Think LongTerm with ECM Strategy

Fixating on the cheapest and seemingly most user-friendly solutions can ruin your enterprise content management (ECM) strategy. What should IT departments do to resist the lure of cheap fixes and easy launches to ensure a successful, long-term ECM solution?

1. Treat the initial ECM purchase and implementation as a milestone, not the end-game

Investing in ECM software is akin to buying a home. If you are driven to purchase a home based on the fear of spending too much, you may be stuck with a money-pit you don’t like and can’t get rid of for years. Or, if you buy a home based on features but forgo a thorough structural inspection, you may end up with a home you really can’t afford to fix and maintain.

Look at purchasing ECM software as a long-term investment is not a one time project. ECM software should be used as a platform for continuous operational improvement, one that requires a sustainable change in mindset, behaviors and ways of working.

2. Make lifetime total cost of ownership (TCO) central to ECM investment strategy

Cost management should never be the number one priority, but delivering and maintaining IT solutions that add sustainable business value should be. Many enterprises feel they can afford to buy ECM software only to find out later they can’t afford to own and yield sustainable value from their investment.

Factoring in lifetime TCO into your ECM investment calculations can be a challenging but sobering exercise. According to Gartner, “For a business application that is used for 15 years, the cost to go live is, on average, 8 percent of the total lifetime cost of ownership.”

3. Acknowledge that end user adoption is critical but that ease of administration is how future changes and upgrades are accomplished quickly

It’s widely understood that end user adoption is necessary for enterprise software to deliver value. Naturally, most ECM buyers make it a priority that an ECM solution be easy to use. Unfortunately there are leading ECM systems that deliver an exceptional user experience but have all the adaptability of granite.

If IT cannot easily modify an ECM solution for changing requirements, the most compelling user experience in the world will not save IT from the wrath of process owners when the software isn’t meeting their needs.

Surprisingly few organizations make it a priority to purchase software that is easy for IT to change. This is particularly important with respect to configuration of workflow. Many ECM vendors are quite adept at disguising how much custom script is required to execute the capabilities being shown in a sales demonstration.

Challenge your vendor to make significant changes to the workflow configuration in front of you:

  • Can they make these changes using menu-driven configuration wizards or will it require script?
  • Would a trained business analyst be capable of making these changes or would you require a resource who can write code?

4. Scrutinize ECM providers’ history of software upgrades

Some ECM vendors have made such dramatic changes from one version of their software to the next that an upgrade to the latest release is no longer possible. Instead, the only way to get on the newest version is to purchase new licenses and services in order to migrate to a brand new platform. During the selection process, be sure to ask: Has the vendor ever severed the upgrade path between releases of the software?

If innovation is important for you to remain competitive, ask your vendor about the frequency of major upgrades. Vendors that are serious about investing in R&D will put out a major new release every year. Other providers will often wait three or four years between major releases.

Upgrading an ECM system that is pervasive throughout your organization can be a daunting task laden with risks. A single point of failure during an upgrade can cause a system outage for business units across your enterprise. Ask your prospective vendors if their systems are architected to support incremental upgrades, effectively allowing client interfaces from multiple versions of the product to connect to common set of upgraded back end components.

ECM systems architected for incremental upgrades allow a single business unit to go live on the new platform while other units continue to use the client interface from the previous version. That way, in the event system outage occurs during the upgrade, you can isolate the impact to only one area of operations.

5. Beware of vendors that set initial costs low or make them free

IT and procurement professionals are taught that they have the most bargaining power over software license costs. What’s more, procurement departments are often given incentives to secure discounts and so make negotiating a low initial price point a higher priority than optimizing the cost of owning the solution over the lifetime of the investment.

Many leading ECM providers understand this and employ sales and pricing strategies designed to minimize the costs for an initial ECM solution to go live. Some vendors have incentive plans in which sales people can earn quota relief by simply winning the deal. In this case the seller is incented to “sell it thin to get in” rather than selling the capabilities necessary to meet a buyer's objectives for a reasonable price. For IT infrastructure vendors, the money they make selling ECM software is a rounding error in their total revenues. For the giants, giving away ECM licenses in order to secure the purchase of more strategic products is common practice.

These vendors understand that once you buy, you are essentially locked in. Switching to another system post-sale is typically politically and/or financially impossible.

By considering the complete life of the product and total cost of ownership, IT professionals can help their organizations yield desired results quickly but without undermining the long term viability of their ECM investment. Rather than choosing one or the other, select the ECM vendor that is flexible and agile enough to meet the needs of today, but has the infrastructure and architecture to grow and evolve with you tomorrow.

Title image by Nathan Congleton (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license