ECM best practices and worst practices from an expert

Read real-world enterprise content management best practices – and see the worst practices to avoid at all costs.

From the outside, enterprise content management (ECM) may seem easy. Take the content from here, move it there,...

add some metadata. This may be simple to configure, but you need more than that to succeed. Remember, ECM success should be measured in business value. So, the No. 1 enterprise content management best practice to remember is to build and maintain a strong working relationship between the business sponsor and IT department, long before any product is even evaluated. This makes ECM implementations significantly smoother and more successful over the long term. Here are some more of the top ECM best practices – and the worst practices to avoid.

Enterprise content management best practices

Make end users promoters. Getting end users excited about a new system requires art and science. Show them what a positive change the ECM system brings to their content management issues. User acceptance of new technology makes IT’s life easier and fosters longevity for the system. Nothing convinces end users more effectively than the enthusiasm of their peers. Positive sentiment results in fewer support calls and accelerated adoption of a new ECM system.

Plan once, implement quickly. Proper planning is important. But without direction, planning cycles can take over and stall progress. As a general metric, at least 30% of any ECM project should be planning. Some ECM implementations may require as much as 60% heavy planning and just 40% execution. Fewer wasted cycles will occur and less execution will be needed, the more effective the planning is. Proper planning inevitably raises questions and issues that would not surface otherwise. Left uncovered, such issues could easily kill the project's success.

Build a committee. Committees, like planning, can become a problem instead of a tool. But for ECM success, IT must build a committee with stakeholders from each department, identifying roles and responsibilities, setting the agenda for decision-making, and getting feedback. Committees are not final decision makers, but they should recommend solutions. Their real purpose is to identify business use-cases and potential risks and, most importantly, to get departmental buy-in early on.

Consider a POC. Canned demos are useful, but they show ideal situations. View the demo, but ask for a real-world demonstration representing a very small use-case. If the project is large, seek a proof of concept (POC) – and know that this may have a cost. This should not be looked at as money wasted. Most POCs generate results that can easily be reused in production.

Scope the project variables. With the committee, identify the variables that can send a project out of control. In ECM, these variables are most often workflows and integration points. Workflows can grow in scope very quickly, particularly if they are not reviewed frequently. When they are, it’s not surprising to find they have become bigger and more complex than expected. Doing a walk-through may reveal areas for improvement. Also, an in-depth review of each workflow is required to estimate its development time.

Know that no integration and migration will be the same. No matter how much vendors pitch prebuilt integrations, take time to understand what the integration includes, or you may face the possibility of needing custom development. There is a reason why most integration points are developed as a framework rather than a complete solution. Integration can result in far-reaching professional services costs and unrealistic expectations. If a prebuilt integration is offered, make sure the full feature-set is clearly defined and approved by end users. Building an integration is not necessarily a bad thing. Often, the cost of doing it your way once is less than the cost of buying an integration tool and making it fit the requirements.

Enterprise content management worst practices

Believing ECM is an IT “product.” ECM is more than just standing up a system and letting the users have at it. ECM requires as much direction from the business use-case as it does from the IT department. IT departments that ignore this may successfully deploy ECM, but chances of failure are extremely high. Lumping ECM systems in the same class as backup and restore or enterprise-wide antivirus software is a serious mistake.

Perpetuating old bad processes in a new ECM system. At some point, a bad business process will sneak its way into a requirement document for ECM. Keeping these out requires a critical eye and asking whether a process can be done better. If a bad process is forced in, it becomes imperative that IT or a business stakeholder educate the sponsor on why the new process is better. Post implementation, bad processes will be blamed on the implementers, not the sponsors.

Biting off too much ECM at once. ECM should be implemented in discrete phases. Interest usually starts with a single department requirement, and as more departments get involved, demands grow exponentially. Unless there is clear justification, it’s best to address the initial drivers while keeping the big picture in mind. Avoid scope-creep. It may be frustrating for other users to wait to test drive the Ferrari, but it’s in their best interest.

Too much third-party too early. All ECM systems bring third-party products in their wake that fill niches and improve on the core. The mistake organizations will make is looking at these add-ons on Day 1. It’s best to work first with the core ECM technology, get it to the point of satisfying most requirements, and only then look at third-party products to fill the rest of the wish list. Some features offered by third-party products can be delivered by adapting an existing system – so understand the options before shopping.

About the author: Chris Riley is a recognized industry expert in document recognition, enterprise content management (ECM) and analytics technologies. Currently, Riley is senior ECM & document capture architect at ShareSquared, Inc.; he lives and breathes technology and has built his career on helping companies buy, use and optimize advanced technologies for their business. Riley has 12-plus years of experience in this arena; during that time, he has owned three software companies and received several technology and business awards. He has degrees in business administration, computer science and mathematics, and holds certifications from the ECM trade organization AIIM as an "Enterprise Content Management Practitioner (ECMp)" and "Information, Organization and Access Practitioner (IOAp)." Riley also is a sought-after speaker and educator throughout the content gathering and delivery space. He can be reached at [email protected].


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