ECM: Evolution Promises Continued Opportunity For Willing VARs
Prior to joining the editorial staff of Business Solutions magazine, I worked for a well-known local company. In the early '90s the company launched a natural extension of its successful, national moving and storage business. A newly constructed 'state-of-the-art' warehouse facility enabled the company to expand its warehouse storage offering to include secure, hard-copy records retention. At the time of the company's launch (1991), hard-copy storage was a fairly new business strategy and a hot concern of regional businesses. Luckily, the owner of the company was quick to understand that success would be dependent upon evolving with the needs of the market — the ECM market.
Although I worked in the moving and storage side of the company, I was able to see our little corner of the ECM industry evolve from basic, hard-copy records retention to employing CDIA (certified document imaging architech) staff members focused on reselling enhanced document imaging systems and vertically focused workflow solutions. Looking back on my experience, it is easy to see that the current ECM market is very different from what existed 10 years ago. Recent impacts, such as the success of Microsoft SharePoint and the continued influence of compliance, will remain hot topics in ECM as we journey into 2008.
Microsoft's revenue for the product surpassed the $800 million mark in fiscal 2007. While those involved in the ECM industry realize that SharePoint does not offer a complete ECM solution, early adopters are embracing the collaboration and file-sharing capabilities that Microsoft has wrapped in the familiar Office interface.
In the future, SharePoint is likely to continue sparking both interest and confusion in end users. The strategic advantage for VARs and integrators lies in being able to educate your customers on the role that SharePoint can play as part of an overall ECM strategy. According to Mike Ball, CEO of ECM solutions provider Clearview, "Having the right solutions to speak to current market requirements is what can make the difference between winning the deal or coming in second place."
Like SharePoint, compliance is certainly not new to the ECM market. After all, who isn't sick of hearing about HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and Sarbanes-Oxley? Still, compliance continues to become more pervasive in today's litigious business environments, as evidenced by the amendments to the FRCP (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) adopted in December 2006. "Compliance makes the ECM industry become relevant as one of the top five priorities on the CIO's list," says Jeetu Patel, industry analyst at Doculabs, during the Dec. 12, 2007 AIIM 'State of the ECM Industry' Webinar.
The trend Patel discusses is the impact of compliance on ESI (electronically stored information), and it is one that VARs and integrators should be embracing. The amendments to the FRCP now make ESI subject to discovery — commonly referred to as e-discovery. AIIM reports that 80% of business information is in the form of unstructured data, such as e-mail, XML (extensible markup language) files, image files, and more. The challenge for companies (and opportunity for VARs) is that this plethora of information remains largely unmanaged. Applications that encompass business process automation, workflow, and advanced, intelligent search options will be top of mind for business executives.
I distinctly remember hearing people refer to records management as 'boring,' generally followed up with a comment such as, "How can you make money stacking boxes of paper all day?" Maybe all those naysayers should have been paying more attention, because the ECM industry that sprouted from those early roots is one that many VARs continue to capitalize on. Considering the growth and evolution still going on in the industry today, ECM is anything but boring.