Friday, April 16, 2010

“Too Big to Fail” Resonates with ECM

The “Enterprise” part of ECM conjures up visions of comprehensive coverage of content, metadata, and economies of scale. Like our “too big to fail” financial institutions, some ECM systems are too large and cumbersome to deal with lack of metadata standards and content hoarding that exists in many large corporations. Can an enterprise afford to bail out a monolithic ECM system when it eventually fails? Sooner or later the system will need to go through a major upgrade or a migration to another vendor. Because the system is centralized, it will cost a lot of money and resources to plan and implement this transition.

Federating ECM
Let’s make a distinction here between having one monolithic repository from implementing agile repositories which are small and more focused on “Silos” of business unit functionality and “case” type processing. “Silos” of information have long been wrongly accused by vendor marketing of being the issue with inconsistent business process and integration. The real issues are lack of governance and enterprise architecture reviews of applications. This is why Sharepoint is infiltrating: it fills the need for business units to create their small silos and integrate them with overall standards of the enterprise. Of course the lack of governance and architecture with Sharepoint deployments will result in the same issues of “Silos” with a capital “S” as vendors have been successfully selling on.

Change Management
If change management is not considered up front during the design and rollout of the ECM system, the emphasis on standards of metadata and integration will be pushed out to later phases. As the ECM system fills with process and content without policing the expansion of content/metadata and process, the cycle of complexity of these “internal” silos of information continues. This comes to a head when the system bogs down or the centralized resources can not keep up with the business’s demands for new functionality.

The Cost Effective Way
Typically, IT will focus on hardware and software upgrades to make ECM faster or give it more capacity: add more machines to scale it, the biz will be happy with the speed. Hire offshore resources to build workflows. IT has to control costs by centralizing content management; enterprise architecture traditionally puts ECM in a storage box; metadata is controlled by silos of business. This is part of the overall issue with ECM. There’s a gulf of misunderstanding between IT and the business. Save money by consolidating, then blow tons of money in four years trying to upgrade or migrate. Does this make sense? “The cost effective way” is a myth with a short-term vision that ECM IT managers tend to by into.

I think of UIs and add-ons as the equivalent of financial instruments like derivatives. When a vendor introduces a new look and feel and different functionality, this is an attempt to create an illusion of a new application. But, in reality, the underlying information is still the same. A new UI cannot mask inefficient governance and lack of regulations. For example, as DCTM’s webtop was waning in popularity, EMC decided to create Taskspace. This UI was promoted as an easier way for a business power user to configure UIs to suit their process needs. However, Taskspace relies on sound information architecture and group/permission structures. If these aren’t implemented, a vendor will promote creating a whole new info architecture next to the exisiting ECM one. So now we have two different, competing metadata structures. Professional Services will promote the new arch as being for case management—leave the old one for regular content. Can you see where this is leading?

Default Swaps
In ECM, these are like assurances that previous failed attempts at governance and info architecture will be covered. If one project fails, we’ll buy the latest technology to swap it out on. Enterprise 2.0 will solve the current issues regarding lack of business agility and limited IT resources. Don’t think so. Application Default Swaps are common and only push the issues into the next cycle of gadgets.

Credit Ratings Companies
Lastly, let’s look at Gartner as the research companies that put ECM apps in their quandrants. They slice and dice the application’s functionality, technology stack, scalability, etc., but this obfuscates the issues underneath the hood of a company’s ailments. What good is the best enterprise search application without a consistent metadata and access control standard in place enterprise wide? Is any part of an ECM application research company’s revenue derived from the vendors? Indirectly? Hmmm.

No comments: