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With business case in place, ECM project management takes center stage

Get advice on project management dos and don’ts for deploying an enterprise content management system that can deliver on the promises of an approved ECM business case.

Implementing an enterprise content management (ECM) system can sometimes be even more daunting than building the business case for the project and the purchase of ECM software.

Once you’ve demonstrated an ECM business case and gotten approval and funding, ECM project management issues are the next consideration. According to Chris Riley, senior ECM and document capture architect at consulting firm ShareSquared Inc. in Pasadena, Calif., viewing an ECM deployment as primarily an IT project is a big mistake. “ECM is more than just standing up a system and letting the users fend for themselves,” he said, adding that project managers need to involve business users in the ECM implementation process.

Alan Weintraub, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass, agrees. “Most ECM projects fail because they become more of a technology project than a people project,” Weintraub said. He cited shortcomings such as the system’s user interface not being intuitive enough or users not getting sufficient training to enable them to find the information they need in the system.

An ECM system should be designed with input from the eventual users instead of just having someone else decide what to put where, Weintraub advised. “Most successful implementations have had strong involvement by the users in the design, so that it’s not an IT design but a user design from an operability perspective,” he said, noting that enlisting “strong champions” within business units is another ECM project management best practice.

An ECM project management don’t: leaving bad processes in place
In addition, importing bad business processes into an ECM system won’t lead to the document management improvements that many organizations are hoping for. Avoiding that requires questioning users on whether an existing business process could be done better and then trying to educate business stakeholders and executive sponsors on why revising a problematic process will help deliver on the approved business case for ECM, Riley said.

Riley also recommended that ECM technology should be implemented in discrete phases, rather than all at once on an organization-wide basis.

That’s the approach being taken on ECM system deployment by the Bentonville Public Schools in Arkansas. Lana Etheredge, a database administrator for the school district, said she plans to first bring all student records into the system – then she’ll address other areas such as human resources and accounts payable. The deployment is also being done on a school-by-school basis to help simplify the process, Etheredge said.

The records management process is another important consideration for ECM project managers. Many organizations have records management policies they have to adhere to, often based on state or federal government requirements. The types of records covered by such policies can include official documents as well as email and instant messages, and improving records retention and disposition practices may be a key part of the expected return on investment (ROI) from an ECM system.

Records retention gets a lead role in ECM project management process
Before the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District in Vallejo, Calif., began an ongoing ECM implementation, district clerk Cathy Sparks revised the agency’s records retention policy and schedule. During the revision process, Sparks enlisted the district’s legal counsel to assist her during interviews about retention requirements and issues with managers in each department. Later, she brought in an outside consultant to help set up the new retention schedule in the ECM system.

“We also have an email policy, which states that our email is considered a paper record,” she said. “Employees are required to set up their email system as if it were a filing cabinet.”

For ongoing governance of the records management process, Sparks put together a team of key users from each department at the wastewater treatment and flood control agency. “They know the most about the records they use and keep,” she said, adding that the governance group meets on an as-needed basis to review the retention policy and make sure that the schedule for disposing of documents is kept up to date.

An overall ECM governance board or council can help ensure that any changes to an ECM system or new projects have broad internal support and are communicated throughout an organization, Weintraub said. He added that such groups should be cross-functional, with representatives from different departments within an organization, and that they typically are “empowered to make decisions” about ECM policies and procedures.

According to the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), a group for ECM professionals, best practices for ongoing ECM governance also include conducting regular reviews of additional ECM functionality and its potential applicability to an organization’s users. AIIM said doing so can enable IT and content managers responsible for ECM project management to develop proposed roadmaps for expanding the capabilities of an ECM system, as part of their continuing efforts to increase the ECM ROI being generated by the technology.

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

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