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Focus on content usage to drive a solid ECM business case

This article appears in the issue January 2014, [Vol 23, Issue 1]
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It's no secret that organizations continue to grapple with an explosion of unstructured content. In addition to the sheer amount, the types of content are becoming increasingly diverse and include documents, scanned images, Web content, rich media, e-mail, corporate records, blogs, wikis, e-forms, audio and video. Each content type comes with its own editing and workflow requirements, and often regulatory and compliance pressures, making managing content that much more complicated and expensive. At the same time, information workers still demand simple and easy-to-use content management tools.

And to make things more complicated, enterprise architecture professionals have historically taken a product-specific approach to their enterprise content management (ECM) strategies: document management for office docs, Web content management for online content, records management for corporate records and so on, which has made sourcing content management technologies increasingly difficult due to the wide array of business use cases. Merely buying a content management solution can still result in functionality gaps, or it may result in shelfware if firms don't need the total breadth of functionality.

To develop a successful ECM business case, my colleagues and I at Forrester maintain (in a report entitled "User Needs Drive a Solid ECM Business Case") that as the number of content types grows, companies must match requirements with content usage, rather than just content types. The right business case involves type of content to be managed (business or transactional), the desired business outcome (improved productivity or regulatory compliance) and a plan to measure ROI to communicate the value of the project.

A shift from compliance to productivity

Many organizations that I speak with are actively expanding the use of ECM solutions. In fact, Forrester has found that 75 percent of ECM professionals plan to increase their deployments of ECM within the next 12 months. For many years, this has been justified for one of two reasons: productivity or compliance. But over the last six years, there has been a fundamental shift from compliance to productivity drivers as firms try to help workers access and share information in a more efficient, effective way. Firms invest in those new ECM projects to increase productivity in a specific business area and increase flexibility in the backend work environment. For example, ECM features like automated workflow drive process change, leading to an increase in employee efficiency. And it pays off—56 percent of firms indicate that they focus on process automation for their primary return on investment (ROI).

Those types of productivity justifications often emphasize reduced cycle time for a particular transaction, e.g. invoice processing or expense reporting, which has led to the proliferation of multiple ECM solutions within one organization. In fact, Forrester has found that 60 percent of firms have more than one ECM solution, with 22 percent indicating that they have four or more. This highlights the notion that a small (but increasing) number of organizations are looking for the best solution to solve a specific business case.

Aligning the business case to organizational priorities

Most ECM implementations driven by IT fail because they don't take into account user experience. The bottom line? If access is not simple and intuitive, users will find a way around using the system. One executive put it best, "There isn't a technology barrier—there is a people barrier" to successful adoption and usage of a new solution. A business case that aligns with the organization's objectives fosters executive sponsorship and commitment that translate to an individual's goals and objectives. For example, one ECM project leader recently told Forrester that the company's executive sponsor was the CEO. That visibility helped the senior leadership emphasize the importance of the project.

To create a successful, compelling ECM business case, firms must understand that:

The initial case needs to show a fast ROI. ECM shelfware is still rampant due to challenges associated with measuring ROI. In fact, 44 percent of ECM leaders are unable to estimate the ROI of their projects. While organizations that focus on transactional applications (such as invoice processing, contract management or expense reporting) can measure ROI based on process improvements that reduce time, the same cannot be said for business content applications. To succeed, those applications require more collaboration, iterative reviews and users taking the initiative to access content. If the solution is not easy to use, users will fail to leverage the promise of ECM. Download Chart.

Beyond ROI, an additional measure of success to consider is user adoption. While this is not always quantifiable, it does indicate the level of acceptance by the organization. Many ECM failures are not a result of the technical implementation, but are caused by an ineffective user interface resulting in resistance from employees. In interviews with ECM leaders, for example, a common theme emerged around the need to address organizational change management to ensure that employees understand the advantages—both tangible and intangible—of an ECM solution. Those organizations that have implemented change management programs had a higher degree of success than those that were more IT and technology focused during the training and implementation period. In fact, when asked what caused dissatisfaction with an ECM implementation, the top four reasons that firms cited were:

  • poor content strategy (44 percent),
  • lack of IT and business alignment (26 percent),
  • corporate politics and culture issues (22 percent), and
  • nternal staffing or organizational issues (22 percent).

Surprisingly, only 17 percent of firms cited the ECM solution not living up to expectations.

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