What are the ECM disrupters?

If there was any industry due for disruption surely it would be Enterprise Content Management (ECM).

ECM came out of the first technology wave but largely as a digitisation of existing paper bases processes. Since then it’s continued to add features and functionality but hasn’t really changed much. If you looked at the big trends affecting the whole industry over recent years you would point to Cloud, Mobile, Social and Big Data. The trends in ECM roughly mirror that as:

  • Cloud;
  • EFSS (Enterprise File Synchronisation and Sharing);
  • Information Governance;
  • Open Source; and;
  • Customer Experience (CX).

CX has been a trend for a while now and although it’s very important to many organisations and product providers I don’t see it as a major disrupter. It’s a great feature but that’s all it is. Likewise with Information Governance. It’s had a much higher profile in recent years and for very good reasons. Organisations are now realising that with better controls on their content they can not only meet their regulatory requirements but reduce costs and extract huge value from it. Content has always been a liability as well as an asset and Information Governance is an enabler for both. But Information Goverance, important as it is, is nothing new. It’s been around for ever since the very first classifications in the very first libaries. Sure there are some new features in it like auto-classification but these make life easier rather than changing the game.

The rise of open source in the ECM market, however, is one trend which is changing the market. WordPress now powers some 25% of websites and 60% of sites with a Content Management System (W3Techs Surveys). These aren’t just personal blogs any more either. It’s a significant player in commercial sites as well. Likewise Drupal is now a Leader in the Gartner WCM ratings (Acquia Named a Leader in the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Web Content Management). It’s the only Open Source tool to be included in the list but that’s not really surprising. Folks like Gartner tend to focus on the commercial products, indeed Drupal is only there on the back of Acquia the commercial Drupal provider. Many other Open Source systems are also gaining traction. This is especially true in the Public and Non-Profit sectors where licence fees are more of an issue. Products like CiviCRM, Liferay, Alfresco and Nuxeo are now serious players.

Of course many of these Open Source products can end up coming with quite a hefty price tag. Alfresco, for example, provides an unsupported Community version but moving to a supported, enterprise licence involves a not insignificant maintenance fee. Often comparable to commercial products. For any organisation putting your information crown jewels in an unsupported repository is not a decision to be taken lightly. This becomes less of an issue once an Open Source product reaches a certain critical mass. The most popular Open Source products such as Apache, Linux, WordPress give rise to third party support agencies and extensive online community support. The sheer number of other people using them remove a lot of the risk involved. It’s that critical mass of users and contributors which is making Open Source a disrupter in the ECM market.

There was great post recently by Alex Danco (Dropbox: the first dead decacorn where he pointed out that the big risk to well established market leaders in any industry is being eclipsed by someone in a different part of the stack to you. He gives examples of Microsoft and the PC manufacturers and Android/iOS with the handset makers. In the post he goes on to state that tools like Dropbox will also fall by the wayside because people will just not need to manage files anymore. This is a good point as we move towards managing Information and Content rather than Documents and Files. However there’s also a chance that the EFSS platforms will do the same thing to the tradition ECM suppliers on the way.

EFSS platforms like Box and Dropbox started out as neat ways to store your files so you could access them from any of your devices. Allowing other people to update your content made sharing and collaborating easier. Now that they’ve added in metadata, revisions and workflow they’re not far off full ECM functionality. What’s missing are the security controls but these are coming. With users so familiar with the consumer versions of these products there’s already strong demand for them in organisations. Although the likes of Box may have their sights set on bigger markets (If You Thought Box Was Hot Before …) ECM is such an obvious target they may sweep it up on their way.

Possibly THE major disrupter in the wider industry is Cloud. Cloud is now the default and most organisations need to justify why they’re not using it rather than why the should. As a result it’s having a major impact on the ECM market. The days of having to predict your usage for the next five years and then procure suitable hardware and licences are over. The calculations now are much more fluid as you know the environment can scale up and down as required. With this is the potential for great cost savings. No longer to you have to purchase capacity to support an estimate of your highest load. The Cloud pricing model means that charges are ongoing rather than needing a large capital outlay. So Cloud is changing the Pricing model in ECM and the design and planning process. It’s also enabling far more experimentation and flexibility. With the ability to spin up instances and quickly install new products or features prototyping and trailing software has become far more prevalent.

So there you are, three disrupters facing the ECM industry at the moment. Cloud, Open Source and EFSS. One thing that’s certain is that the amount of information and content people need to store and manage is set to keep on increasing. Also, the value of that content is becoming ever greater. Those organisations that know how to make the most of it will be in a much better position. The intersection of these three trends is likely to be where the action is over the next few years.