I just came back from the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. While there, I noticed a new development for this year. Last year, the conference was crowded in the old venue with start-ups while the larger ECM vendors were widely absent. This year, all of the ECM vendors came and sponsored the conference in its new venue while many of the startups were absent.
There may be multiple explanations for that but instead of speculating I’ll just accept that all these vendors in fact do belong at this event. Social media and ECM go together very well. In fact, collaboration (which was the 1.0 label for social software) has been part of ECM since the early 2000s when most vendors, including Documentum, IBM, OpenText, and, eventually, Microsoft introduced collaboration as an element in their respective ECM stragies.
However, the fact that the social software vendors and the ECM vendors meet yet again at the Enterprise 2.0 Show makes me wonder about an interesting question: Is content management a feature of collaboration or is collaboration a feature of content management?
While this may sound like the chicken or egg question, there is a fundamental difference in what the answer means. A content management system is always primarily focused on content and collaboration and (just like its structured cousin workflow) is usually used to help teams to work with content. The solutions cater to content-centric activities: a finance team assembling a regulatory filing, lawyers working on a contract, or marketers designing new campaign visuals. The content can be of any type and it can be just a single document or an entire folder or collection of content assets. But content is always the focus with strong emphasis on content services such as repository, library services, versioning, permissions, etc. Collaboration in this case can have all the bells and whistles but it is primarily there to better manage content.
If content management is a feature of collaboration, the collaboration capabilities are the primary focus and content is usually an afterthought. Think Facebook and all the content you use there without ever thinking of it as content. The enterprise social software offerings cater to solutions that enable teams to better collaborate - developers working on new innovations, marketers hashing out messaging, customers discussing product enhancement priorities, etc. Inevitably, lots of the information is being shared in the form of content and so content features get added version by version. But the solution is never about the content, it is about the collaboration.
I’d argue that both approaches are valid and that they are addressing different types of solutions. You can probably use the content-centric collaboration for a collaboration-centric problem and vice versa but that might not be the best way to address a problem. There are two types of approaches that have been designed with a different philosophy in mind for the different types of problems they solve. One size rarely fits all.
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