In Early March 2009, I had an opportunity to pose this question to Miguel Zubizaretta, CTO of Hyland Software during their Team OnBase Conference. Miguel answered the question for me in a way that finally made it clear to me how ECM Technology and Enterprise Search Technology are different, and perhaps just as importantly, how they need to co-exist. "The Google, or Enterprise Search Paradigm is different from that of ECM." Said Zubizaretta. "When you do a search online, in Google, for example, the user is looking for content that relates to a specific search term. What is returned is a series of results which have a relationship with the query. If a user has their question answered or issue resolved, or if they find something relevant to that query, they're satisfied and the search was a success. The question, however, is does that query provide ALL applicable results, or does it even provide the correct result? That is the purpose of ECM."
ECM technology is built on the premise that documents and content are indexed with certain, specific pieces of metadata, or keywords. This allows for a very high degree of specificity when conducting a search - Dates, Amounts, and other Identification are specifically tagged to that object. When searching within an Enterprise Search Platform, however, the results are largely based on an algorithmic scoring and interpretation of the text within that content. This means that the search may locate the item that you're searching for, but it also may neglect certain documents that were relevant to the query, but which were not defined to have a direct relationship with that document via common metadata or keywords.
Therefore the real difference between the technologies is reflective of the two purposes for their use. If you want to find ANY answers to a given query, then Enterprise Search is likely an acceptable strategy. If, however, you want to be able to find ALL applicable answers to that query, then ECM technology is likely to be the better choice. This is especially important for CTO's and other Technology Decision makers to understand as they invest in systems, because without accurately capturing ALL of the possible results, there could be dire consequences for the business.
In addition to the difference in the search paradigm, other functionality, such as version control, audit trails, and workflow are often inherent to ECM systems. This makes ECM a critical component for a company's regulatory and audit compliance. This doesn't make these two technologies mutually exclusive, but rather quite complimentary to each other. The ability to provide full-text search capabilities within an ECM System is often very useful for eDiscovery Processes, or when someone remembers an obscure fact about a given document, but may not remember where they read it. Likewise the ability to conduct a broad Enterprise Search and view all of the ECM Results within the same window can provide a great method of federating the retrieval of content that may not be stored within the ECM System. So while neither ECM nor Enterprise Search alone are the panacea for all that ails enterprise information management, but together, both technologies can go a long way to improving the end-user experience and help users find the information that they need to make better, more informed business decisions.