Enterprise Content Management: Is it an insurmountable opportunity?

By Andy Montgomery


Date 30 May 2012 Tags

Enterprise content Management (ECM) can significantly improve productivity, particularly in workflows, especially those with electronic collaboration, and can respond quickly and cheaply to compliance requirements.

However, in many companies ECM-related strategies have not been successful. There are three main reasons: First, business sponsorship of ECM has been insufficient to overcome the challenges of embedding the technologies and disciplines in to the business. Second, content is stranded in silos and largely unreachable for analysis – its discovery and distribution is haphazard and older content swamps newer content, and this overwhelms users. Third, ECM systems themselves are not designed to take account of workflows and user conditions – they fall increasingly short of users’ demands for collaboration, and the proliferation of overlapping ECM applications compounds user confusion and separation of content. Increasingly, users are abandoning legacy ECM systems because of poor user experience. As a result these companies are unable to extract much value from their content.

ECM applications are elective, not mandatory. Their adoption is critically dependent on the people and process elements of ECM implementations to generate and sustain commitment to their use. These elements are the most difficult aspects of building an effective ECM capability. However, the recent huge growth of inexpensive, highly capable ECM solutions creates a real opportunity to raise workflow productivity and meet compliance targets…if only companies could change their approach to ECM…

What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

Enterprise Content Management is a combination of workflow processes, policies and technologies that support the business lifecycle (Creation, Storing, Distribution, Discovery, Review and Archiving) of unstructured information. This information (referred to as content) may take the form of text, multimedia files, audio or video files. ECM therefore covers document management, web content management, search, collaboration, records management, digital asset management (DAM), work-flow management, capture and scanning.

What has changed in ECM recently?

Users increasingly capture and share work-in-progress as they collaborate with each other. However they also suffer information overload from email, internal communications, spreadsheets, IM, portals and websites. They increasingly expect to find and act upon content with no concern for the source application.  Technology available to users now includes home PCs, broadband connections, Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, and a variety of ‘consumer’ platforms (e.g., netbooks, tablets, and smart phones), meaning that they increasingly expect to receive and act on important content almost anywhere at any time.

The ECM market has also matured; point ECM solutions are becoming suites and the largest of these have significant add-ons from other vendors, giving more choice and integration. In addition a variety of cloud-based delivery mechanisms such as ‘Software as a Service’ are becoming commonplace across vendors portfolio of offerings. Consequently solutions can vary the level of control, pricing and implementation speed to suit different circumstances.

Organisations must now view ECM differently

Before the prize of inexpensive productivity gains can be realised the organisation will have to increase ECM adoption and its integration into workflows, decrease content duplication (and increase its reuse) and reduce the impact of rapid improvements in ECM solutions and sourcing with the legacy portfolio. This requires some changes to the standard approaches to ECM strategy and execution:

  • Shift focus from Content Types to the Content Lifecycle: – Re-set understanding and expectations in users and stakeholders as to how the management of the content lifecycle increases the business value from content use
  • Switch solution design from a System view to a User-Centric view: – Give users the ECM skills and services necessary to realise this business value. This means designing ECM solutions in the workflow to deliver the right content to the user, at the right time, in the right format
  • Move from Push to Pull deployments: – Provide central leadership and support for ECM initiatives while giving business groups the freedom to implement services locally
  • Change from Traditional roll-outs to Rapid implementations: – Provide faster, smarter ways of delivering ECM services using rapid implementation techniques
  • Move from ECM Application use to ECM Service provision: – ECM works best in the background which means architecting functionality as services used alongside and within other applications and delivery channels such as portals
  • Don’t manage as Point solutions but as Enterprise Systems: – The ‘E’ in ECM is critical to a good ROI; The same disciplines of standardisation and simplification long accepted in the ERP lifecycle applies to ECM

Once these perspectives have been accepted the organisation can formulate a more effective long-term ECM strategy, and also deploy differently in the short term to get a better ROI.

The characteristics of good ECM implementations

Like other elective systems, human factors drive ECM outcomes rather than just focusing on the technology implementation. Successful ECM implementations provide user experience, improved search capabilities and collaboration capabilities. High level, sustained sponsorship is also critical; someone who regards content as an asset that needs exploitation and careful management.

An ECM ‘Centre of Excellence’ is often created offering the business expert advice, guidance and leadership on ECM implementation along with an ECM Best Practice knowledgebase. Rapid implementation approaches are increasingly used to deliver ECM services quickly and with minimum disruption to business as usual. A roadmap for transforming information governance from departmental or business-unit efforts to an enterprise-level discipline will also address issues like federated search, metadata strategies, and interoperability between content and records management systems.

ECM technology is increasingly delivered by loosely-coupled applications using well-defined standards that are integrated across the entire organisation, often with hybrid content architectures.  As small a number as possible of solution providers should provide repository services, with industry-specific applications used to support any unique business processes. The ECM applications portfolio should be consolidated as soon as possible, as content silos are a significant barrier to implementing the content lifecycle. A catalogue of content management services, operating across the lifecycle, is increasingly available through many delivery channels such as PCs and mobile devices. Alternative delivery models (e.g. cloud-based) are also being piloted.

How do you start?

Simple. Stop spending money on ECM technology projects until sufficient, sustainable sponsorship is in place. Reset the ECM strategy quickly to put users and the Content Lifecycle at its heart. Apply best ECM practice as far as possible to in-flight programmes, particularly the human factors elements.

Want to find out more? Call Andy Montgomery on 01483 551200.

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