Why Information Management vendors need to rethink their M365 approach…

Atle Skjekkeland


Marketing guru Seth Godin once said: “When the platform changes, the leaders change”. The cloud is the new IT platform, and most organizations use Microsoft 365 (M365) for collaboration. IT buyers want platforms with apps and components on top of it, not a myriad of disconnect systems and silos. The analyst Gartner sensed this transition a few years ago with this somewhat abruptly titled blog post, ECM is dead, long live Content Services Platforms.

It doesn´t make sense in the cloud era to install a new system and repository every time you need to meet a new business need. The consulting company McKinsey recommends organizations establish a secure and compliant platform as the foundation for digital transformation. Information can then be easily turned into an asset to add value, reduce costs, minimize risks, and identify new opportunities.

A lot of collaborative work happens now in M365. Apps can be built or bought on top of the platform to meet unique business needs, and components can be made available within different business applications (e.g., store SAP files in M365). Hence, the idea that important information (e.g. records) should be moved to a separate repository (e.g. central archive) is outdated. This only works for records that are rarely retrieved (see post about in-place vs centralized records management). Active records need to be available in context with relevant documents and tasks. They need to be managed by – or within – the platform.

There was a time when organizations didn’t think that SharePoint was a robust enough corporate document or records management solution. And there was probably a good deal of truth in that statement at the time.

“I can remember a time when the traditional ECM community thought that whatever SharePoint was doing, it wasn’t ‘real’ ECM,” notes former AIIM President John Mancini. “Most of the ECM vendors and customers didn´t consider SharePoint an ECM system – the same way American car manufacturers didn´t consider the first Japanese cars a competitor. But time changes everything, and ultimately SharePoint changed the entire cost curve of the ECM Industry.”

We are now in the middle of another major disruptive inflection. Several large and highly regulated companies with 100,000+ employees have now standardized on M365 for both collaboration and records management. The key is Unified Labels and Label Policies for managing information across M365, but also admin tools like the Compliance Center, Compliance Score, Content Search, Data Investigations, Legal Hold, etc. This can be used to better manage information within the platform, but also support scenarios for securing information outside of M365.

Many IT solution providers of Content Services Platforms, Document Management solutions, Electronic Records Management solutions, and Physical Records Management solutions claim they are integrated with M365. This is true, but the integration is usually with applications like MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or SharePoint. They do NOT leverage – or enhance – the use of Unified Labels and Label Policies. Nor do they leverage the benefits of the M365 Compliance Center, Content Search, SharePoint term store, etc. Instead, most of them compete with this – they ask you NOT to use the M365 functionality to manage information, and instead rely on their functionality. The consequence is that you miss the opportunity to use some of the new M365 functionality to manage information, which the analyst Gartner considers leading in their latest Magic Quadrant.

What should IT solution providers do? Based on our work with global and highly regulated companies adopting M365 for both collaboration and records management, we have come to the following recommendations for IT solution providers:

  • Stop fighting over the repository.

  • Sell apps and components on top of the M365 platform, not more repositories.

  • Sell solutions that extend the M365 to new areas, not reduce it.

  • Leverage the build-in M365 functionality and enhance and expand it.

  • Find ways to support retention labels, the term store, compliance center, etc, but improve it.

I believe this is the only way to stay relevant for IM solution providers. If you can´t fight them, join them!

Feel free to contact us if you want to discuss this in more detail.

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