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ERM moves on, but can users?

 In spite of high vendor hopes, electronic records management (ERM) technology has failed to deliver any significant growth to the enterprise content management (ECM) market of which it is part. Now, market leaders IBM (www.ibm.com and FileNet (www.filenet.com) are offering ERM products that arguably mark the beginning of the next major phase of ERM's evolution. The products manage content as a record, regardless of where it physically sits. ERM users no longer have the burden of physically moving content to a central location. Will this innovation mark the beginning of a new phase in user adoption of the technology at the same time? We expect that progress will continue to be steady and slow.

 IBM Federated Records Management and FileNet Records Manager use the same underlying content integration technology to manage content both within their own ECM repositories and across repositories from other vendors, including file servers. Once content is recognized as a record using the respective products, its security and access rights are changed in accordance with the customer's records management policies. Those are defined and managed centrally. Content identified as a record can no longer be accidentally deleted, and it can no longer be edited.

 Other ERM products generally require content to be physically moved into a centralized repository. That process places a burden on users, and any burden tends to equate to a disincentive to use technology. IBM and FileNet's new offerings overcome that issue, and make it easier for organizations to manage electronic records management across the whole organization, as opposed to within isolated, underused deployments.

 A big step forward, then, but it is not just technology that has been responsible for a lack of ERM momentum. Most importantly, many user organizations have been unimpressed by the value of ERM, and perhaps too eager to believe that if they ever really needed to find historical content, it would be out there somewhere. After all, employees take care of the important stuff, don't they?

 IBM and FileNet's endeavors are unlikely to change user perceptions. Stories of ERM successes are by their nature concealed. For example, we only hear about organizations facing litigation or other punitive measures through poor information management, and not about those that have avoided it through employing information management best practices, including records management. Another issue is that cost reduction or increased productivity from ERM is not easily demonstrated. ERM tends to yield results only in the mid to long term, and they are more likely to be "soft" benefits, as opposed to something that can be quantified numerically. We hope to be proven wrong, of course. We just don't think there are that many ERM converts out there. Many wish all their important content was managed securely with little extra effort, and like the idea of retrieving it instantly over the coming years, reviewing what really happened and avoiding future problems. Few are willing to invest significant resource now to implement the technology to achieve those goals. Many will find more pressing priorities, some with good reason.

Sarah Kittmer is a senior analyst with Ovum's (www.ovum.com) Technology Group, specializing in enterprise content management, e-mail sarah.kittmer@ovum.com.

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