As many of you know, we will be publishing a new report by Stephen Arnold in the next few weeks. The title, Beyond Search: What to do When Your Enterprise Search System Doesn’t Work, begs the question of whether there is such a thing as “enterprise search”. The title of Lynda’s consulting practice blog “Enterprise Search Practice Blog”, begs the same question. In the case of content management, a similar question is begged by AIIM – “The Enterprise Content Management Association” (ECM) and the recent AIIM conference.
The debate about whether “enterprise fill-in-your-favorite-software-application” makes any sense at all is not new. The terms “Enterprise Document Management” (EDM) and “Enterprise Resource Planning” (ERP) were first used in the 80s, and, at least in the case of EDM, were just as controversial. We have Documentum to thank for both EDM and ECM. Documentum’s original mission was to be the Oracle of documents, so EDM probably seemed like an appropriate term to use. Quickly however, the term was appropriated by marketing pros from many vendors, as well as analysts looking for a new category of reports and research to sell, and conference organizers keeping current with the latest buzzwords (I don’t exclude us from this kind of activity!). It was also naively misused by many enterprise IT (as opposed to “personal IT” I suppose) professionals, and business managers who were excited by such a possibility.
ECM evolved when the competition between the established EDM vendors and the fast growing web content management vendors reached a point where both saw they couldn’t avoid each other (for market cap as well as user requirement reasons). Soon, any vendor with a product to manage any kind of information that existed outside of (or even sometimes even in) a relational database, was an “ECM” vendor. This was what led AIIM to adopt and try to define and lay claim to the term – it would cover all of the records management and scanner vendors who were their existing constituents, and allow them to appeal to the newer web content management vendors and practitioners as well.
We used to cover the question “Is there any such thing as ECM?” in our analyst panels at our conferences, and usually there would be some disagreement among the analysts participating, but our mainly enterprise IT audience largely became savvy enough to realize it was a non-issue.
Why is it a non-issue?
Mainly because the term has almost no useful meaning. Nobody puts all their enterprise content in a single ECM repository. It doesn’t even make sense to use the same vendors’ products across all departments even in small organizations. – that is why there is such a large variety of vendors with wildly different functionality at ECM events such as AIIM. The most that you can assume when you hear “ECM vendor” is that they probably support more than one type of content management application, and that they might scale to some degree.
There are many who think it not unreasonable to have a single “enterprise search” application for all enterprise content. If you are new to search technology this is understandable, since you may think simple word or phrase search should be able to work across repositories. But, of course, it is not at all that simple, and if you want to know why see Stephen’s blog or Lynda’s blog, among others. Both Steve and Lynda are uncomfortable with “enterprise search”. Steve prefers the term “behind the firewall search”. Lynda sticks with the term but with a slightly different definition, although I don’t think they disagree at all on how the term is misused and misinterpreted.
Why use “Enterprise … Whatever” terms at all?
There is only one reason, and that is that buyers and users of technology use these terms as a shortcut, sometimes naively, but also sometimes with full understanding. There is just no getting around the barrier of actual language use. Clearly, using the shortcut is only the first step in communicating – more dialog is required for meaningful understanding.