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ECM implementation efforts need focus on interoperability, end users

Mark Brunelli, News Editor

Organizations making new investments in enterprise content management (ECM) software need to think hard about technical interoperability and cultural change-management issues prior to moving forward, according

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to IT industry analysts and technology professionals.

Experts say the biggest barriers to a quality ECM implementation are interoperability problems that can arise with existing content management functionality and the seemingly innocuous but often painful challenge of getting people to actually use the ECM system once it’s deployed. They add, however, that there are some practical steps organizations can take to overcome these implementation hurdles.

ECM encompasses the many tools and techniques that can be used to capture, store, share and archive documents, emails, images and other types of unstructured content related to business or operational processes. Interest in ECM technology is growing fast, analysts say, because organizations are increasingly looking for new and more efficient ways to get a handle on their ever-growing stores of unstructured content while complying with government and industry regulations in areas such as information retention.

ECM implementation success depends on software interoperability
The interoperability issues that can plague new ECM deployments stem from the reality that most companies already have some type of content management technologies in place – whether they’re small “point solutions” or large-scale implementations with more robust features, said Karen Shegda, a content management analyst at Gartner Inc.

“Organizations are wrestling with how to make these tools interoperate and how to consolidate down to fewer, more strategic vendors,” Shegda said. “Rationalizing what they already have is often a challenge.”

A good way to start the process is to look at the level of investment – financial and otherwise – that has been made in each ECM tool currently being used, according to Shegda. A business might find that it has some good candidates for removal, she noted.

“If they’ve got a system that is only being used by one department, or maybe it’s approaching end of life, they may want to plan an exit strategy for that system,” Shegda explained. She added that other things to consider when looking at ECM consolidation include whether products can be easily replaced; whether there is significant overlapping functionality between systems; and the stipulations of related technical support and maintenance contracts.

New standard could help ease ECM implementation headaches
Reducing vendor headcount may increase the chances of successfully achieving interoperability between systems. But the best way to ensure that a new ECM implementation plays well with existing technologies is to invest in software that supports the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard, said Colleen Jones, principal and founder of Content Science, an Atlanta-based ECM consultancy.

CMIS was formally ratified by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards last May, and Jones said that many new ECM software products already support the interoperability standard. She added that it’s important to keep the CMIS specification in mind when shopping around for software, customizing applications or developing homegrown content management functionality.

People are often afraid of change, and that can be especially true when an organization implements a sweeping new content management system. That’s why internal change management is important from the beginning to the end of an ECM implementation, according to analysts.

One of the main drivers for ECM projects is to get business workers to stop duplicating corporate documents and emailing them around to one another without any control of the process, said Kathleen Reidy, a content management systems analyst at The 451 Group in New York. And if people aren’t using the ECM system, it defeats the whole purpose of the investment.

To ensure end-user adoption of new ECM technology, analysts say organizations need to keep a cross-section of rank-and-file business users involved in the decision-making process from start to finish. But getting high-level executives on board can present a major challenge, even if they’re the ones who approved the project in the first place, said Sara Roberts, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Roberts Golden Consulting, which focuses on change management issues.

Immersing business users in an ECM implementation
“When you talk about change management for ECM, you absolutely have to focus a lot of your efforts on the management and leadership layer,” Roberts said. ”Because let’s face it, managers are really the most influential people in an employee’s day-to-day working life.”

One way to get both business users and executive leadership invested in a new ECM implementation is to conduct technology “immersion sessions,” Roberts said, describing them as similar to training sessions but longer and much more interactive.

“You would bring those [users] into the room and let them play with the technology,” she said. “It’s kind of fun because it gives them a non-threatening environment where they can learn to really understand [the technology] and be able to see the business applications and the use cases right then and there.”

A final method of ensuring ECM uptake is to work closely with end users and executives to help them understand that the new functionality has the potential to make their jobs much easier.

“You pretty much have to act like you’re doing everybody a favor,” said David Wemett, an ECM software user and a lead technical analyst at the Connecticut Office of the State Comptroller. “And you are doing them a favor because they don’t have to get up from their desk [to find documents] and five people can look at one thing if they want to, whereas before things were literally in filing cabinets.”


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