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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