The Case for Killing “ECM”

I’ve been commenting quite a bit recently on Sir Pie’s noble quest to define “ECM”, but have held back on weighing in in detail until now. I figured it was high time I put my money where my mouth is and attempt to explain the conclusion I’ve arrived it.

To me the discussion about what “ECM” means is fundamentally based on the definition of “Content Management” in general, and more specifically, the definitions of all of those things that are thought of as being part of humanity’s “Content Management” activities (including, but by no means limited to: Web Content Management; Document Management; Records Management; Image Management; Digital Asset Management; Print Management; etc.).

So how might we go about defining all these things?

The Reversi Rule

Now some would argue (persuasively, in many cases!) that I’m just simpleminded, but I’ve always used a nice simple rule for figuring out what a complimicated name such as “Document Management” means – I like to call it the “Reversi Rule” (Reversi is such a nice simple game!):

Approximately reverse the words in the name and then fill in the blanks to construct a grammatically correct sentence.

So using this rule:

  • “Document Management” is “The management of documents”.
  • “Web Content Management” is “The management of web content”.

And most tellingly:

  • “Content Management” is the (rather broad) “management of content”.

A Short Digression…

Now this may seem like little more than childish word play, but it actually enables us to unambiguously answer some rather interesting questions, such as the ever-popular-on-twitter “Is WordPress a CMS?”.

The reasoning goes something like this:

Q. What is a CMS?
A. A system that manages content.  (Reversi Rule)

Q. Is WordPress a system?
A. Yes it is.  (very little ambiguity here!)

Q. Does WordPress provide management features?
A. Yes it does, including the most important features for an author of web content: editing, version control and publication.  (one might argue that “management” is more than this, but these three are amongst the most important activities an author of web content performs on their content, regardless of the system they’re using)

Q. Is what WordPress manages content?
A. Yes it is – content in the form of blog posts and pages.  (again, very little ambiguity here, although no one would dispute that this is a rather limited view of what web content is)

So when measured against our definition of “CMS”, WordPress passes with flying colours – it is unequivocally a system that manages (edits, versions, publishes) content (blog posts, pages).

So what has this go to do with “ECM”?

Well by applying the Reversi Rule to “ECM”, we get:

  • “Enterprise Content Management” is “The management of enterprise content.”

But what is “enterprise content”? Is it web content? Documents? Paper (physical or scanned)? Records? Digital media assets? As I’ve argued before, it could be none, any, or all of the above – it depends on the enterprise in question.

That’s not very promising, so let’s try again:

  • “Enterprise Content Management” is “The management of content in an enterprise.”

Well we still have the problem of deciding what that content is, and we’re now excluding those organisations that aren’t structured as enterprises in the first place! What about the (these days literally!) poor governments of the world that are just as desirous of content management as enterprises are??


The conclusion I’ve drawn is that “ECM” is a chimera of a term that cobbles together two completely unrelated concepts: “content management” (the management of content) and “enterprise” (a company that has been organised for commercial purposes).

For this reason I think “ECM” is a term that provides no value over and above other terms (specifically “Content Management”), and I suspect that’s part of the reason why Pie and others have struggled so long to try to find a workable definition that does more than just confuse the heck out of any unfortunate souls who come into contact with it.

I also suspect that deep down, Pie has at least some subconscious inkling that “CM” is a superior term to “ECM”, as evidenced by a recent brain snap. As demonstrated in the WordPress digression above, the usage of the term “CMS” that Pie finds so objectionable is indeed justified, if perhaps not the full picture. This is something I intend to explore further in a subsequent post.

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Published in: on 2010-05-05 at 9:46 am  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Peter,

    Nice post, although I’m not sure that ECM should be killed.

    As a description of a software package, I think you have a point. Something that manages content, be it images, documents, text or whatever is a CMS.

    If it does only one of these things, I also agree with you – we have names for those niches, like DM, DAM and (cough) blogging platforms. Although they all manage content.

    I think ‘enterprise’ is sometimes used as marketing fairy dust like ‘leading’ to indicate bigness and seriousness and that sometimes fogs this argument.

    It was also cooked up to suggest that there would be a vendor that would do to content management, what SAP did to ERP.

    But those content cats are seemingly way harder to herd, than how many widgets you have in a warehouse or the cost of the bill of materials to make a left handed Acme crank.

    I think we should consider ECM as the practice of managing disparate assets for different purposes and delivery platforms in a large organisation – almost certainly using multiple specialist systems.

