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ECM business case requires sharp focus on end-user needs, concerns

Get advice on how to ensure end-user acceptance of an enterprise content management system, starting with the process of building a business case for a proposed ECM project.

A large part of building the business case for an enterprise content management (ECM) deployment involves communicating how the new system will affect the employees who use it. End users accustomed to a particular way of doing their work may not immediately grasp how an ECM system will improve their information workflow, and they may have concerns that it instead will further complicate their jobs.

For Lana Etheredge, a database administrator for the Bentonville Public Schools in Arkansas, ease of use was a major consideration in planning an ECM system, evaluating available technology and building an ECM business case within the school district. “The end user in this situation is not going to be a highly technical person, so we needed something that was going to be easy for them to learn in a short amount of time,” she said.

The school district is bringing all of its paper-based files into the ECM system for improved access. Training teachers and administrators so they’re comfortable with the system once it’s up and running is a priority, according to Etheredge. Although she’s just starting to bring the first school online, an ECM training plan for users is already in place. “We’ll train them school by school as each school comes onto the new system,” she said.

User acceptance of an ECM system is always the ultimate measuring stick for how successful it is, said Alan Weintraub, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Even the best-designed technology “is always a failed project” if it doesn’t get used, he said, adding that the best way to ensure success – and a return on investment (ROI) – on an ECM implementation is to foster early excitement about the system.

Reaching out to users in building an ECM business case
One way to gain widespread acceptance is to develop a solid user-outreach plan that provides ongoing communications to reinforce the value of the project and the expected benefits for employees, Weintraub said. The outreach effort should be followed, he advised, by a training program that is targeted to the needs of specific users and includes online materials that users can access outside of the formal training classes to help provide them with “ongoing reinforcement.”

An IT manager at a state government organization in New York is only in the request for proposals phase of a planned ECM project. But he said he’s well aware that making sure his users are ready for something new is a key element of a successful business case and deployment.

The organization currently uses two separate systems for its document management and workflow processes, and only about half of its 400 users have access to both systems. The two systems also aren’t connected, resulting in duplicate documents that can cause major problems with version control and records retention, said the IT manager, who asked not to be identified.

“The new ECM system will improve our ability to support the business,” he said, noting that it will be an integrated system with universal access and the ability to expand as the organization’s needs change. But the project will require employees who have used the current systems for 10 years or more to adjust to new ways of working.

ECM business case development includes benefits show-and-tell
As a result, “we need to make sure that the new system is easy to understand and follow,” the IT manager said. He added that one of the existing systems gets particularly heavy use now, “so we really had to show what the benefits were to get people on board with replacing that one” as part of the process of demonstrating the potential ECM ROI.

When building an ECM business case, it’s also crucial to do an organizational risk assessment to identify potential risks to the success of an ECM deployment and develop plans for mitigating them, Weintraub said. As part of that process, IT and content managers should evaluate whether users are open to technology and business process changes.

For example, some users may be reluctant to modify the way they accomplish a certain task, even if it’s “very cumbersome,” Weintraub said. “It’s human nature to accept what they learned first and resist change.” In addition to proper training, he suggested using peer-based influence to help sell the ECM system to other users. “Create a champion in the [user] community who will be a good example of the benefits of the new system,” he said.

In addition, involving all departments that will be affected by the ECM deployment in a cross-functional project team can help drive the requirements-gathering process and the successful development of a business case for ECM, according to Weintraub. “You’ll find there’s a lot of commonality between departments that many aren’t aware of,” he said.

Catherine LaCroix is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She covers technology used in business, education and health care.

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