Over the years, I’ve been involved in a large number of product analysis and vendor competitions with companies looking to purchase enterprise content management. As a result, I’ve noticed a few trends in the decision process that companies undergo and have come to some realizations. The processes are inefficient, time consuming, costly and don’t always produce a solution which addresses the actual needs of the companies’ objectives. 

Costly Short-Cuts 

Most organizations, for whatever reason, decide that they need an enterprise content management solution and put together a team to find one. Their approach is usually broken down into the following steps:

  1. Investigate the market
  2. Create a list of functional requirements
  3. Participate in Product demonstrations
  4. Issue a Request For Information (RFI) or even a Request For Proposal (RFP)
  5. Create a short list of vendors and products for deeper review
  6. Award a solution

In theory, this is a decent strategy for finding any application for the organization. Unfortunately, companies tend to take short cuts along the way. The following represent some activities that many companies do that result in costly decisions:

  • Investigate the market
    • Companies either do not put the effort into narrowing down all the potential vendors before moving on to the next steps, or they don’t have a clear understanding of what they problems they are trying to solve.
    • Companies don’t take into account all the criteria needed to define a list of potential vendors and products.
  • Create a list of functional requirements
    • Functional requirements are usually very basic and do not reflect current content practices within the organization. For example:
      • Must provide Check-in/Check-out capabilities
      • Must provide a content viewer
      • Must provide search
      • Must provide workflow
    • Functional requirements generated by organizations looking for content management applications tend to leave out integration and infrastructure requirements as well.
  • Participant in Product demonstrations
    • Organizations often invite a large number of vendors to demo their products. Unfortunately, little guidance is given to the vendors, so a “Show up and Throw up” demonstration takes place which does not address the real needs of the customer.
    • Initial demonstrations are typically “Canned” demonstrations. They all look pretty and easy to use; some more so than others. I once told a customer that I would not do a generic demonstration. Doing so would be similar to doing a test drive in a car on a closed track. You never get to see what the car would really do when it gets on the highway.
  • Issue a Request For Information or even a Request For Proposal
    • I haven’t met anyone in the past 15 years who actually likes to create a RFI or RFP and haven’t even met anyone who actually likes to fill one out. Even though these are necessary evils, they are not always designed to reflect the business problems that companies are trying to address.
    • RFPs and RFIs are all too often distributed to too many vendors, usually the same vendors that the organization invited in for generic demonstrations.
  • Create a short list of vendors and products for deeper review
    • The criteria for selecting the vendors tends to be based off of the initial demonstrations and RFI/RFP responses. While these should be the factors, incorrectly performing initial analysis and demonstrations can lead to organizations down-selecting to the wrong products and vendors for their specific business needs.
    • In most cases, a deeper review consists of a more in-depth demonstration of the product. Most companies address specific use case requirements at this point, but even then, the vendors are given time to create a “canned” demo which doesn’t reflect the true level of effort required to meet certain criteria.
  • Award a solution -- an unfortunate event happens at this point, a product is selected and a vendor is awarded a contract. I say unfortunate because a broken process up to this point has led to a decision which will produce a broken solution or a working solution that far exceeds anyone’s budgets.

ECM Pricing Models

The price associated with selecting software is going to be different for each company and for each type of software. With that said, here is an example costing model for selecting a Content Management application from a pool of 10 Content Management vendors. I used an average hourly rate of US$ 65.00 for the company’s employees that will be doing the prep work, documentation, evaluations and awarding.

Even with these numbers and a very simplified selection process, it is easy to see how expensive it is just to make a decision of software, let alone actually purchase the product and implement it.

I’ve included these numbers to demonstrate that there are usually costs associated with product selection that is sometimes overlooked. Some would even look at this and decide to cut even more corners to reduce cost. Unfortunately, skipping on your homework will only cost you more in the long run -- a lot more.

Finding the Best Solution, Reducing Solution Cost 

I’ve recommended the following model to companies and have found that, when following these basic tips, organizations were able to find a solution that best matched their requirements as well as minimized the overall solution cost.

1. Define the Purpose

Ask yourself, why do you need Enterprise Content Management, what problems will it solve? Create a detailed list of current issues and use cases that the new solution will have to address. 

2. Investigate the Market

Look for vendors and products that specifically address the identified problem areas.

3. Create a List of Functional Requirements

Make sure that these functional requirements are specific to the problems at hand and include future growth and functionality anticipated in the near future. 

4. Participate in Product demonstrations

Limit the number of vendors/products to a manageable set. Give the vendors your list of use cases and ask them to demonstrate how their products will address each item.

Don’t allow “canned” demos. Remember, you will want to know how the software will work in the real world. Any demonstration can be made to look pretty and easy, easily getting the end-users excited, but basing a decision off of DemoWare leads to disappointment.

5. Issue a Request For Information or Even a Request For Proposal

Only invite vendors who have demonstrated their ability to meet most of your requirements during the demonstrations. This will reduce the number of responses you have to weed through and allow you to focus on features not easily demonstrable such as architecture and integration capabilities.

6. Create a Short List of Vendors and Products for Deeper Review

Specify an architecture that matches your environment and a detailed list of use cases that closely match the problems you are trying to solve. Invite at least the top three vendors to come on site and install the software and configure it while you watch.

The vendors should run into problems as they perform this. It is important to see how they, and the software, overcome these issues. After the configurations are complete, have them demonstrate the use cases on the systems they built

7. Award a Solution

Base your awards on the RFI/RFP, POC or back-office success, the vendor/software’s ability to overcome challenges, software price and implementation costs.

A Final Note

There is a lot of good information out there and published use cases of how other organizations solved their problems. In addition, a lot of service providers offer software selection services which can help a company make the best informed decision while providing guidance based on years of experience. Use these to your advantage and happy evaluation.

Editor's Note: You might also be interested in: Selecting a Content Management System: To Score or Not to Score?