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5 steps to a successful ECM implementation

Implementing an ECM system is a major undertaking. Check out these steps to get on the right track before you jump into the project headfirst.

An enterprise content management system can provide major benefits, including streamlining and saving time, but the implementation of such a large, complex system can come will major challenges, too.

Before you reap the benefits of an ECM system, you must implement it -- a process that involves a variety of different departments and stakeholders. The key to a successful ECM implementation lies in the combination of planning and partnership.

Here are five steps you can take to ensure a smooth ECM implementation.

1. Enlist a team of stakeholders

Many people think that an ECM implementation is centered around technology, but the success of your ECM program depends only minimally on the technology you choose. A much more important consideration is around your stakeholders -- the people and leaders of teams who will use or benefit from the ECM system. You should examine how they feel about the project and whether the ECM system it produces meets their needs.

Input from your stakeholders will help you to understand how an ECM system affects different departments of the business. This understanding will improve your chances of success.

You should create a concentric team by moving outward, from an implementation team to a governance team and an executive sponsorship team.

2. Define your ECM goals

An ECM system is expensive, which means that the company must have a clear understanding of the why as well as the how. Defining the project's goals can be a good exercise for all involved teams -- such as the IT and executive teams -- to get on the same page regarding priorities and processes.

Five steps for a smooth ECM implementation

You should define the goals of your ECM project with your stakeholder team. Goals will depend on your situation, but some common ECM goals are as follows:

  • Improve information security. An ECM system should build content security into storage, workflows, and all potential interactions of content creators, content consumers, ECM developers and ECM support. Customer data may require special security features.
  • Support compliance. The ECM system should support compliance with relevant laws, regulations, guidelines and standards for policy, business process, privacy, traceability, records management and security. For example, the corporation needs to provide discovery and legal hold; the ECM should support the litigation team for this process. Build risk limitation into your program with continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) and other processes that limit the possibilities of human error in the management of code and testing.
  • Reduce friction in the business. During an ECM project, evaluate whether there are opportunities to improve the business, such as reducing search time or other friction that exists between users and their access to the information they need. The best justification for your program will always be a measurable ROI.
  • Implement content tagging. Determine if there are ways to identify your content that could help with search, navigation and workflows. For example, think about how a taxonomic ontology could improve business processes. Understand how you can automate or simplify the creation of tags for pieces of content as your users interact with content during its lifecycle.
  • Integrate automation and AI. Ask yourself if there are manual rules and processes that you could automate. Can some content tasks -- approval, archiving, routing -- be better aligned to your business outcomes, thanks to big data analysis of the content? Content management is not merely document management, but it includes non-document media types such as audio and video as well as unstructured documents. These may present additional automation opportunities.

3. Plan for your goals

Once you know what your goals are, you should plan how to reach them. This could be through refinements of the current system or by building a new system. This may require you to consider content migration and user training and adoption.

For each goal, it's important to balance time-to-market with its effects on the business. Determine whether there are important things you can complete faster than others. During this step is the time to optimize your implementation timeline.

One of the biggest mistakes in an ECM project is using the waterfall method to drive the implementation process.

4. Build, test and deploy your ECM

One of the biggest mistakes in an ECM project is using the Waterfall method to drive the implementation process. In this development methodology, an IT team gets a list of requirements and a long timeline to figure it out. Almost invariably, they return with a Frankenstein's monster that meets no one's expectations.

It is far better to drive your implementation project using the agile/scrum methodology and CI/CD to maximize stakeholder engagement and program flexibility. Iterate in bi-weekly or monthly releases that stakeholders will evaluate.

By moving incrementally toward the goals, you will provide opportunities for learning and course correction as the program progresses.

5. Iterate

Despite completing a successful implementation, the work is not over. An ECM must adapt to new realities if it will remain viable and valuable to an organization. You should include in your plan the capability to build, integrate and refine your ECM to deliver future business value.

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