The healthcare industry is especially good at this. Consider labels such as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or its cousin ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) or DSPS (Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome).
Or ED, which I won’t define further because the joke potential is far too rich. However, judging by the volume of ads on television, ED must be the single most pressing issue facing humanity.
Conditions are sometimes identified and labeled quickly in order to apply a cure that masks a great deal of complexity.
Usually these simple labels and their proposed cures are accompanied by a torrent of facts and disclaimers that belie the very simplicity the label was supposed to imply. The long string of rapidly spoken legal and health disclaimers at the end of any drug pitch have brought a whole new set of embarrassing and uncomfortable subjects and conditions right into our living rooms. (Just between us guys – would you really wait 4 hours before seeking medical attention?)
Which brings me to that string of initials used to describe our industry. You know the one I mean. It's OK to say it. Don't be embarrassed: ECM.
ECM and ED have a lot in common. Hah – I bet that's never been said before. Looking at the fine print in a newspaper advertisement this morning, I noticed that a side effect of ED pharmaceutical remedies can be "a decrease or loss of vision or hearing – sometimes with ringing in the ears and dizziness." At times, I've heard end users describe ECM (enterprise content management) sales pitches in similar terms.
Gosh, there’s rich joke potential here. But my wife insists I resist the temptation for a string of cheap jokes and get to my point. So here it is:
“ECM” – too simple a label for a complicated space?
We have spent a decade collectively trying to apply a very simple label to a very complicated technology space. When we all started down this path, it was driven by the need for a more expansive term to describe the changes going on in our industry. We have a special page on the AIIM site to describe "What is ECM?" Last year we even had a fun contest for a 60-second definition.
We all knew what we were talking about when our industry consisted of these discrete parts: 1) document management; 2) imaging; and 3) workflow (limited solely to the workflow of documents). But as the industry began changing about a decade ago, we needed something more comprehensive to describe the industry we were becoming.
Hence, ECM. The goal was a label like ERP (enterprise resource planning), or CRM (customer relationship management), that could provide a shorthand reference point for who we are and what we do.
This begs the question of whether we are a single industry anymore or more accurately a collection of technologies in search of a business problem to solve (i.e., a mainstream set of technologies). But let me put that question aside for a moment.
Of course, like any simple term used to describe a complicated set of conditions, those selling solutions in our space attached all sorts of qualifiers and explanations to the ECM label to describe what they were really talking about. All of which has had the effect of baffling many potential customers. Because while describing a "space" is important to sellers and analysts and is certainly a handy shorthand, users usually couldn't care less.
A data point to consider.
A few years ago we did a survey in which we asked a sample of user organizations outside our industry whether they knew what the term ECM meant. We even gave them some clues. The result? Less than 30 percent knew what we were talking about. I don't think things have gotten much better since then. This same set of users place a huge value on the importance of effective management of information to their long-term strategic success. What a disconnect!
So I have a question for my readers. In asking it, I don't necessarily want to jump to a conclusion, but launch an ongoing conversation for the next few months.
"Is the 'ECM' label helpful for our industry, or counter-productive?"
Let's hear your thoughts. Join the dialogue. Pass this link around and let's get a conversation going. There is no single right answer. Take a chance and chime in with a comment.