Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has changed drastically during the ten years or so it has existed as a concept. It started life as localised document management and paper-imaging systems but now plays a much wider role within the modern enterprise, including storing and managing a broad variety of different types of content that simply did not exist ten years ago.

The sheer volume of content in a modern enterprise can be bewildering and keeping track of every last plan, proposal, video, tweet, email, white paper, article and more can be a thankless task. The role of content, and therefore the role of ECM has also changed dramatically. Content is now a central component of many enterprises’ operations, being used and managed so it can directly help meet business objectives.

The main aim of most ECM implementations is to manage, share and process electronic content across the enterprise. That still holds true but organisations now expect to extend that content beyond the firewall – to remote staff, to a variety of mobile devices and to third parties. Enterprises want to store, manage and analyse large volumes of data and content.

Against this backdrop of changing roles and types of content, many organisations have accumulated multiple ECM or Document Management (DM) systems as a result of mergers, re-organisations and localised solutions. At the same time, ERP, CRM and line-of-business (LOB) systems have been steadily collecting documents, and these also need to be shared much more widely. ECM is also likely to be the gateway to a records management (RM) archive.

There was once a clear roadmap for ECM, but we are now truly at a crossroads. Which of these systems do we use for collaboration, which for document process workflows, which for emails, and which for long term records management? Do we consolidate and migrate or connect and federate? Do we hook up to mobile devices through the firewall or do we use the cloud? Should we put all of our content in the cloud, or just some of it – or none of it?

ECM at the crossroads

We sought to explore these issues in our recent report ‘ECM at the Crossroads’, which surveyed 538 individual members of the AIIM community, looking at migration and legacy issues, and integration with other enterprise systems.

The findings at first glance make alarming reading for those that work in ECM. On average, organisations manage two or more ECM, DM or Records Management (RM) systems and 26 per cent of those surveyed had more than four systems in place. Four per cent confessed to having more than ten operational systems.

But even with these multiple systems in place, approximately half of all content is held in non-ECM/DM systems, with only 18 per cent of firms saying they had completed an enterprise-wide ECM implementation.

On a more positive note, more than a third of respondents (36 per cent) said that they were working towards a central ECM system to help address content management challenges brought about by changing business priorities, mobile access, cloud, social and email management.

Changing business priorities

The survey showed that ‘compliance and risk’ has become the primary driver for 38 per cent of organisations, matched by ‘costs and productivity” also at 38 per cent. Compliance and risk is the main driver for larger enterprise (45 per cent) whereas smaller organisations are more likely to be driven by cost reduction (42 per cent).

In terms of how people are using ECM, unsurprisingly the top answer was ‘information sharing and collaboration’, with around two-thirds of respondents citing that as their main use. In keeping with compliance and risk being a main driver, ‘providing a safe and compliant home for information’ was the second most popular answer with 57 per cent.

Mobile and Remote Access

Given that ‘information sharing and collaboration’ was the main focus for most ECM systems, a big part of that has to be access for remote and / or home workers and access across a whole host of mobile devices. Modern business is much more collaborative than it ever has been, so access should also include external partners, customers and consultants.
For almost half of organisations, mobile access to content is ‘very important’ and for 14 per cent it is ‘vital’. The ability to interact with ECM workflows, most likely commenting or approving documents, was seen as particularly important.


The cloud is increasingly used for a number of enterprise applications and many of the survey respondents were willing to consider the key ECM applications individually for the cloud or SaaS (Software as a Service) deployment. The somewhat surprising result is that records management is the most popular cloud application, with 14% already doing it.

But the cloud is divisive, with half of all respondents saying they are unlikely to use it for any of those and 46 per cent confirm they are unlikely to deploy any cloud-based content. The main concern for users and non-users is governance and security (35 per cent).

Social Content and Emails

Social content simply wasn’t a factor when ECM began life. Given that there are numerous cloud offerings for social streams and blogs, it is perhaps surprising that 38 per cent of organisations are likely to make it an integral part of the on-premise ECM system rather than use a cloud platform (20 per cent) or on-premise best-of-breed system (8 per cent). But social content is an area that will grow and will need addressing fully over the next few years.

Where next for ECM?

So the ECM landscape is a confused one, with few enterprise-wide implementations, many organisations with multiple ECM or DM systems and with more structured content found in other enterprise systems than ECM.

Yet the importance of content in the enterprise has never been greater and a majority of respondents are committed to a single ECM system across the organisation. They believe ECM is a key collaboration platform, are keen to improve their records management, would like to integrate search capabilities across other enterprise systems, and are looking to further invest in capture and process capabilities.

There is a reason ECM has seen consistent double-digit growth – it is a technology that works and adds enormous value to an organisation. It has been a fragmented first decade for ECM and enterprises have a number of questions to address about how they use it in their organisation. But ECM it is an essential aspect of modern business and the outlook remains bright.