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ECM – The ‘Big Stuff Management’ Software Fallacy And What Clues It Offers For The Future Of DAM

by Naresh Sarwan on October 26, 2012

On Fierce Content Management, Ron Miller speculates that Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is more of a name than a real solution:

I’ve been thinking lately that no company can truly claim to be an enterprise content management vendor because there are so many types of content out there today and it’s pretty much impossible for one vendor to cover them all–and do it well…That last part is the key. While many vendors have tried to place a checkmark next to every content management feature you can think of, the hard part is doing a lot of things well and it’s not easy. That means most customers don’t lock in with a single vendor, and never have. Instead, they look at a variety of choices to meet the needs of each set of users.” [Read More]

We have reviewed a few pieces about IT jargon on DAM News in the last few months, most recently an item by Ralph Windsor about David Diamond’s CMS Wire article where David discusses end user’s addiction to buzzwords.  The article by Ron Miller also resonated with me and points to some more fundamental fallacies in the way the IT industry conducts itself.  It’s much worse in software than hardware and the further up the corporate food chain you go, the less plausible the descriptions become.

Once you start to pick apart at the actual terms used in a description like ‘Enterprise Content Management’ it does start to sound increasingly like the fallacy that Ron’s article hints at.

For a start, ‘Enterprise’, that is generally taken as implying a ‘large business’.  No one is exactly sure what point a business becomes large and you will get public sector organisations that have ‘Enterprise’ needs too.  In the interests of brevity, lets settle on enterprise meaning ‘big’.

Moving to ‘Content’, this might as well be a euphemism for ‘stuff’, it’s a vague container that allows you to file away a whole spectrum of potentially significant material under an over-burdened single word label.  As Ron points out, there is all sorts of ‘stuff’ going on here, from website content, through to documents, images, video etc, where upon we’re crossing from ECM into DAM.  Even there, the point where that happens is less a clear cut dividing line and more of a blurry smudge.

Lastly, there is that software stalwart, ‘Management’.  I can just about buy into that, but this might be due to years of IT brainwashing that prevents me from thinking of a more precise and accurate description.

If we put those three together, you might conclude that Enterprise Content Management could also reasonably be termed ‘Big Stuff Management’.  In a nutshell, there is the problem, it’s not a product description, more an excuse for a lack of clarity about what to expect as an end user.  Ron cites this article by Lubor Ptacek: These Filler Words:

The problem is that technology marketers like to fall in love with three letter acronyms. Consequently, the terms and names they coin have to consist of three words. Random Access Memory, Content Distribution Network, Subscriber Identity Module are just a few examples of such three word names. Consequently, we have three letter acronyms such as RAM, CDN, SIM that dominate our technology language. We love it so much that we even have an acronym for the term ‘three letter acronym’: TLA.” [Read More]

In terms of a description, Digital Asset Management (DAM) suffers from some of the same lack of substance which ECM is afflicted by, but it is slightly easier to rationalise.  The ‘digital’ part is reasonably clear (although increasingly irrelevant as practically everything is digital now) and possibly exists now solely to avoid ambiguity with ‘Asset Management’.  I can go along with ‘asset’ meaning a file and metadata too, as that is what gives the file context which you can attribute a value to.  The ‘management’ element is where things start to get a little more complex, because what users want to do with their digital assets, post-ingestion, needs to cover an ever-wider scope of possibilities.

The key problem is the same as ECM, before long, you won’t be able to rationalise systems that offer features to allow you to manage digital assets as just ‘DAM systems’ because as frequently discussed on DAM News and elsewhere, the range and function of them is fragmenting into many different directions.  In that sense, Ron’s analysis of ECM as being a name rather than a product (because no vendor can cover everything it is purported to encompass) might soon equally well apply to DAM also.   Where some intriguing conflicts might begin to occur is the between the necessity for DAM to cater for these different functional needs, while at the same time the desire by end users for simpler terminology.

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