Some thoughts on ECM

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Content Copyright © 2014 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

Enterprise content management (ECM) could be seen as just another aspect of “big data”. But big data, in an Enterprise Content sense especially, isn’t primarily about large amounts of data (although some enterprise content stores are very big). It is about the management and governance of information that is actually used (not potentially used) by the business and which can have a big impact on an organisation—and which has a big scope, in that it is derived from many disparate sources of information, not necessarily stored in relational databases. Content can be transactional database records, archived for regulatory purposes; but it can also be scanned images, films, sounds or maps of interesting user access patterns—almost anything, in fact. And, ECM was around before the term “big data” became fashionable, although ECM is evolving as technology, and mobile technology in particular, evolves.

I was talking with Jim Maguire, Senior Product Manager at ASG Software Solutions, about the evolution of its ASG-ViewDirect Suite, one of ASG’s ECM solution sets (there is also the ASG-Cypress Suite, which is more focused on document output and print management), some years after the acquisition of Mobius. Maguire likes to keep the Mobius name around, since it is one his customers relate to and the news is its new ASG-Mobius Luminist iPad app (Android will follow), which he sees as a chance to re-engage with customers who may have become complacent working with ECM systems that have been around for years. The new app itself promises an easy-to-adopt, easy-to-learn, efficient, secure and cost-effective way to make the information in the ASG-ViewDirect repository available wherever and whenever employees are working.

ASG now has quite a healthy customer-base, in over 70% of Fortune 500 companies, and a demonstrable ability to manage and govern content over many platforms (including the mainframe), but enterprise content people are sometimes quite conservative and the world is changing. Today, ASG is delivering on iPhones and tablets, and is beefing up its channel; tomorrow it will be federating content, including content outside of its archives, and extending its (probably partner-based) services offerings (which will make it more available for smaller organisations). We were talking around ECM here, but don’t forget that ASG also has significant Cloud and IT Optimisation offerings in its ASG smart catalogue.

ASG sees mobile delivery as an opportunity to revitalise ECM thinking; so much so that it even has a Summer Special Offer. Both for existing and new customers that have spent a minimum $100,000 USD in combined new license, maintenance and professional services revenue during 2014, the ASG-Mobius Luminist app is available at no additional license cost (saving around $50,000, although there is still a charge for maintenance). In 2015, the pricing for ASG‐Mobius Luminist will revert to the list price of $50,000 per site. To clarify this, the ASG‐Mobius Luminist is an iPad App freely downloadable from the App Store for no charge; but if a customer wishes to connect ASG‐Mobius Luminist to content in its production ASG‐ViewDirect repository, a license for ASG‐DocumentDirect for the Internet Mobile Client option is required (starting with release 4.5.2).

This pricing makes it quite clear that ASG is targeting the Enterprise with its ECM solution and that you should expect a no-compromise, highly scalable solution. Which is why I think a additional ‘delivery as a service’ option would make so much sense. Smaller companies have ECM issues too, even if they don’t realise it yet, but they usually can’t afford to install an Enterprise platform as a proof of concept (and I think that service-based solutions will probably become the norm in future anyway).

So, what is so good about Enterprise ECM as supplied by ASG? Well, that ASG has gained a lot of competencies with experience; and that its content solutions family doesn’t have significant built-in limits; and that it is focusing on the next-generation user experience, with the Freedom to work the way you want to, on your own device, with self-service ‘App Stores’; and that it is espousing an Agile approach to Business Velocity and Resource Elasticity.

Looking at the detail, ASG ECM solutions support rich visual access to content and rich search options. Beneath this. its audit and balance system and record management provide useful (and enforceable) content governance and its Total Content Integrator can bring in just about any sort of content, from just about anywhere, in just about any volume (it can handle exabytes of high-volume transactional content).

Key features of its ASG-ViewDirect records management product set are:

  • Provision of automatic acquisition, classification, retention and disposal (don’t ever overlook information disposal, it is required by many privacy laws) of high-volume, transaction-oriented information, across mainframe and distributed platforms;
  • Delivery of extremely granular control for electronic records, so people can be given access to only part of a document;
  • Management of records ‘in place’, with no need to copy content somewhere else;
  • Support for both time-based and business event-based retention;
  • Support for litigation hold events (the preservation of material for a pending or anticipated lawsuit or investigation);
  • Management through an intuitive, web-based UI.

Nevertheless, the absolutely key ASG ECM capability is probably provided by the Audit and Balancing system, which is all about analysing and using the data for the benefit of the business (according to Maguire “we don’t just find a needle in a haystack; we can find a bent needle amongst a lot of straight needles in a haystack”). It is Audit and Balancing that helps to ensure that content is validated on input, so that actionable insights based on it aren’t invalidated by rubbish data.

This has been a very high-level overview of ASG Software Solutions’s Enterprise Content Management offering, but the whole end-to-end ECM idea merits further study by any organisation that wants good governance for its automated systems and information content. Bringing content management up to date with mobile interfaces, Agile development and, potentially, a SaaS offering is necessary if organisations are going to apply proper governance to information systems based on new big data sources.