Managing information effectively

Written by Ben Richmond, CEO, The Content Group Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has the power to transform employee productivity, drive down costs and reduce the carbon footprint for any organisation. But many organisations have yet to achieve maximum value from the investment. From clearly defining corporate expectations up front, to ensuring user buy-in, only the right approach can ensure that organisations achieve their ECM objectives.

What is ECM?
Organisations often fail to reach their expectations of ECM due to a widespread lack of understanding about just what ECM can and cannot deliver. ECM is a complex area simply due to the breadth of practices and technologies that it encompasses. Yet in the absence of an in-depth understanding, organisations are falling at the first hurdle. They are, in the main, achieving departmental implementations that deliver incremental benefits, but do not necessarily meet the organisational-wide ECM objectives.

Where are the skills?
ECM is far more than a set of technologies. It is about understanding process change, implementing change management and matching a range of technical solutions – from digital imaging to document management and business process management – to meet organisational demands. Without building up in-house expertise or leveraging external capabilities, organisations will struggle to overcome the lack of understanding that compromises the large majority of ECM deployments.

Putting technology first
ECM is as much about the right practices as it is about the right technology. Failure to understand those practices implicit to ECM can result in poor technology choices, a lack of user buy-in and, as a result, a struggle to achieve the organisational objectives.
Organisations cannot enable good practice without the right technology, but equally it is difficult to choose the right technology without understanding the practices.

Is there a strategy?
Without understanding the potential of ECM, it is impractical to map specific organisational requirements to ECM strategy. For example, for clients external to an organisation, a given objective may be key, but it is important to fit these into a broader ECM strategy while meeting objectives.

Strategic rather than tactical
Most organisations look at ECM to solve a specific problem – from compliance to meeting green requirements. But failure to take into account the bigger picture of ECM results in missed opportunities. ECM offers so much more than a single technology solution. To maximise the investment, organisations need to have an eye on the long-term gain.
Indeed, the ECM risk/reward curve is heavily weighted towards the second and third years of deployment. The first year typically demands significant investment in time and resources to address key elements such as change management and technology investment costs. Whilst organisations can, and do, achieve quick wins that offer immediate ROI, it is in subsequent years that the benefits increase steeply. Taking a tactical approach to ECM will significantly constrain operational benefits in areas such as organisation-wide knowledge sharing and re-use.

One track-mind
For the last few years, the vast majority of ECM deployments have been focused on meeting compliance requirements. Whilst ECM’s ability to track the information lifecycle makes it perfectly suited to delivering operational requirements, by focusing exclusively on compliance, organisations can miss out on the chance to leverage the investment further to achieve both operational efficiency and competitive advantage. Indeed, it is by empowering individuals through knowledge sharing and content re-use that organisations can gain the most valuable long-term benefits. But too often these benefits are not achieved due to ECM tunnel vision.
And an implementation that only considers the initial business problem may struggle to evolve to support further operational requirements down the line – resulting in expensive “rip out and replace” strategies. By taking a more strategic view of operational needs up front, considering all operational needs up front – even if many are not acted upon immediately – an organisation can be further assured of having the beginnings of an ECM strategy.

Resisting change
Well-designed ECM will have a significant impact on existing operational processes. It is therefore essential to consider and understand the implications of moving from paper to digital information sources and processes alike.

Putting in place a robust change management programme is imperative to ensure that ECM is adopted across the organisation and that the organisational objectives are achieved in full.

User buy-in
Organisations cannot simply expect users to take a leap of faith when adopting ECM technologies. For many, the implementation will result in a significant change in day-to-day activity – especially those in back office functions that can be rationalised as a result of improved processing and automation.

Putting in place a content champions group, encompassing individuals from across the business who understand ECM and the long term organisational objectives will help to ensure user buy-in. This cross-organisational team also delivers a unified approach, which minimises the risk of departmental user splinter groups and ensures the ECM goals meet the strategic direction of the organisation.

Losing momentum
Once an ECM deployment has achieved its initial objectives, there is a very real risk that any ECM programme could lose momentum. Combined with a frequent change of personnel, which can be exacerbated by an ECM champion leaving the company, organisations can then struggle to realise the long-term ECM objectives. Yet as outlined above, it is in the second and third years of an ECM project that organisations really begin to reap significant benefits and therefore planning for continuity, particularly across the ECM champions, is paramount.

Failing to evolve the vision
Even where momentum has been maintained and the original ECM objectives have been achieved, organisations still need to continue to leverage and develop their ECM strategy.

ECM should be a constant within any organisation and should continue to be developed along with ongoing organisational objectives. Therefore, in effect, developing an ECM maturity model for any organisation will ensure that the organisation vision is coherent with an ECM strategy.About The Content Group
The Content Group is a technology agnostic Enterprise Content Management (ECM) consultancy and solutions provider whose proven ECM Expert best practice methodology ensures successful ECM projects for their clients across the globe.

Drawing on its best practice methodology, The Content Group is leading the development of the first ever Publicly Available Specification for ECM with BSI British Standards.For more information

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