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John Mancini, President, AIIM

John ManciniThe enterprise content management (ECM) industry is in a period of flux, a surprising fact considering the process of managing records has been around for decades.

John Mancini is the president of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), an organization founded in 1943 to serve the needs of the content management community, whether it's the end user in the office or the vendor selling wares to meet the needs of the end user.

Recent years have been tumultuous ones for the records management community. There have been a number of consolidations in the ECM space, from big-name acquisitions like EMC's $1.7 billion purchase of Documentum and $1.3 billion Legato purchase, to a number of smaller-scale buyouts by IBM for companies like Green Pastures and Tarian Software.

Then there was the fallout of the Enron scandal to start out the millennium, with its accounting irregularities and paper shredders. Lost e-mails and files from the disgraced company's executives brought the issue of keeping tabs on unstructured content to the fore and prompted auditing measures within federal compliance regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Mancini talked with internetnews.com about the challenges ahead for the ECM industry.

Q: AIIM has been around for what, 60 years?

A lot of people ask me, "What's the deal with an IT organization being around for 60 years?" [Laughs] I think the rationale that kind of explains it is that in large measure we're really not an IT organization so much as a business process organization. The center of what we focus on is in this area of unstructured information.

While the technologies related to the management of unstructured information have changed an awful lot in the last 60-plus years, the business problem has really remained something that's important to end users. We've followed those concerns, and that's led us in a number of technology directions, beginning with microfilm and then adding a number of successive layers onto it.

Q: Where is the ECM industry right now, and where is it heading?

It's changing from basically being a source of point solutions within particular departments to basically being what people view as a piece of the overall infrastructure of the organization, of the overall IT infrastructure.

That changes the whole nature of the kinds of technologies people look at and the kinds of integration questions they have, and so forth and so on. It's a significant change, from the department to the enterprise, and that's something very different from, say, five years ago or so.

Q: The ECM industry has seen its share of consolidation in recent years. Do you expect it to continue as the industry matures?

We're smack in the middle of the consolidation right now as opposed to being in the early stages. We've already seen the early stuff but I don't think it's done yet.

That's a factor for people to consider, too. If you're looking at a solution, you have to look down the road not only technologically two or three years but you have to look two to three years down the road from a business-partner perspective. You have to think, "What are the implications for me if this company is acquired, if this company merges?" That's a challenge for end users right now.

One of the big things that is going on right now is that the [ECM] industry is morphing into two directions.

One is where you have large, global organizations driven largely by compliance concerns that are looking at a mess of an IT infrastructure with regard to the management of unstructured content and are trying to rationalize and consolidate and make that stuff more accountable and predictable. That, in large measure, is driving all the consolidation you're seeing within the industry.

The other side that's going to be really interesting to watch is that mid-sized organizations are starting to wake up to the fact that this is an area of concern to them.

There are 167,000 business organizations in the U.S. that have between 100 and 1,000 employees, and if I think about the market penetration of these technologies in that market right now, it's very, very small. I think what you're going to see there is a market that's dominated by VARs, by systems integrators, by solution providers that focus on vertical market segments.

Q: When taken against the backdrop of security vulnerabilities and streamlining business processes, customers might look at ECM as a lower priority. Is that what you're seeing?

I think a lot of that has to deal with the way the question might be asked, because certainly one of the real key business drivers that people look for, in this industry segment, is streamlining their business processes.

So if, for example, a broader sample of IT people were saying, "Gee, we're prioritizing our IT investments based on streamlining our business processes," I would view that as a very good thing for this industry because of the amount of unstructured information that surrounds a business process. You don't have a ghost of a chance of automating that business process unless you do something about that unstructured information, which is where stuff comes in.

Q: AIIM is working on an interoperability effort called Interoperable ECM (iECM), a standard allowing different ECM applications to connect. What do you hope to get out of it?

You've got all these different systems in the ECM arena that have to communicate and share information and so on in order to optimize business processes and meet requirements. Historically, these systems have been connected through proprietary, kind of one-off sort of connections that are expensive.

But another aspect to them is that they tend to be hard to maintain, as technologies change and are updated. So what we're trying to get to is find a standards-based system of connectivity, and that will be more robust and put the onus on the suppliers to basically be in compliance with those standards and make life an awful lot easier for the end user.

What's the big challenge in the ECM industry?

Particularly on the compliance side, the challenge you have in most organizations is that designing solutions really requires that you have an awareness of a lot of things, but particularly records management. Now, the challenge is that the records managers don't tend to understand the IT world very well, and lots of times the IT perspective is dominated by technical concerns rather than either records management or legal concerns.

You've got to look at this problem from a broad perspective rather than a narrow perspective; you've got to look at information management from the perspective of being a critical business process and you've got to start applying some disciplines to that process that match the kinds of disciplines that you would put on any other process.

If you're going to do that, you're really going to need the perspective brought to bear within your organization -- from the records managers, from the legal people, from the IT people, from the process owner -- and that each of them have perspectives to bring to the task. You can't do that stuff in isolation.