There is no single formula for successful enterprise content management (ECM). What works in one organization may not work in another. However, there are critical factors that can help guide any content management implementation and keep the system functional and effective over time. These factors range from making sure the ECM plan jibes with business goals to making sure users and an executive or two are on board with the initiative.
“A lot of organizations rush to system selection,” said Steve Weissman, principal analyst at Boston-based content and information management consulting firm Holly Group. “They may buy something that’s workable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best fit.”
It’s important to first figure out what you need an ECM system to do and it’s crucial to align the ECM strategy with business objectives. It sounds simple enough, but many companies skip this step and choose a product before completing any up-front work.
Weissman teaches an Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) certification class in ECM where he stresses the importance of due diligence. “Someone usually asks by the end of the day, ‘when do we start doing the work?’ ” he said. “And my response is, ‘The thinking is the work.’ ”
That thinking should extend to taking an inventory of the organization’s systems and content management capabilities as well as information repositories. It’s also key to determine where that information originates and how employees are using and sharing it.
Then there’s the human inventory: Determine who is going to be affected by an ECM implementation. “The person who actually uses it needs to be part of this discussion,” Weissman said. “It helps if you have an executive sponsor high up because to do this diligence correctly requires a deep think.”
That’s exactly how Cathy Sparks, the clerk for the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District in Vallejo, Calif., approached her implementation of ECM.
“It was important to get user buy-in,” she said. She did that by showing the district’s knowledge workers how ECM would help them do their jobs. “Even though it will ultimately change the way they work, they understand what’s coming and they’re anxiously awaiting it.”
Sparks started the rollout in March and is proceeding one department at a time to work out any bugs.
For starters, Sparks asked for a representative of each department to sit on a governance committee to ensure each department’s involvement and create a taxonomy.
“All of this was determined before purchasing the ECM system,” she said.
There have been some challenges with setting up the taxonomy, but those were ironed out by the ECM governance board. For example, Sparks had to rename and reorganize how files were named since some departments were using the same names for different items in their previous ad hoc system.
A successful governance program has defined roles, responsibilities and processes for making sure information within the organization is reliable, said Alan Weintraub, principal analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. This involves empowering the governance board to develop guiding principles for content ownership. “You need to give the right people the right access to the right information,” he said.
A governance committee can help with organizational change and training plans by airing out ideas and addressing communications issues.
“It’s invasive and it requires you to formalize processes,” Weintraub said. “You need to get users to adapt to the project and empower them to access information, making them self-sufficient.”
As in Vallejo Sanitation’s case, the governance board can help define a unified taxonomy and metadata.
“You also need to have the right processes in place to update that information,” Weintraub said. “People don’t want governance because they don’t want the structure. But what happens without that is they have chaos, which happens around undefined information and uncontrolled security access.”
He said there are essentially four different types of content within an organization: They include fundamental content at the basic level of ECM (e.g., general correspondence, noncustomer-facing materials), high-value business content (e.g., policies and strict business processes), transactional content (e.g., imaging and scanned documents, purchase order processing, contracts) and persuasive content (e.g., the outward-facing information that customers and partners see on the company website).
Collaborating for success
If nothing else, tackling due diligence before implementing ECM results in one clear advantage: It helps make organizations more collaborative.
“Sharing of knowledge is power. It’s the intersection between ECM and knowledge management,” Weissman said. “It’s hard to determine how long [an ECM implementation] will take, but to do any kind of a credible job, you’re talking about a quarter at least.”
A full implementation could take even longer. Sparks found that rolling out the ECM system one department at a time was the wisest approach even though it’s taking longer than she expected. “We’re still in the process of setting it up. It’s important to allow for a testing phase,” she said. By taking it to one department at a time, Sparks can pay close attention to the varying needs of each department.
But how can organizations define success?
“Part of the diligence is figuring out what the metric for success is,” Weissman said. “If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve and you can’t measure it, then you don’t know if the system is a success. A benchmark is key,” he added. “The concepts are simple, but the work is hard.”
Although Sparks did not have specific metrics and would consider implementation successful if employees use it and are happier as a result, she does plan to measure the accuracy of the search function. “That’s important to us,” she said. “We’re looking for better collaboration and knowledge sharing.”