Last year, Gartner announced it would no longer evaluate enterprise content management (ECM) vendors in a Magic Quadrant. Instead, it has shifted its focus to content services. In light of this announcement, many tech pundits have concurred with Gartner: enterprise content management is officially dead.
Like any headline, however, this proclamation inspires the question: is it really?
The truth is that businesses still produce a huge amount of content every day. So they also still need to manage that content—even if the way they do so is changing.
A key goal of enterprise content management was making sure that employees could access the right content when they need it. If ECM is really dead, how are businesses achieving that goal? What’s replacing ECM? And is it actually better?
What’s replacing legacy ECM platforms?
If businesses are moving away from traditional enterprise content management systems—but still producing a lot of content—what’s filling the gap?
Gartner points to content services as ECM’s logical heir. Content services are, in short, services and microservices that come packaged either as a product suite or as separate applications that share common APIs and repositories. These tools include cloud storage apps like Box and Google Drive.
David Jones, the Director of Product Marketing at Nuxeo (a content services platform), believes that the agility of cloud-based storage apps is a big draw for many businesses.
“Solutions that are not cloud-native—as many legacy ECM solutions are—cannot fully leverage cloud-based storage, databases, elastic scalability, dynamic pricing, and web-based services in an easily configurable manner,” he says.
He points out that legacy ECM systems often required adopting much more complex systems. “While there may have been a moment in the ’90s where managing content was the end solution, ECM quickly became part of a larger, more complex, solution that organizations had to roll out,” he explains.
In contrast, cloud-based best-of-breed apps give businesses a flexible, scalable way to manage their content—without investing in behemoth platforms.
How can businesses create a unified content ecosystem with multiple apps?
While best-of-breed apps offer a huge advantage in scalability and flexibility, they also create a secondary problem: content needs to move seamlessly in between them at a moment’s notice.
This is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to unstructured content: information that isn’t easily parsed into a defined data model. Usually, unstructured content is text heavy. It includes documents (such as PDFs), audio files (like MP3 files), and even images (like JPEGs or PNGs).
Because unstructured content varies widely, it can be truly challenging to organize and store appropriately. And now businesses have to move content between apps that might not natively connect—quickly, so employees always have the resources they need to keep working.
That’s where intelligent automation can make a huge difference: it allows you to orchestrate automated processes across all of your content management apps. These workflows are completely customizable based on the type of content you’re working with and how you want to manage it.
For example, imagine that you need to manage the paperwork involved in a common employee process, such as professional certification. This is exactly the situation that Menzies (the leading chartered accountant firm in the UK) faced. To ensure compliance, every staff member must affirm that they are ethically equipped to do their job by completing a certification form.
“Content management should always start with the user.”
Because certification is such a paperwork-heavy process, Menzies reworked the process to harness the power of best-of-breed SaaS apps. Now, employees fill out an online form powered by Formstack. Whenever a Menzies employee submits the form, intelligent automation platform Workato creates a digital document with WebMerge, which parses the form and generates a PDF.
Menzies then uses Workato to move newly submitted forms into DocuSign for signature. Once it’s been signed, Workato automatically moves the signed document into a Box folder for secure storage. Folders are organized according to name and timestamp, so managers can easily find the right documents. Box’s metadata feature also allows users to search by other characteristics—like office or signature date.
The firm also implemented a NoSQL MongoDB database to store forms’ most recent positions and used Workato to integrate with a data visualization tool called Qlikview. The tool extracts documents from the database, massages them, and displays them in a dashboard so Menzies can identify errors and anomalies.
With these automated workflows, Menzies reaps all the unique benefits of each best-of-breed app—without sacrificing efficiency.
Will content be easier to access? Yes, thanks to ChatOps.
As companies make the switch from centralized enterprise content management systems to the more agile content services, employees want to know: will these tools be more user-friendly?
Traditional ECM platforms made content notoriously hard to access. For example, a full quarter of employees said that it would take more than five minutes to find a document from one year ago in their company’s document storage environment.
According to Jones, this was one reason that content services emerged.
“Content management should always start with the user,” he says. “Given the complexity of the ECM universe, legacy providers have struggled to re-architect their decades-old solutions for the demands of the modern enterprise. This produced an even more complex and cumbersome user experience. In a digital, interconnected, cloud-enabled world, the content services platform approach has proven much more flexible and dynamic than ECM.”
Not only are content services apps like Box more user-friendly, they’re also easy to incorporate into a ChatOps-style workflow. Today, employees spend more time than ever before in workstream collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams—so it’s important that whatever content tools you choose, they be accessible from the chat app.
Intelligent automation makes it easy to pull content from cloud-based apps directly into Slack with simple commands. But more importantly, you can also use chat apps to execute workflows surrounding your content.
For example, many businesses require approval for certain pieces of content, such as contracts or documentation provided by clients. The approval process can be one of the most challenging aspects of enterprise content management because it doesn’t just require orchestrating between apps; there’s a human element as well.
With intelligent automation and a chat app like Slack, however, you can seamlessly approve new content without ever leaving the chat app. The automated workflow can even add a link to the document in Box or Dropbox on the corresponding profile in Salesforce or other apps after it’s approved.
For example, you can use a Workato automation to trigger a Slack notification whenever someone adds a new document to a specific Box folder. This notification can either go to a specific person or to a dedicated channel, and it will prompt you to accept or reject the submission with buttons in Slack.
This way, your team will never miss a new upload; you can instantly know when someone has added content to your folder. It also gives you much greater control over new content: you can quickly reject uploads that are incorrect or incomplete.
Enterprise Content Management: What does the future hold?
Looking forward, what should businesses expect when it comes to storing, organizing, and distributing their content? Experts like Jones say content services will just keep getting smarter as technologies like AI and machine learning improve.
AI can make it much easier for businesses to sort through content because it eliminates the need for human eyes to read over everything. In fact, companies like the world’s largest retailer are already using AI to parse content and use it for things like competitive wage analysis.
Overall, the future of content management is full of possibilities, especially as traditional players work to catch up and refine their products for the modern age.
“Traditional ECM solutions must evolve to meet the needs of modern businesses,” Jones sums up. “This is true not just today, but into the future—where breakthrough technologies could shape content management solutions that we have yet to imagine.”