    Is there also a confusion between an enterprise deployment, in that everyone uses the same product for a specialist task – rather than the same product for multiple enterprise tasks?

    Anyway, it seems to me that there is a huge amount of value in those specialist CMS tools – like WordPress – that gives them a place in an organisations ECM strategy.

    I also think that the collection of tools for one organisations ‘ECM’ strategy is going to be different from another.

    In this, I think the work being done with CMIS (and Sir Pie’s demo) would seem to be more relevant to this, than a behemoth single vendor solution.

    Throw in the fact that these days when ‘Enterprise’ IT approved tools don’t cut it, people throw the companies valuable IP into anything they can find….

    Anyway, I’ve taken enough of your time. 🙂

    Nice post…


  2. I agree and disagree with this. Ever since the term originated — by either EMC or AIIM, I’ll go with us 🙂 — there seems to have been a debate about whether it’s a good/accurate term or not. I think you’re right, content management is/would have been the best term to use to describe what we mean by ECM. On the other hand, 10-odd years ago (and still today I think), content management = web content management = content management system.

    We need a term that describes how the strategy for managing unstructured content across a business (or organization, “enterprise” causes a lot of heartache because of the automatic association with “large organization”: the ongoing idea behind enterprise is any organization of any size). Is that document management? Records and information management? Information management (way too broad)? Business process management (last I looked, WfMC had ECM encompassed by BPM)? These terms are either too limiting or too broad.

    My point is, there isn’t a perfect term. Switching to Content Management System would generate confusion: “hmmm, are they talking about web content management or managing all of my content?”

    One final thought (which is only half-baked, so bear with me), we all have a fetish for easy and fast ‘solutions’ to our problems. Too fat? Take a pill. Need flat abs? 5 minutes a day. Can’t get a . . . um, anyway. The IT industry seems to lend itself to this approach in the sales cycle and marketing of products. Content out of control? Buy an ECM system. Never mind that you can’t buy a system for ECM like you can buy a box for tape backup or stand up another server to increase email access. You can buy various technologies that can be bound together according to your business strategy to create an ECM solution, but you’re not getting solution, out of the box, that’s going to solve your ECM challenges.

    If anyone could come up with a better term, that’d be great. I’ve always liked “stuff management,” but, that’s just me.


  3. […] In the last week, I have read about how ECM is growing in stature and read a call for the killing of ECM.   Scary thing, I think that if Peter read Carl’s post, he would state that it […]

  4. […] In the last week, I have read about how ECM is growing in stature and read a call for the killing of ECM. Scary thing, I think that if Peter read Carl’s post, he would state that it supports his point […]

  5. Given the number of people who think Content Management is Web Content Management I think a term which provides the overarching definition for all content is important. ECM is the best we have. Sir Pie in other recent articles though as suggested at weaknesses in the term as content should not be constrained within an ‘Enterprise’, which I agree with. However if ECM is how that ‘enterprise’ uses and gets value from that content then it is applicable, a strategy can define where the content can leave the enterprise and be used elsewhere, including how its processing in the current enterprise has added value to it.

    • Lee I’d be keen to hear a more detailed argument to support the assertion that “ECM is the best [term] we have” for the overarching activity we’re all (WCM, DM, etc. practitioners) engaged in?

      As discussed in this post (and tangentially in my followup “Taxonomania”) the word “Enterprise” in “ECM” is rather problematic, and I’m not alone in making this argument. Jon Marks (in his post entitled “E is for Enterprise”), makes an even more targeted (and humourous!) argument about why “Enterprise” in “ECM” is inappropriate.

  6. […] This in turn led me to Peter’s post on the Case for Killing “ECM”. I posted a quick comment and Peter has asked for a clarification of why I think the E is […]

  7. […] known as Enterprise Content Management (ECM).  First off was an excellent post by Peter Monks that the definition is flat out wrong.  This was followed shortly by Ron Miller’s declaration on his FierceContentManagement blog […]

  8. […] this is the finale that Peter Monks has been waiting on, and baiting me about, for quite some time. Let’s hash it […]

  9. […] Laurence Hart, has argued that ECM isn’t a technology; it is a strategy. While in another camp, Peter Monks has argued for the death of ECM. Lee Dallas and Jon Marks have interesting takes on the “E” in […]

  10. […] Hart, has argued that ECM isn’t a technology; it is a strategy. While in another camp, Peter Monks has argued for the death of ECM. Lee Dallas and Jon Marks have interesting takes on the […]

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