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Many enterprises are investing in costly enterprise content management (ECM) systems without knowing why or even how they will be used.

On the sidelines of the Gartner Portals, Content and Collaboration summit in London yesterday, Kenneth Chin, Gartner research vice president for ECM, explained that many enterprises have yet to develop strategies around their ECM deployments. He also outlined 12 considerations that enterprises should consider to make their ECM deployments successful.

Different Day, Same ECM Problem

The fact that enterprises are failing to plan their ECM deployments should be no real surprise for anyone. The problem has been documented in report after report from independent research organizations like AIIM, Gartner and Forrester.

However, what is less well-known is that the situation is so bad that some organizations have left their ECM sitting on the shelf once the vendors have left.

Although he could not provide hard data, Chin said he has visited many companies where ECMs are not being used and others where workers will not adapt their work patterns to the new investments.

At the heart of this, he said, is the failure of senior management to research multiple things: the company’s needs, identify the kind of system that will achieve the organization’s business goals, the difficulty or ease of the solution's use, the impact a new ECM system will have on existing infrastructure or what it will take to convince workers to use the systems once they have been installed.

In addition, he noted, some companies have deployed multiple ECM systems to achieve more than one business goal — without realizing one system was enough.

12 ECM Steps

It amounts to money down the drain, Chin said. What can companies do to change this reality? He offered a 12-step plan.

1. Develop an ECM Strategy

Decision makers should identify exactly what they want to do with their ECM because the right strategy is critical to the success of an ECM deployment. Key questions to consider:

  • What are the key business considerations?
  • How much should we budget and plan for an ECM deployment?
  • How do we determine what vendor or systems integrator to use?
  • How many ECM products should we support across the enterprise?
  • Should we move our content to the cloud?
  • What ECM projects should we prioritize?
  • Should we upgrade our ECM?

In short, senior executives should ask themselves "What business goals do we need to achieve?" 

2. Plan the ECM Evolution

Organizations also need to look at how an ECM deployment is going to evolve over time. Neither ECMs nor the problems that they solve are static. So ask:

  • What business problems will the ECM address now and in the future?
  • What issues can be addressed before the ECM is deployed and what issues will arise once it is in?
  • What vendor is going to install it and will it integrate with our existing architecture?
  • How do we plan for its upkeep and how much will it cost to operate?
  • What upgrades will be needed in the future as new problems and technologies emerge?

Organizations also need to consider the maintenance and service costs, which can be considerable depending on the system and what kind of support it need.

3. Develop a Strategic Roadmap

Organizations need to look at where they are now with their content and content management, where they want to be in the future and the gap between the two. This may also involve a migration plan, which also needs to be considered as a project in itself too. Chin summarized the problem as follows:

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4. Assess You ECM Maturity

Organizations need to assess the maturity of their new and existing deployments. He divides the evolution into five stages

1. Initial: Projects are implemented to boost the productivity of individuals and small groups
2. Opportunistic: ECM leaders build relationships with business, but best practices not implemented
3. Organized: Business case written, while ECM team works to improve processes
4. Enterprise: Vendors chose to implement ECM strategy, hybrid architectures developed
5. Transformative: ECM team proactively investigate new technologies, change management and training are routine

Chin said that most organizations have only reached level two.

5. Building the Business Case

Those in the organization that are looking into ECM need to be able to build a business case that will make sense to those that are not directly involved. There is often a very fine balancing act between measuring the costs against the possible gains. The balance can be expressed as follows:

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6. Projecting the Costs

This is closely related to the previous point, but also takes into consideration what many outside of IT might consider as hidden costs. Chin said that initial software outlay is only about 40 percent of the cost of a project overall, with services adding another 40 percent and infrastructure costing about 20 percent.

There are also other costs over time like maintenance, which can cost anything between 18 percent and 28 percent of the initial costs. The last hidden cost involves additional software over time. 

7. Select the Right ECM Vendor

Organizations need to research many vendors to ensure they are getting the product that fits into their needs rather than something that will prove cumbersome and expensive over time. Think carefully about:

  • Request for Proposals (RFP)
  • Project background
  • General requirements
  • Technical requirements
  • Project schedule

8. Selecting an ECM Partner

There are number evaluation criteria that organizations should be looking at beyond price and before investing. Chin recommends the following criteria:

  • Industry Knowledge: Vendors need to be able to show that they have proven knowledge of the kind of deployment that your organization is considering
  • Experienced Implementation Team: Vendors need to be able to demonstrate the experience and qualifications of the implementation team
  • Geographic Coverage: For large, international organizations, vendors should be able to show local knowledge and demonstrated ability to provide local support
  • Business Processes: Vendors should be able to demonstrate how the project will be implemented
  • Rates: Vendors need to show competitive pricing 
  • Service-level Agreements: These should be transparent and built into implementation plans

9. Managing Repository Proliferation

Organizations also need to consider how they will consolidate repositories and how they will connect or retire redundant repositories. This should be done through an ongoing and active assessment of what data is useful and where it resides.

10. Content Management in the Cloud

The cloud is the solution to many things and can be a solution for those looking for an ECM where issues like upkeep, updates and functionality are all managed outside of the organization. However, while it can be a useful option for many, it may not be ideal for those who are concerned about data security, data location and practical concerns like user adoption. Chin said organizations need to stand back and check what is suitable for them.

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11. Successful ECM Migration

At this point it should be clear what kind of implementation you need and whether you need to replace your existing system, upgrade what you have or change vendors. If your organization is making radical changes, it needs to plan the migration path as carefully as its ECM strategy. Keep in mind that migration can be a very tricky business and if it is done in a haphazard way, dangerous for the data integrity of the organization.

12. Managing an ECM Applications Portfolio

A final consideration is spreading the risks across a longer time period than might normally be expected. In other words, Chin advises organizations not to rush to change everything at once. Projects need to be broken down into high risk, low risk, immediate and very risky, with only one very risky or high risk project undertaken at any one time.

Following all these steps is not mandatory, nor is following even a few of them. However, the key takeaway is that any project like this needs to be planned and planned carefully, whatever way you do it.