Sunday, March 31, 2013

Maybe, There Are No Systems of Engagement

A couple of years ago, I took part in an AIIM project that was examining the recent changes impacting enterprise software systems - consumarization and mobile, social, and cloud based software. Spearheaded by none other than Geoffrey Moore (yes, the one of Crossing the Chasm fame), we ended up defining the terms systems of record and systems of engagement. You can find the AIIM paper by Geoffrey Moore here.

Geoffrey Moore
Since then, the terminology of systems of record and systems of engagement entered the mainstream nomenclature and it is used regularly in various discussions. The systems of record are the traditional (yes, old-fashioned and boring) applications that enterprises have been relying on to manage their critical information. The systems of engagement are those hip, new applications (with, ehm, sometimes questionable ROI) that were supposedly the future of enterprise software.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that we got it wrong back then. When I look at the current landscape, the traditional enterprise applications have all taken on the aspects of systems of engagement. Pretty much every application has a mobile story. There is no mobile enterprise software market. All decent enterprise software has mobile capabilities today. Most enterprise software vendors have added social capabilities to their software. Many of them have launched their cloud initiatives. In fact, I am not sure that there are many viable systems of engagement left out there. Even the vendors who started in the systems of engagement world are rushing to add some of those boring system-of-record features like a repository, security, and governance in an attempt to look more like true enterprise software.

Take the Customer Experience Management market as an example. Those were supposed to be the ultimate systems of engagement - the web based applications engaging with the company’s customers, partners, and employees. But to a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), these applications are not just about engagement. They are about leads, opportunities, and deals. The Marketing department is being measured by the strength of the pipeline and the opportunity-to-deal conversion ratio. To the CMO, these systems are his systems of record as much as systems of engagement.

In reality, there are no two separate worlds. No systems of record and systems of engagement. What used to be referred to as systems of engagement are a new set of capabilities that have, greatly improved the traditional enterprise applications. When done right, they can significantly augment the usability and adoption rates of enterprise software. But they are not a separate market. They are features.

There is only one type of enterprise software - systems that manage enterprise information.


  1. I think there is a significant bifurcation emerging in the marketplace.

    Organizations with existing ECM implementations, which are largely confined to larger scale operations, will go down the path that you outline, and have added SoE capabilities to their offerings. Organizations already in bed with ECM will likely continue down this path.

    There is also an immense mid-sized market still largely a greenfield when it comes to traditional ECM. These folks will -- and are -- flocking to "good enough" content solutions in the cloud, largely driven by LOB and knowledge workers. These folks don't care about enterprise software; they just want to get their work done. This market for basic content and process services feels a lot like imaging and document management and basic workflow felt in the 90s. The difference is that now these people can procure and implement these solutions in the cloud and immediately and without IT involvement.

    1. I don't know why Google thinks I am unknown. This is Mancini.

    2. Maybe you're the Unknown Mancini.

    3. Thanks for your comment, John. Agreed that there is a mid-sized market that appears content with solutions that are primarily Systems of Engagement. Usually, these solutions are used in a generic manner - out of the box functionality identical to every company and every department. Nothing wrong with that. However, as the mid-size business grow, they will develop appetite for functionality specialization. Not to mention the need for information governance.

  2. "Records" & "engagement" are system capabilities. Some systems are optimized more for one than the other. To be effective, I suggest that systems have to do both, taking into account what the core business is.

    In this context I am not saying system = application. System is the aggregation of people, process, tools.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Chris. I obviously agree with your comment - that's basically my point. As for the term "application", I admit I used it fairly freely in this post.