Sunday, April 6, 2008

Can you tell the difference between EIM and ECM? Really?



Do you find it hard to make a clear distinction between the concepts of Enterprise Information Management (EIM) and Enterprise Content Management (ECM)? If you do, I ensure you that you are not alone. In this post I will try to make the distinction a little bit clearer by using good-old communication theory and a simple (maybe even naive) analogy. To start with, let’s look at the current “official” definitions of the two concepts.

Although there is no agreed upon and hence no official definition of Enterprise Information Management, one of the best I have found so far is this one from an article in DMReview.com by Iain Kiernan where EIM is defined as:
"the processes, technologies and tools needed to turn data into information, information into knowledge and knowledge into plans that drive profitable business action."
When it comes to ECM, the official definition from AIIM defines ECM as:
“...the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists.“
Already here, it is quite easy to see that ECM is more technology-oriented than EIM. But what else is different? The distinction is still not really clear and communication theory might come to help here.

Communication theory defines communication as “a sender transferring a message containing information to a receiver”, information being a message that is received and understood (Wikipedia.org). In other words, information is the end result of a cognitive process in the head of the receiver. It is not something that actually exists on the paper which the message was written on. In a digital world, what is processed by the receiver is a message carried by more (data) or less structured digital content (text, images, sound, video…). When the message that the content carries is interpreted and understood by a receiver, it turns into information. This information can then be turned into knowledge (one definition of knowledge defines it as "the confident understanding of a subject with the ability to use it for a specific purpose if appropriate", wikipedia.org).

With this in mind, we can conclude EIM and ECM focuses on two different things in a communication process:

  • EIM focuses on identifying receivers and understanding their information (and kwowledge) needs so that effective messages – messages that are understood by the receivers and create the intended effect (action, or absence of action) – can be created and delivered to them in the right time.
  • ECM focuses on how to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content (carrying messages) to identified receivers.

To clarify even more:

  • EIM is about creating efficient messages intended for specific receivers (persons or roles), while ECM is about capturing these messages as content.
  • EIM is about knowing who needs to receive the message and when they need it, while ECM is about knowing the name and address of the intended receivers and deliver it to them as required by the sender.
  • EIM cares about the message being interpreted, understood and creating the desired effect, while ECM cares about the content – whatever it might contain – being efficiently and securely delivered to the address of the named receiver.

Can you see the analogy with someone writing and sending a letter via regular mail? EIM is the author who writes a message to an intended receiver, chooses the media which in this example is a piece of paper, puts the paper into an envelope, writes the name and address of the receiver on the envelope and chooses a delivery method that will deliver it to the receiver in the right time and at the right cost. ECM is the postal service that picks up the letter together with a lot of other stuff from other senders, describes and organizes all them to be able to manage and deliver them efficiently and safely, and then delivers them to the addresses on the envelope. The mailman won't stay to observe the receiver when he or she opens the envelope and reads the letter, but the sender of the letter might request a letter back from the receiver to confirm if the message was understood or not.