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How to develop an ECM strategy and roadmap

Without an ECM roadmap, an organization's strategy can get muddled and disorganized. Understand the steps and strategies to create an ECM roadmap with these tips.

Anyone who travels to a new place is bound to get lost without a map or GPS; similarly, organizations shouldn't plan to deploy enterprise content management without a roadmap.

An ECM roadmap identifies the necessary operational policies, procedures and technologies to maintain an organization's digital information.

Developing an ECM roadmap is an involved process, so organizations should understand best practices and steps to successfully create one.

Why is an ECM roadmap important?

An ECM roadmap depends on an ECM strategy, which links business objectives to identifiable results such as increased productivity, reduced costs and mitigated risks. An ECM strategy describes the why in terms of business benefits; an ECM roadmap charts the how in terms of investments in people, processes and technologies.   

An ECM roadmap operationalizes an organization's ECM strategy and defines investment plans for an identifiable time period, such as the next 18 to 36 months. A roadmap sets priorities and like all plans, it needs to be reviewed on a periodic basis -- at least annually -- and updated in light of changing business objectives.

What challenges come with creating an ECM roadmap?

There are a few challenges that can arise when an organization creates an ECM roadmap, including:

  • Getting started. The biggest challenge of creating an ECM roadmap is identifying first steps that overcome the inertia of the status quo without completely disrupting top-line business activities. To overcome this challenge, an organization must recognize that it needs to improve content management practices and determine the two or three major operational problems that ECM must resolve.
  • Budget and staffing resources. It takes time and effort to alter how content flows through an enterprise and then is stored for subsequent retrieval. This requires upfront investments in people and processes and, sometimes, the need for third-party implementation services.
  • Disruption to the business. Organizations must ensure that the users involved recognize how various content technologies will transform routine activities and business processes.
  • Existing IT infrastructure. Organizations must consider the existing IT infrastructure – whether those applications are cloud-based or on premises -- such as document management systems and other enterprise applications, and plan to modernize them.

Considerations for an ECM strategy and roadmap

An ECM strategy considers the business benefits of managing content flows across an enterprise. The strategy relies on accessing a shared repository that serves as the gatekeeper for maintaining the access rights and permissions to all the content stored within it.

The repository provides the computing mechanisms to control the actions users can perform once they access the files -- whether they can view, copy, modify or delete the files. The repository supports the tools, capabilities and resources to capture, organize, secure and retain individual files, often grouped into collections of folders.

An ECM strategy provides a framework for content governance. It should outline formal procedures linked to external business or legal requirements that determine how an organization classifies, archives and finally disposes of content. Whether an organization deploys a shared repository on premises or in the cloud, its physical location is often an important consideration for satisfying regulatory and content sovereignty requirements.

Key steps for creating an ECM roadmap
Key steps for creating an ECM roadmap

Key steps for creating an ECM roadmap

Any organization where users share information online has an ECM strategy. But some strategies are accidental and inefficient, while others are deliberately designed to achieve particular business purposes.

An ECM roadmap identifies key steps for streamlining operations by making it easier for users to get work done, such as:

  1. Perform a content audit. Identify how users are currently storing and sharing files within their organizations. This includes both files stored on network file shares as well as within formally defined databases or info bases.
    • Determine existing naming conventions or categorizing criteria to assign file and folder names to items.
    • Consider whether these naming conventions define underlying organizing principles.
    • Develop one or more controlled vocabularies based on these principles and organize these vocabularies into taxonomies of related terms.
  1. Chart the organization's content lifecycle. Be sure to distinguish between works-in-progress and published files.
    • List the roles and responsibilities for users who create and modify content drafts.
    • Identify the tasks and activities required to review, approve and publish final form content.
    • Determine how published content is filed and stored for long-term retention.
    • Categorize content by relevant terms that the content audit initially determined.
    • Clarify archiving and disposition processes. For example, what happens to drafts? How does content age? When is it deprecated and removed from a current collection? How is it ultimately destroyed or digitally shredded?
  1. Identify mandates and guidelines for content governance. Consider user security, operational risks and regulatory requirements.
    • Determine the people and computational processes that have access to various types of content.
    • Identify user roles within an organization for accessing (viewing, modifying and/or creating) different types of content.
    • Verify business purposes.
    • Assign security categories to these different types of content.
    • Clarify records management criteria and tag content with relevant RM categories.

ECM strategy and roadmap best practices

Creating an ECM strategy and roadmap is an intensive process. Organizations will avoid mistakes and experience a smoother process by following some best practices:

  • Take a top-down approach. An ECM strategy requires executive leadership. Organizations should begin planning with the top-down directions that define business objectives. The executive mandate should include resource allocations and budget to launch a minimally viable ECM system. The mandate should emphasize agile design principles, team collaboration and continuous enhancements.
  • Involve key stakeholders. A cross-functional team -- composed of both line-of-business users and technologists -- should chart the roadmap to address these objectives, launch the initial ECM system and use agile design principles to continuously improve upon it. The team should work to define critical success factors that measure when the business objectives are met. The organization should address needs of various stakeholders and get their buy-in to the roadmap.
  • Spend time on categorization. The team involved in an ECM roadmap must recognize how and when content categories matter by developing an information architecture that meets business needs. Users must be able to associate content categories with both current tasks and prior activities. Organizations should invest the time and effort into developing file plans, controlled vocabularies and taxonomies of related terms, as well as identifying security and records management criteria.
Organizations should invest in ECM projects that they can complete within a discrete time frame.

Next steps

An ECM roadmap does not exist in a vacuum. It's important to plan for the long term by anticipating future business needs and changes in the ECM market.

For example, modern ECM systems automatically categorize content based on predefined terms and taxonomies. Organizations should anticipate how advances in AI and machine learning are going to affect this virtuous cycle of content enrichment.

Organizations should invest in ECM projects that they can complete within a discrete time frame. This time frame should be within a year, but organizations can frequently complete an ECM project within three or four months.

Once the organization implements the ECM system, it should assess results, reinvest in new efforts and plan for continuous improvements.

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