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The beginning of the end for ECM

The OpenText acquisition of Documentum represents a changing of the guard in the ECM market and an opportunity for emerging providers, claims Julian Cook, Director of UK Business at M-Files

Julian Cook, Director of UK Business, M-Files
Julian Cook, Director of UK Business, M-Files

The recent announcement of the acquisition of Documentum by OpenText represents a watershed moment in the enterprise content management (ECM) market and an opportunity for businesses to depart from the ways of the past. Documentum and OpenText are both over 25 years old. Companies such as these become entrenched in traditional business models and approaches, making innovation in the technology harder than ever.

This is cause for concern for the customers of both companies, as the only way the combined entity can show returns from the acquisition is likely to be through price increases or cost cutting.

While OpenText and Documentum played a central role in the beginning of the ECM market, they have also contributed to many of the challenges businesses face with their current systems. They’re complex and difficult to use, creating barriers to user adoption, while also being complicated and expensive to deploy and maintain.

Furthermore, almost all ECM systems today, including both OpenText and Documentum, use a folder-based paradigm, meaning that classifying, organising, processing and securing information is almost entirely based on where the information is stored. There are two fundamental flaws with this approach.

First, information often has to be in more than one place, which varies based on the role of the person needing the content, as well as where the information is in its lifecycle. For example, a contract may be important to a sales person on the basis of the customer it relates to, but for the legal department, its relevance might be based on the type of contract it is and whether it is coming up for renewal. Devising a single folder structure to enable both sales and legal to manage this document in a way that is clear and relevant to them is impossible.

Second, folder structures are almost entirely subjective as people organise and manage information in a way that makes sense to them as an individual. This cannot be reconciled without forcing a static structure in a top-down fashion. This is the old way.

The new approach is all about context – what the information is and whether it is relevant to the user’s current need. In the modern, ‘what it is vs. where it is stored’ approach, any information can show up in multiple places based on the context. These places aren’t fixed, they are dynamic. A single, unique contract can show up with other customer-related information for sales, and also show up with legal contracts, independent of customer, for the legal department. This new approach to ECM is not just about cloud or mobile, it’s about a whole new dynamic way to organise, process, secure, retain and dispose of information.

Metadata is the driver of the new modern architecture; it allows us to define what something is and what it is related to in an objectively precise and intuitive way. Once you focus on what information is and why it’s important, rather than where it is located, you open up an entirely new world of information management.

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