Capture plus workflow equals ECM?

  • 17-Jun-2011

Capture + workflow = ECM.

It's a simple formula that works most of the time in enterprise environments. It works for the simple reason that most electronic documents that require organizational attention typically are captured and proceed down a structured workflow. 

Yet to read most vendor marketing literature you would think that was not the case at all, that social media and collaboration were the key elements of an ECM (Enterprise Content Management) implementation. 

Well that's just plain wrong.  Those might be fashionable right now -- but big ECM projects almost exclusively focus on capture, workflow, and in some cases (though certainly not all) archiving and records management.  Capture and workflow remain huge, and will grow even further in importance over the coming years for the simple fact that together, they can offer immediate efficiency and cost benefits.

Ironically this need for "transactional" document management is the reason many people buy mega ECM Suites. My question is: why bother with an ECM Suite such as those from OpenText, IBM, Oracle, or EMC at all?  What do they bring to the equation that justifies their high initial cost and even higher operating overhead?

Many of the ECM end users I talk to have very high volume, fast throughput, business critical requirements - but when one breaks those requirements down you end up with Capture, Process, Store, Retrieve. 

What's missing here is "Management."  Turns out there's very little need for it.  Over the years I have lost count of the number of ECM installations I've seen that make absolutely no use of the complex library services that ECM Suites provide.  A TIFF image gets captured, gets processed (usually in non ECM related business applications) and then gets stored. Every once in a while it is retrieved for audit or customer support purposes.  However business-critical, this process is nevertheless pretty straightforward. And consequently there is usually no need at all for a large ECM Suite platform in this equation.

I'm not suggesting this space lacks for challenges and innovation.  In the future we'll see much more use of front-end document management functionality, such as eForms, Digital Signatures, Forms Recognition, and general capture software.  We will also see more extensive use of workflow and rules management tools -- all of which will increasingly bypass traditional ECM systems.

Certainly there will still be a need for full ECM functionality in some areas, particularly those where powerful document centric applications need to be constructed.  Lighterweight solutions such as SharePoint and Box.net that are more akin to enterprise collaboration systems will also fill gaps. But full blown ECM systems are overkill for most situations, and in honesty they always have been.  We are going back to basics, and none too soon.

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