When it comes to thinking about the enterprise, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Gestalt school theorists saw "objects as perceived within an environment according to all of their elements working together." "The sum of the whole is greater than its parts” is the idea behind this Gestalt principle. It’s the perception of a composition as a whole. While each of the individual parts have significance on their own -- together -- the meaning may change.

Looking at "Enterprise" in Enterprise Content Management

So, given that when we’re thinking about the enterprise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, what does the “enterprise” in enterprise content management really mean?

It’s important to think of the “enterprise” holistically. The definition of enterprise has expanded beyond technology and now means “applications, systems and processes that are critical to the survival and growth of the organization.” Because an enterprise includes a whole complex of socio-technical systems including people, processes, information and technology, defining the boundary or scope of the enterprise is an important first step in defining organizational needs. The enterprise must consider business, operations, finance and other vital organizational functions. It’s a way to digest the Venn diagram of content, business context and users.

Getting Enterprise But Still Getting Results

When it comes to ECM, a lot of organizations say they want “enterprise,” but what they actually ask for is a collection of departmental installs. But this doesn’t deliver the value and outcomes they need. So how do organizations get “enterprise” -- but still get results?

  • Optimization: Replacing expensive systems with applications that pay for themselves, often at less than the cost of the original system’s support.
  • Repeatable Processes: Choosing to automate a process that can be easily replicated throughout multiple departments exponentially increases the ROI of an ECM solution. If this process is built around a revenue-generating activity, like customer on-boarding, it can often fund the enterprise endeavor.
  • Governance: Allowing enterprise architecture based in ECM to be framed in a measurable way, governance also forces different groups to work together. This is a more enterprise view by default.

A Non-Traditional Enterprise View of ECM

It’s also important to take what AIIM calls a non-traditional enterprise view”of ECM (discussed here). Some are particularly relevant to this enterprise view of ECM:

  • Risk-based: This is the “big scary.” A lot of the time, it’s fear that spurs action. Enterprise thinking can be fostered as a risk mitigation strategy as it enhances predictability.
  • Lines-of-business: A lot of the time, this view gives rise to the collection of departmental installs (or the traditional line of silos). This is where ECM’s integrative middleware can connect systems and create a functional, foundational approach.
  • User-focused: Consumers are now used to driving their own information experience. They are telling IT what they want, and they’re forcing IT to get with the program. IT may not want to be supporting the iPad, but they sure are.
  • Applications/systems: An information architecture-centric view typically expressed by CIOs that starts with understanding the relationships between content and systems and then creating processes that can support user requirements.

Forrester Study:"ECM" Approach May Not Always Be the Answer

A few weeks ago, Alan Weintraub and Stephen Powers of Forrester released a new report, “Plan Your ECM Strategy for Business, Persuasive, Transactional and Foundational Needs.” Weintraub and Powers note that while enterprises have traditionally taken a product-specific approach to ECM strategies, today that’s not enough. Weintraub and Powers recommend changing the way the enterprise views content, looking at the four categories of business, persuasive, foundational and transactional content, as well as associated technologies. They suggest that the “ECM” approach may not always be the answer.

Weintraub and Powers are right -- a lot of the time, not every vendor has every product that meets every single need. But when it comes to an ECM deployment, moving from a transactional to a foundational approach multiplies the benefits -- and the ROI -- with the “ROI Multiplier” effect, which is expressed in the context of what business units actually care about.

Organizations have historically relied on a traditional method of sourcing tied to generating ROI. But with an agile approach to ECM, organizations that deploy ECM to generate ROI aren’t painted into a corner and stuck there. They can prove the system’s worth, take a step back, get enterprise buy in and then deploy enterprise-wide.

For example, many customers have traditionally deployed ECM in a transactional capacity where they’ve been able to get a “quick hit” of ROI that they can tie to the bottom line. (For example, RMS, a medical device manufacturer, cut order processing from 10 weeks to 72 hours.) Once they have that, it’s easy to take advantage of the ROI justification to roll ECM out foundationally and engage the ROI Multiplier effect. RMS moved on from using ECM for transactional order processing to using it as a foundational technology in their two plants in Minnesota and Tennessee that automatically generates device history records, automates accounts payable, simplifies auditing and creates a company intranet.

In Conclusion

The short answer is that when everything says “enterprise,” nothing is. And until ECM is deployed as a foundational component of an organization’s enterprise architecture, it isn’t truly enterprise.

(Editor's Note: You may be interested in reading Kimberly Samuelson's ECM + WCM = Your Portal Strategy.)