ECM vs. Content Services

Understanding the differences between enterprise content management and content services, and deciding which is best for your organization


Your organization is drowning in content, whether you realize it or not.

Invoices. Reports. Emails. Scanned forms. From hospital networks managing patient information, insurance companies handling claims to mortgage lenders reviewing loan applications, organizations sink or survive based on their ability to manage content.

Effective control of and access to content informs business decisions, impacts customer experience and ultimately determines an organization’s continued success. 

The history of ECM 

A long time ago (think 30+ years), organizations realized the need to harness all this content and securely deliver it to the people, systems and processes that rely on it. Looking back, those organizations could be considered leaders of the burgeoning digital transformation initiative (an initiative that didn’t have a name yet, of course). 

In those early days, such solutions were categorized as document imaging software. As technology evolved to include search and retrieval capabilities, the term became document management software. 

Then, solutions grew even more complex, accounting for the full lifecycle of content across the enterprise and incorporating workflow tools to route content to the right people at the right time. Thus, document management became enterprise content management (ECM).

ECM ruled the marketplace for quite a while. But like any technology, it too evolved. The business world of the 2000s was hugely different from the world we now occupy in the 2020s. As a result, our expectations of content management, and the strategies and tools we use to manage information, have evolved into its most recent iteration, content services


How ECM became content services

In late 2016, IT research and advisory firm Gartner announced it was retiring the term enterprise content management in favor of content services. 

“The Content Services approach overrules the notion of consolidation for its own sake,” Gartner’s analysts reasoned.  “It’s strategic, rather than technology oriented and provides an evolved way of thinking about how to solve content related problems. It blends the reality of what is happening now in the digital enterprise and the emerging technology of the near future.”

Gartner’s decision reflected a big change in the way organizations created, used and shared content, both internally and externally. 

Where ECM had primarily been a means of transforming paper documents into electronic information and distributing that information to employees and staff, digital organizations began to demand more comprehensive content services. 

They didn’t need monolithic document repositories; they needed platforms that could aggregate content across multiple repositories to connect disparate applications and minimize IT sprawl. They needed to provide business users with complete, centralized views of the information required to work most effectively — ideally within the applications those users already knew and used daily. And they needed ways to securely share content with stakeholders, customers and collaborators outside of company firewalls. They needed a content services platform (CSP). 



What is the difference between ECM and CSP? 

Here’s the key difference between an ECM and a CSP: ECM is an older, more cumbersome system of content storage, while a CSP is a newer, more agile method of content management.

When we talk about ECM and CSP, the conversation is often framed as “ECM vs. content services,” as if the two technologies are completely different, competing entities. But really, content services is an evolution of ECM that is better equipped to handle the needs and ongoing digital evolution of a growing modern enterprise. A modern CSP incorporates the capabilities of traditional ECM and builds upon them to better reflect the expectations of today’s users. 

Content services evolved from ECM to better enable digital transformation and digital evolution. As the information landscape shifted, the enterprise content management capabilities of the past didn’t fully reflect the way users create, use, interact with and govern their information. They were also ill equipped to handle the exponential scale of information entering the enterprise. 


Advantages of a CSP over an ECM system

If you already have an ECM system in place, you may wonder if it’s worth the time and money to upgrade to a solution that is, admittedly, an evolution of what you already have in place. The answer is 100%, without a doubt, yes.

Here’s why there’s a major difference in content services vs. ECM legacy systems for your enterprise:

Aging ECM platforms slow your processes and put you at risk

Many traditional ECM platforms still have the same, dated, monolithic framework they were born with. This leads to limited functionality, challenges integrating with more modern solutions, and expensive development and maintenance cycles for add-ons.

A CSP is more likely to be cloud-native

Some ECM vendors and their customers initially resisted the cloud, but improved confidence in information security is convincing increasing numbers of companies to make the move. Ensuring the content management strategy and tools within an organization are cloud-ready and fully functional in the cloud is a core requirement.

