Having been involved with a number of enterprise content management (ECM) projects throughout my profession, many factors can impact the achievement or failure of such an effort. Oftentimes, organizations inadequately assess their business needs or prematurely pick a system before defining their processes. As a result, getting ECM right could be a challenge for even the most unlimited technical and financial resources.
Utilizing technology, ECM provides organizations with a construction to define processes associated with developing, enriching/annotating, managing and delivering content to both internal and external stakeholders. I have found that ECM has come to signify more a broad range of technologies and business needs than an actual monolithic product offering.
One of the very first challenges organizations encounter when looking at ECM is exactly what the solution should encompass. Kyle McNabb at Forrester Research asserts that will ECM encompasses document management, Site content management, document imaging, records administration, and digital asset management, and it is closely aligned with collaboration plus business process management (“Topic Review: Enterprise Content Management” Kyle McNabb, Forrester, March 2008). Recently, Tony Byrne of CMS Watch and several other industry analysts working on the particular ECM3 initiative (Enterprise Content Administration Maturity Model) have offered up the notion that ECM should not include Web content management and “related publishing-oriented disciplines. ” (cite: ecm3.
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My bias is actually around the management of content objects for the purpose of upkeep and reuse in different contexts. This consists of delivery to print, Web, mobile, e-reader devices as well as repackaging various content objects to create new products. My view of ECM contains Web content management, digital asset administration, some aspects of document management, as well as other multi-channel application components. Additionally , intended for content publishers, I believe XML server and natural language processing technology may be closely aligned with an ECM strategy. I am not saying that information management and digital imaging can not be part of an ECM strategy : only that my particular clients typically handle those business requirements separately from the actual needs about creating, annotating/enriching, managing and delivering content.
First Process, Then Technology
Getting started on ECM can be mind-boggling as there are so many critical components – people, process, technology, budget, management buy-in, etc . What we have found is that our clients are perfectly happy to focus on the specific challenges they are looking to solve and not get hung up on the broad range of what ECM means to industry analysts or software program vendors. For example , if a client is looking to manage records or paperwork, they will gather requirements and document use cases specific to that require, which may or may not include electronic asset management. This does not exempt the company from trying to map their particular overall ECM strategy and the appropriate technologies that will support it. Nevertheless , it speaks to the need for a phased approach to implementing the various domain names of ECM as opposed to trying to put into action it all at once.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Vendors and others in the market may argue that to implement ECM successfully you need to stick with a single software provider’s application stack. In reality, different vendors are stronger in certain places – say document management, for instance – but weaker in areas such as digital asset management or even Web content management. Given the substantial costs of implementing an ECM platform, this is another strong situation for focusing on solving the business issues that either offer up measurable productivity gains or, in the case of multi-channel submitting capabilities of ECM, new revenue models.
Start With Your Business and Useful Requirements
Try to organize those requirements into the domains of functionality that ECM appears to handle. Do NOT begin with product suites, since you will get distracted by the product capabilities and potentially lose sight of your specific requirements.
Companies often obtain caught up with trying to implement work flow in ECM initiatives, which is a worthwhile endeavor if workflows are well described and adhered to. However if you have difficulties with existing workflows, you may re-enforce poor processes with technology, which will make issues worse. Additionally , if you do not have general opinion about workflow(s), you may run into change management (user adoption) issues when you go to rollout phase. Companies often have poorly-defined workflows or too many exceptions within a workflow, and trying to capture them all in your ECM implementation will be expensive and ultimately can create a very confusing group of interfaces.
Document Policies and Procedures
Another big challenge in an ECM implementation is that companies either may document policies and procedures with regard to document/records/content management, or don’t have adequate governance and oversight over those digital objects. This may not be as evident in ECM implementations where the possessions are contracts or HR files, but it becomes a major problem when the ECM implementation is about digital assets. Within those kinds of implementations, it is not uncommon to find numerous duplicate files, or even worse, small changes in versions that are almost imperceptible, but not noted. The challenge I have found is that people simply stuff those old files to their ECM like they would old mementoes in a box in the attic, those assets will be as difficult to find since the sundry knick-knacks of yesteryear.
Be familiar with Data Types
One of the biggest challenges that lots of companies must overcome is how to manage chunks of information in different document formats. That data has to be kept in elemental form and its physical, business, and semantic properties somehow taken, either automatically or through guide data entry. While an ECM solution can seem expansive and complicated, it is my opinion that companies should think small and look to the objects by themselves that need to be stored. That way, even when there were missteps in the ECM implementation, at least you have protected yourself in the future by properly storing and explaining the masses of content elements.
Metadata and Taxonomy
Still another area of problem in ECM is defining, using, and managing descriptive information about content objects. Companies are often overzealous regarding the information they’d like users to apply to content, and in the process develop dozens of fields of metadata that require to be entered with each add of an object. Recently, companies are looking to implement natural language processing (NLP) tools that can extract meaning from textual content objects based on specially-prepared taxonomies that are relevant to the business.
This is a guaranteeing trend, but the technology is expensive, and I currently am not seeing that wide adoption of text mining engines. However , companies that look at this as a severe problem and are also investing in the research to determine their revenue will buy these NLP options. As the price points go down, a lot more systems will have NLP embedded included in the solution, this will increase adoption.
Don’t Go it Alone
It constantly amazes me when companies elect to implement ECM solutions by themselves. The technologies and workflows associated with document, records, and digital resource management require deep technical experience. However , I can understand that a big issue companies have is that vendors or consultancies may send technical resources with expertise in the technology although not the subject matter expertise. This is almost always one of the biggest challenges where business and functional requirements, use cases, program architectures and integration plans flunk.
One way to get around that is to make sure that you hire a consultancy who is not only expert in the technology but has additionally worked within your vertical market(s) plus understands the business challenges. Otherwise, the next-best thing is to get your subject matter experts (SME’s) trained in the technology and hire a technically deft consulting shop to support the SME.
Take a Phased Approach
I’ve noticed companies try to implement too many points at once, which is less an issue about ECM than about enterprise project management. It is worth repeating right here that a phased approach with 30/60/90 day development and integration cycles remains the safest way to implement any kind of technology(ies). Also, when in doubt about an approach, performing proof of idea or spike tests is a good way to test technical hypotheses to determine their efficacy.