Image by: mrPliskin, ©2018 Getty Images

Last year, the debate around the new term "Content Services" was born. To date, most of the talking points focus on the terminology change for enterprise content management (ECM). However, this argument ignores the fact that these services to manage content are no longer relegated to ECM systems. They exist in imaging solutions, document management systems (DMS), and—yes—ECM systems. Still, content services also exist inside content solutions, like contract life cycle management systems and accounts payable solutions.

Content solutions evolved because the act of managing documents was only a part of the overall business solution. Rather than adopt an existing ECM, DMS, or imaging solution, they developed their own. These solutions include not only general document management functionality but also those specific to the business process.

Business Documents in Content Solutions

Contract life cycle management solutions differ from a DMS, since they look at the document as being made up of several smaller segments, specifically contract clauses. Each of these clauses has their own attributes and workflows. This is typically not the case for documents in a DMS.

Similarly, accounts payable solutions differ from imaging products in their specific functionality. Accounts payable solutions recognize not only the individual numbers on a scanned invoice but also the arithmetic significance when combined with other numbers on the page or that another series of numbers may represent additional data (such as line items totaling invoice amount or an account number that can be used to find vendor details). This enhanced recognition process creates values by understanding the specific document and its content.

Content Solutions Within a Business Process

Both contract life cycle management and accounts payable solutions are part of a larger business process often called “procure to pay” or “source to pay.” These solutions include features that fall under content services, but they also include features that definitely do not, such as deep integrations with customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions. This goes beyond simple document connections. It includes functionality like creating contract obligations or discount structures that are stored in the CRM or ERP.

These types of systems recognize that documents are a large part of the business process—but not the most important part. Similar solutions have evolved in compliance, human resources, engineering, and healthcare.

Content Services Is Not Enough for Content Solutions

The challenge is that these other solutions often do not support business processes that documents must participate in. Documents, including invoices, are also records, which need to be maintained. Engineering documents can be hard to read without a computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) application, requiring conversion. In addition, contracts can be used by various parts of an organization, like the accounting department that uses an accounts payable solution.

Services like records management, e-discovery, transformation, and federation are a big part of managing documents—something that traditional platforms, like ECM, DMS, and imaging solutions, recognize. For now, these services have been mostly ignored by content solutions.

The Future of Content Services

The idea of content services is about bringing together the various solutions that manage documents in both their generic document and business-specific processes. For every content solution built with its own content services, there is a custom solution that has been developed on a traditional ECM platform. These two spaces are a lot closer than they appear at first glance.

Business owners will continue to push content solutions to address the capabilities that are already available in ECM and DMS platforms, and content solution vendors will enhance their content services capabilities to support more document-related services. At the same time, ECM and DMS vendors will look to build stronger connections to the business process. As they do, the role of content services will also become clearer.

Marko Sillanpaa is co-founder of the blog Big Men On Content and the founder of BMO Consulting. He has been working in ECM for over 18 years for vendors like Documentum, EMC, Hyland, and SDL Trados and systems integrators like CSC and Accenture. Follow him on Twitter @MSillanpaaBMOC.