Legacy ECM systems limit innovation

The focus on re-architecting for modern infrastructures can lead to a drop in innovation and new features for certain legacy vendors. Users of these platforms will miss out on new core capabilities such as advanced automation, integration with collaboration and business applications, and modern, simplified management and user interfaces — putting them at a serious competitive disadvantage.

ECM comes along with high implementation and maintenance costs

The deployment of most ECM systems requires careful planning, a lot of configuration and significant user training. Combined, this results in high implementation costs — especially when compared with the flexible, monthly pricing models and extensive customization options available in modern platforms.

ECM contributes to harmful information sprawl

Despite years of claims that one system would store all the content within an organization, vendors failed to deliver on this promise, resulting in the deployment of multiple, disconnected information systems — none of which were ever designed to work together. The result is a collection of aging platforms, abandoned collaboration sites and isolated departmental solutions.  

A modern CSP, on the other hand, takes a wider view of your business and allows you to integrate with modern core systems, scale as your business grows, improve time-to-value on your new initiatives, and ultimately solve your most pervasive business challenges.

It does so via:

  • Increased access to information from any device, any location, at any time
  • Faster and cheaper creation of business-focused solutions — that are subsequently easier to maintain 
  • Increased automation, efficiency and visibility of multiple business processes 
  • Intelligent management of new rich media formats such as video and images

So when it comes to a content services platform vs. ECM, a CSP allows organizations to go beyond simple information management to achieve true digital transformation.


Elements of a content services platform

A modern CSP incorporates many elements that allow it to do more than just manage enterprise-level content that’s already within an organization’s systems. A CSP can manage content end-to-end (from the moment it enters the business through the end of its lifecycle) and can transform the processes by which the content is handled. 

When you’re vetting content services providers, look for content services capabilities and features including: 


Intelligent capture

Capture is the critical starting point of your information management journey. The sooner you get incoming content and data into your key systems and into the hands of those who need it, the more efficient your employees and downstream processes will be. 

Case management

Case management capabilities empower employees to effectively manage cases and make better business decisions by managing data relationships, documents and processes on a single platform. 


Intelligently search your ever-growing volume of business data, regardless of where it is stored in the organization — repositories, sites, email systems, network shares, intranets, extranets, websites, databases, social media platforms and more — to find exactly the content you need to make business-critical decisions at the right time. 

Content management

The advanced capabilities of a CSP don’t mean the crucial capabilities of ECM disappear. Content management capabilities that allow your employees to organize, manage and optimize critical content from across your organization is the backbone of a modern content services platform, providing users with a complete view of the information they need, when they need it.

Collaboration features

Especially as a remote workforce becomes more commonplace, your employees (as well as partners and vendors) need to share content and collaborate. They will find a way to do just that — whether it’s company-approved or not. Give them a content collaboration platform that becomes your corporate standard — simple for you to manage, providing you with control and created with the enterprise in mind.

Customer communications management (CCM)

 As technology evolves, so do the expectations of customers. Overcome the inherent obstacles of manually assembling and outputting frequently created customer documents and reduce the time and effort it takes to create individually personalized content by automating your CCM within your CSP. 

Business process automation

Leading content services platforms use advanced technologies like intelligent automation and robotic process automation (RPA) to automate repeatable tasks, route documents, manage exceptions and extend key processes using tools like configurable workflow, built-in rules and actions, and customizable forms. These automation capabilities streamline your critical processes, improve efficiency and empower users to focus on high-value interactions rather than monotonous work.

Reporting and analytics

Being able to access your content is one thing. Knowing how to tap into its insights is another. Without knowing how to understand what that content is telling you about your processes, system and user actions, you risk inefficiencies, compliance oversights, and insights that could lead to better, faster decision-making. A modern content services platform provides visibility into your content and processes with real-time reporting and analytics, including interactive dashboards and audit trails of all content-related activities, by comprehensively extracting useful knowledge that can inform your strategies going forward. 
So when it comes to a content services platform vs. ECM, a CSP allows organizations to go beyond simple information management to achieve true digital transformation.
It’s also important to consider how those capabilities come to life for an end user. The right content services platform doesn’t just have the right capabilities … it also presents them to your users in an intuitive, easy-to-use way. 


Look for a CSP with the following benefits: