Will Enterprise File Sharing overrun ECM?

So, Box is planning to take over the world. At least that’s what Jeetu Patel said in an interview for CMSWire recently. In it he explained that Box isn’t after the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) market it’s actually after all content. Everything.

There was another interesting article not long ago by Chris Walker (@chris_p_walker) about the Hybridisation of Enterprise File Search and Sync. In it he explained his view that EFSS (Enterprise File Synchronisation and Sharing) has no right to be a standalone content management category and it should be bundled in as a feature of ECM. He’s right of course. EFSS will eventually become ubiquitous with full blown ECM. Indeed Box has now been included in the Forrester Wave for ECM.

There’s certainly a rush on at the moment with EFSS platforms providing more of the traditional ECM functionality. Things like metadata, security, workflow, retention policies. Examples are Dropbox for Business and Box. All of these point towards the gradual move of EFSS platforms towards ECM.

At the same time traditional ECM platforms are adding EFSS capabilities. Think of Oracle Webcenter Content which just released it’s Document Cloud Service. This allows documents stored in the main content repository to be made available through an EFSS-like interface.

So there is a gradual coming together and eventually we can expect these products to meet in the middle. It’s going to be interesting to see which of them are still around in five years time. Will it be the likes of Dropbox, a consumer favourite and making some inroads into the Enterprise market. Or will it be the Enterprise platforms, traditionally very solid but often coming with a high price tag. But if Box’s aim is correct then their after a far bigger market than just ECM. ECM might be just a small market they sweep up on their way to world domination.

You might expect that there would be some acquisitions in this area but I’m not so sure. At least not with the big players. The likes of Dropbox and Box are big consumer products and these often don’t sit well with the Enterprise providers. If anything we’re more likely to see the big EFSS players picking up an ECM platform. However these old platforms have so much baggage attached to them it’s almost easier for the EFSS platforms to build the functionality themselves.

Of course for most of us the main route at the moment is integration. The client I’m working with at the moment is moving away from a traditional ECM platform onto a Web Content Management (WCM) system with lightweight document management and EFSS integration. They’ll build an enterprise metadata model but avoid implementing full ECM until they see which way the market is going and until they can make the business case stronger. It’s quite an appealing proposition for them because of the flexibility each of the systems provide. WCM and EFSS are, for the moment, distinct and complementary product sets. A tool like Box, for example, will let you manage documents and mark them for consumption. Your WCM platform can then publish them to your site.

Of course if Box and the others are serious about tackling more content they will need to make a play for WCM market eventually. The biggest WCM player at the moment is WordPress and indeed you can get Dropbox plugins for WordPress which allow you to create posts in Dropbox which are published via WordPress [URL]. Originally Dropbox used to let you create Public Folders where you could place html files and images and serve up an entire website. You can still do this via the normal folder sharing but the old Public Folders always seemed a bit more logical. For diehard fans you can actually still enable them.

One that’s certain is that the EFSS products are on the verge of seriously shaking up the ECM market. But for them the ECM market is just a stepping stone onto bigger things. It’s almost like a quick win they can hoover up on their way. There’s a risk that they’re underestimating the complexity of ECM but with their open APIs they can always let their partners fill the gaps.