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Taking charge: Structuring and managing an ECM governance committee

Setting up a governance committee with broad business representation is a critical step in an enterprise content management project. Get advice on ECM governance roles and responsibilities.

When deploying enterprise content management systems, the process of forming an ECM governance committee is a critical first step to success and shouldn’t be taken lightly. In order to create an effective committee, the right members must be selected from a pool of willing volunteers – and then they need to contribute to the committee’s activities.

The attributes of good governance committee members include the following:

  • Having influence on, and respect from, their peers.
  • Having the respect of their managers.
  • Having direct interaction with documents and other corporate content as part of day-to-day operations.
  • Being interested in improving internal processes.
  • Being collaborative.

What isn’t on that list is being easy to work with. The best committee members aren’t necessarily the easiest to convince or to communicate with. Arguably, a good ECM governance committee would have at least one person of that sort, if not more. They very likely will make some key points that if overlooked could be detrimental to the adoption of the ECM system. In addition, the practice that others on the committee get in lobbying argumentative members on decisions will help when it comes time to detail the ECM strategy to a broader user audience.

The size of the committee is critical as well. Too large and it won’t be agile enough to come to any conclusions; too small and large components of the business will be unrepresented. For typical companies, committees of eight to 12 people are a good size. Larger organizations might need to have regional or departmental governance committees, rolling up to a master one at the corporate level.

The influence that an ECM governance committee has within an organization will ultimately determine the acceptance of the governance plan it develops. Ideally, the charter for a governance committee gives it the authority to enforce rules and policies on content usage. At a minimum, a committee should be able to influence business units to make sure that there are real consequences for improper use of an ECM system.

First steps for an ECM governance committee
Soon after a governance committee is formed, there should be a kick-off meeting. The purpose of this first meeting is not to rush into trying to achieve results, but to build relationships and set expectations. After the initial meeting, regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings – typically no more than hour-long – should be held, and those should be results-driven.

The first deliverables of an ECM governance committee should be a vision statement and documented sets of goals and responsibilities. The vision statement includes sweeping goals, such as “deploy an enterprisewide ECM system before Q3 2012.” It can also refer to things such as the budget for the ECM project and major issues that will be addressed by the new system. A vision statement that isn’t referenced or followed as the project proceeds is useless; as a result, it's best to make the text more practical and less general.

Specific goals for the ECM deployment are built from the vision statement. The goals are the starting point of gathering and setting business requirements, and they should detail more specifically the business and content management problems that the ECM system is designed to solve, plans for usage of the system, and the project budget and timelines.

Once a vision statement and goals are in place, the responsibilities of not just the governance committee but all stakeholders in an ECM system must be established – including the IT department, end users and any compliance-related departments or officials. The committee’s own responsibilities should contain a list of what it will deliver throughout each stage of the project. That could include policies, file-level taxonomies, records retention schedules or managing tasks such as the cleanup of departmental shared drives.

If the governance process is managed correctly, a discussion about the IT department’s role will take place several times during implementations of ECM systems. Overlaps between IT and ECM governance committee responsibilities should be resolved solely by the committee. For example, should IT have exclusive responsibility for where security mechanisms are applied within the system, or should the committee decide? Ideally, that’s up to the committee.

All in on an ECM governance committee?
A written or verbal agreement among committee members of what they’re willing to risk internally should also be established. Because ECM governance to some degree is a political undertaking, the committee members must understand how far they’ll go as a group to pursue project goals. Meanwhile, a big part of committee conversations is uniting business units around consistent operating procedures, which not uncommonly results in improvements to business processes – a tremendously valuable residual effect of ECM governance.

One thing to remember about an ECM governance committee is that at times it will feel like it is going nowhere. There is a high level of knowledge transfer and reconciliation of business processes that takes place during committee sessions. These activities at times seem to be quicksand for any conceivable progress. Here are some tricks to help you avoid or mitigate that problem:

  • Table an issue if it can’t be aligned with a project goal.
  • If issues don’t relate to the current stage of the project, address them at a later point.
  • Establish a strict time limit on all debates.
  • For critical issues, establish different sides and ask each to prove its case point by point. Committees often find that turning issues into point vs. point debates makes the process more fun – and the eventual outcome easier for all to accept.

Perhaps the hardest part of managing an ECM governance committee is motivating the members. Often the people who want to be involved are initially attracted by the ability to influence organizational change or the cachet of being part of a select group in the know about a new technology. But further motivation must be fostered as the project proceeds. Some creative incentives that I’ve seen include offering committee members increased email inbox size limitations or access to ECM features months before anyone else.

A strong ECM governance committee reduces the burden on IT and establishes a more robust and broadly supported governance framework than IT could build on its own. Not only that, committee members who are properly involved in creating governance processes will stand by a system and be the first defense against ECM naysayers.

Chris Riley
is the founder of LivingAnalytics Inc. and senior ECM and document capture architect at ShareSquared Inc., a consulting firm in Pasadena, Calif. Riley has more than 12 years of experience in the ECM and document-recognition technology fields, and he holds AIIM’s ECM Practitioner and Information Organization & Access Practitioner certifications.

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