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From monolith to modular: How enterprise content management is evolving

As digital technologies have transformed the way people create, move, and store their data over the decades, managing the multitude of physical documents and digital data produced by a company has remained an ongoing challenge for businesses. Technologies such as cloud-based apps and services, along with regulatory requirements around the storage and protection of customer data, have required companies to explore technology solutions for document and data management.

In earlier days, this meant investing in a document management system (DMS), which helped companies digitally store and manage paper-based and online documents. The rise of web-based technologies created content management systems (CMSes), which managed digitally created content, but also included formats such as audio, video, images, and HTML-based files.

Then enterprise content management (ECM) systems emerged, with ECM being a catch-all for a set of processes and tools that companies used to capture, store, protect, retrieve, and manage business information. Processes such as content lifecycle management, digital asset management, workflow management, information governance, and collaborative features joined the mix in managing documents, along with disaster recovery and advanced security features.

Although all these acronyms have remained in use to some extent, the lines between them have blurred over the years as vendors have added more capabilities. Today, managing content is less about the types of documents (physical versus digital, or format type) and more about whether the content is used in an internal- or external-facing fashion, said Holly Muscolino, group vice president for content strategies and future of work at IDC. The evolution of document management and content management systems has overlapped to the point where modern content systems can handle any document type, workflow, or process, she said.

From monolithic to modular systems

That blurring and blending has continued, with traditional ECM applications and content-sharing and collaboration (CSC) applications converging in the cloud as more agile and scalable cloud content services. Hybrid work models spurred by the 2020 pandemic drove the need to scale access to content from anywhere. As a result, cloud content applications added artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), and analytics to help enterprises guide decision making and automate tasks across several business processes.

Indeed, Gartner has declared ECM dead and now calls the category content services platforms (CSPs). Rather than trying to store and manage all of a company’s information within a single platform, the CSP approach emphasizes using integrated apps and services to access, work with, and manage information wherever it resides.

 “CSPs provide a way for employees to retrieve and work with content in a modern, seamless way across devices and organizational boundaries,” the firm wrote in its 2021 report on the market. “As such, they are the core component of any organization’s digital workplace strategy.”

IDC, too, has noted the shift from single ECM platforms to a modular approach. “The content services term implies that instead of having a monolithic application that provided services that you may or may not need, and which never could satisfy every use case, they are modular — so your DevOps team or systems integrator can construct solutions that satisfy a number of use cases,” Muscolino said. “Because this can be integrated more easily, you’re not necessarily locked into specific technologies. That’s the vision. Some vendors have been able to execute on that better than others.”

Muscolino said newer vendors such as Box, as well as Alfresco and Nuxeo (both acquired by Hyland), were born in this area, with other traditional vendors in the space now looking to re-architect their offerings. In a 2019 vendor assessment on the worldwide SaaS and cloud-enabled content applications market, IDC also identified IBM, Microsoft, OpenText, Egnyte, Veeva, Citrix, Dropbox, and Oracle as major players in the market.

Modernizing content management

When looking at CSP systems, the Gartner report said, buyers “have many options that can enable them to truly implement an enterprise vision of content services,” thanks to advances in intelligence and cloud technologies. They are easier to procure, deploy, and implement than traditional ECM apps, with better designed UIs that allow users to “compose applications from the underlying microservices.”

However, Gartner cautioned that CSPs are rarely implemented as standalone solutions, as there is usually some existing content technology that a company is already using. “This may be seen as legacy by the organization, but it is always worth assessing the upgrade options of existing platforms,” Gartner said, since the costs of migrating and replatforming could be substantial.

The ability to integrate with existing enterprise applications such as ERP or CRM systems is also important. “The degree to which an application can be seamlessly integrated will have a big impact on adoption,” said Gartner in the report.

IDC’s Muscolino added that there are very few organizations that don’t have some sort of content management system in place already — even small companies are using free versions of Box, Dropbox, or Google to manage documents and files.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of modernization,” said Muscolino. “Most of the investment in these solutions is to modernize content management — they’re not necessarily greenfield installations.”

The next phase: unified content

During its Ignite developer conference, Microsoft announced Microsoft Syntex, a unified content solution that brings together several services required to manage the content lifecycle within an organization. According to IDC, Syntex is an example of a new category of content solutions it refers to as a “Unified Content Model.”

“Cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and new services-based architectures have made the legacy categories of capture, enterprise content management (ECM), content sharing and collaboration (CSC), digital asset management (DAM), and web content management (WCM) obsolete,” Muscolino wrote in a blog post announcing the new model. “These older labels refer to a set of use cases which are all supported by a common library of content services. These application categories made sense in the era of on-premises, standalone monolithic applications, but are cumbersome and inefficient in the context of the modern cloud and services architectures of the digital-first business.”

The new unified model proposed by IDC supports a common set of content-related services, such as version control, metadata generation and management, and secure access, as well as specialized services, such as image and video processing, governance, retention, and website translation, that can be utilized via low-code/no-code tools. This will allow companies to construct solutions for “any number of content-centric business use cases,” according to the firm.

The analyst firm said Microsoft Syntex is one of the first examples of this new technology category, and it expects to see other vendors follow suit with this approach.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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