sales and pending legal contracts—all without duplication of content.

Rather than trying to funnel a growing amount of information into one giant repository, businesses must now adopt an approach that offers visibility to each unstructured data source and creates a unified approach to information management.

This approach requires the following four components:

  1. A metadata-based architecture—Once information is objectively defined, it can be decoupled from its location. This enables a new world of information management where search is federated from the ability to search one repository to encompass the notion of “enterprise search” or the ability to crawl and index content and data in other repositories for quick search and retrieval. Information can reside natively in the cloud or on-premises, in any repository or system, as well as in a network file share, in CRM or ERP systems, or even in different ECM systems. Then, users can access information from any of these places from a single interface.
  2. Intelligence—This next-generation approach leverages AI to automatically analyze unstructured content. It uses natural language processing and natural language understanding technology to automate both the metadata tags applied to new files in any connected system or repository, as well as the relationships (or context) this new file has with others across the enterprise.
  3. Value—The volume of organizational information is so large that it will eventually overload any system. In addition, some information is more business-critical than the rest. When organizations can assign value to their content through intelligent information management, additional benefits can be realized. At the other end of the spectrum, intelligent information management enables companies to prioritize their relevant content and take appropriate action with non-critical data.
  4. Multi-repository back end—The multi-repository back end provides the ability to connect with other repositories and systems in a way that gives users visibility to each information silo without requiring content to be copied into a single, monolithic repository. Rather, through an open API strategy that connects various network file shares, office applications (e.g., CRM, email), and other common content repositories, information is presented via one user interface while still residing natively within its existing location.

Today’s businesses require innovative solutions and approaches to eliminate information silos and break down the barriers between their information and their employees who need quick access to it. Adopting an intelligent approach to data management allows organizations to operate more efficiently and safely while providing a practical solution to the growing problem of data sprawl.