The ECM monolith

Has enterprise content management been usurped by content services, or can the one happily evolve into the other?

Johannesburg, 13 Mar 2020
Read time 4min 30sec
Jacek Walkow, Enterprise Architect – Content Services, Ovations
Jacek Walkow, Enterprise Architect – Content Services, Ovations

South Africa is not lagging far behind the rest of the world when it comes to adoption of content services, says Jacek Walkow, Enterprise Architect – Content Services at Ovations. Cloud providers now have data centres in Johannesburg and Cape Town, helping organisations negotiate regulatory requirements around maintaining content within South Africa’s borders.

“Previously, South African businesses had to overcome regulatory obstacles (such as GDPR) when moving workloads to the cloud owing to the data centres being located abroad. However, now organisations that are based in South Africa can leverage cloud-native content services platforms that enable business flexibility and agility that was previously not possible with on-premises, monolithic ECM deployments.”

Walkow points out that content services requires a strategic shift within the business – it’s not only a technology implementation – and that even though the term ’ECM’ is diminishing in usage and being replaced by other more innovative applications, there is still a need for the capabilities it offers. “Organisations still need content-centric processing to be able to digitise paper and manage the life cycle of content. Yet, we still see many companies that haven’t even started this journey.”

One of the biggest challenges and shortcomings of traditional definitions of ECM is that the target state has long been a single centralised platform to manage all information in the enterprise. Walkow points out that the central platform monolith has never been particularly successful and has left gaps in meeting all of an organisation’s information management needs.

Content services is an alternative way of achieving a more practical, multi-repository solution that delivers the benefits promised by the original vision for ECM: which was to intelligently capture information, disseminate it to the right people, processes and departments, while ensuring regulatory compliance, and creating process and cost efficiencies.

Walkow explains: “Content services is principled in integration, bringing together architecture supportive of on-premises and hybrid cloud services. It offers a multi-repository way to manage content regardless of its source repository, as well as incorporating intelligent functions like enterprise search.”

The four key benefits of content services include: regulatory compliance and risk management; retention and distribution of business information; cost and process efficiencies; and innovation and new ways of working.

Organisations that have already implemented some type of content management solution, however, are not about to cavalierly rip them out to replace them with the next new thing. “Instead, businesses need to think about how they can solve their content-related problems using emerging technologies in a way that augments their current investments,” he advises.

Walkow says a good content services platform needs to be scalable to billions of items of any type and stored in any system or repository. It needs be flexible to allow for management of any file type and connected to multiple content and data streams. The platform needs to be cloud-native to empower organisations with the ability to fully leverage cloud-based storage. Personalisation and AI-power is needed as it allows for drag-and-drop capabilities for quick access to content and a full advantage of AI and machine learning via the cloud.

Walkow goes on to provide advice around the implementation of content services, saying: “A successful implementation of content services journey starts out with the development of an effective strategy and business case, followed by a clear communication of this vision across the enterprise or department(s) affected. The ability to do this effectively usually makes the difference between the success and failure of content services initiatives.”

He adds that every department and all of the key stakeholders within each department need to be on board with the initiative right from the outset. This is vital because content services implementation is often considered to be solely an IT initiative, as it has a strong technology focus, which can result in little to no buy-in from the business. “The real challenge is to include everyone in the vision and ensure co-ownership with the business, instead of just having IT drive the initiative.”

Finally, he closes off by offering his top five pieces of advice for South African companies embarking on this journey.

1. You cannot, NOT manage your content. Every organisation and every department is managing content. How well are you doing it?

2. Related to the first point, content services underpins effective information management, which is vital to business survival and provides a competitive advantage in today’s market.

3. Changing your content services capabilities is about changing organisational behaviour; you need to adopt an all-hands-on-deck approach to make the most of:
a) Information gathering;
b) Creating a vested interest; and
c) Securing buy-in across the business.

4. Capabilities are not built overnight. Be realistic about what you can achieve in this iteration based on your maturity.

5. Ensure your target state is cloud-native, database agnostic and provides APIs for consuming and providing micro-services.