Monday, November 25, 2013

Coding in ECM: in danger of dying out?

As I was surfing the web the other day, I came across a really interesting post written by Susanth Kurunthil, a consultant working in Enterprise Content Management (ECM), who has fifteen years of experience working with technologies like Filenet, Alfresco, SharePoint, Kofax and Captiva. The title of the post was pretty striking:

"ECM – don’t need developers anymore.” 

The title compelled me to read the post. How could this guy SAY that? That’s the first thing I thought. Kurunthil’s position is that the ECM market is heading towards a scenario where developers aren’t wanted on staff – not because of having an ECM solution that covers the business’s needs, but because what companies want are flexible, powerful applications that can be configured (and not by writing code): that’s the way the tool should cover the business’s needs.

Truth is, this trend isn’t only limited to ECM. It’s called specialization, and it means each business dedicating itself to its core business: the areas in which businesses excel. After all, if we’re a bank, why do we need five developers working on an ECM application that I can purchase, and have fewer complications?

I think that that’s the point Kurunthil is trying to make, although he goes further than that. Kurunthil is saying that this type of “team of developers” is becoming an extinct species. And not only do the developers know it, they react to the threat, as a result.

To provide an example, Kurunthil tells the story of a large petroleum company in the Middle East. The company had a team of developers building the company’s ECM solution, which was based on a well-known ECM platform, themselves. What the team did was to fill the original solution with a load of patches; and, naturally, it didn’t take long for the other users in the company to realize that the platform was a nightmare to use. Users had to carry out too much manual work, the application was always failing and it became a pain the neck for the rest of the staff.

The IT director at the time brought in a project manager who had a ton of experience and who could make everyone’s lives a lot easier. True to form, the project manager was a wizard and, within a year, had created a complete document management system which would solve the petroleum company’s headaches. Not only that: the engineer had a five-year road map for the ECM completely planned!

And they all lived happily ever after…everyone but, of course, the team of developers, who saw their heads on the chopping block. They didn’t just stand there, twiddling their thumbs: they convinced the IT director to axe the project manager, saying that it wasn’t necessary to have that many people, and they could do it all themselves. And that, my friends, is how a brilliant framework planned and implemented by the project manager, which made the users in the company happy, ended up in the dump.

Personally, I don’t believe that all stories have to have endings that are that sad, or that anywhere there are developers, things work that badly. What I do agree with is that, more and more, businesses are demanding applications that don’t involve long, tortuous implementations. They’re demanding the exact opposite: out of the box applications that work well.

What do you folks think?

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