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Rethinking ECM: It’s not just about technology

by Wendy Cole
 
Are you asking the wrong questions about enterprise content management?

If you ask 100 business professionals to define “enterprise content management” (ECM), chances are good that you’ll get 100 different answers. Sure, there will be a lot of common threads. Many will likely mention new technologies like enterprise search, which can help workers find content faster. Others will talk about long-term document management and storage. Still others will bring up technologies that can help manage web content, digital assets and workflow.

There are a great number of misconceptions about ECM out there — none greater than the myth that ECM is all about the technology that you choose. 

And none of these answers are entirely wrong. ECM does cover these areas, as well as many more. But there are a great number of misconceptions about ECM out there — none greater than the myth that ECM is all about the technology that you choose. While technology does play a major role in ECM, it can be better described as a strategy and way of doing business that consists of technology, processes and methods over time. And rather than asking questions like “What ECM software are you using?”, businesses instead should be asking “Where are you in your ECM journey?
 

Not a quick fix

This “ECM as technology,” or “ECM as technology plus content delivery system” mindset may seem harmless, but it leads to a fundamental misconception about ECM that can prove harmful to a business. When ECM is seen as technology to implement, there’s a tendency to see ECM as needing to deliver results fast, as you might see with any new tech initiative within your organization. But ECM is more than that.

I see ECM as a strategy — leveraging technology, of course, but it’s also about how the organization culturally adapts to the new technology, how the executive level manages the ECM roadmap, and how business processes are adapted and made to be more agile and responsive. It’s more than just documents — it encompasses everything from your information and data to your mobility, governance and security policies. And importantly, it’s a strategic initiative, not a quick fix. If you’re expecting your ECM strategy to be complete in one year, or even two, you’re setting yourself up for frustration and probably failure.

ECM is a marathon, not a sprint, and many companies are at different stages in this journey. This is why simply owning the tools and having the implementation plan in place isn’t enough. You need to consider aspects like organizational change management to facilitate the adoption of new technologies, the execution of an adaptable long-term strategy, and the executive sponsorship needed to support the goals and stay the course.
 

No one-stop shop

This is more than just a shift in how we view ECM, however. It’s a shift in how we approach the tools and partners that make up a robust ECM strategy.

This approach calls into question the wisdom in trying to find a single software author or vendor to provide your entire ECM strategy. ECM is simply too large and encompasses too many areas to think that one provider can fulfill the whole of an ECM strategy. While many providers do some things well, you’re invariably leaving out important elements — whether that’s change management, compliance, hardware, industry expertise or something else entirely.

Start building your ECM strategy

Seek out the partners and providers that are the best fit for your organization.
 
To put it another way, let’s leave aside the business world for a moment. I’m a big fan of Broadway, and there’s a relevant lesson that we can learn here from the stage. While every actor in a Broadway play or musical is outstanding, only the smallest plays have a single person trying to play multiple roles. Rather, casting directors look at a variety of performers, all of them exceptionally talented, to find the individual who best fits a particular role. Based on how they interact with other actors and the unique elements they bring to that role, the cast is then chosen and managed into a well-oiled machine.

Your ECM strategy should follow much the same plan. Rather than trying to have one actor try to play multiple roles, seek out the providers that are the best fit for your organization and that particular role. Look at how they interact with other providers, and consider how they respond to your direction and management. And be sure to consider their experience and understanding of your business challenges. Bringing in such a veteran not only helps lend stability and proven performance to your production, they can also help answer questions or address problems you haven’t encountered before.

Ultimately, whether it’s adopting the right technologies, improving your business processes or managing these major changes, bringing in the right partners and providers will help you direct an ECM strategy that’s sure to earn you a curtain call.
 
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Wendy Cole is Principal Consultant for Ricoh USA, Inc. Consulting Services Business Process Group, with extensive experience in the areas of capture, imaging, document and content management, business process and workflow analysis. Since joining Ricoh in 2002, Cole has worked with organizations in both the public and private sector, including global NGOs and Fortune 500 companies, to implement document management strategies that bring efficiency and value. An avid runner and golfer, Cole has a degree in mathematics from the University of New Hampshire.