It Don’t Come Easy
Why ECM is Harder Than It Looks
“Enterprise content management.” It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? At first blush, it would seem as straightforward and intuitive as any other “asset” management, like “cash management” or “property management.”
But content management—and to put it into even sharper focus, enterprise content management—is not nearly as clear-cut, nor as obvious. There is a bunch of reasons, but for two:
1. It’s unclear that there is a single collection of “content” that the entire enterprise can, should or needs to have access to.
2. And even if it did exist, how would you convince business unit owners to give a flying you-know-what?
“Most of the business side doesn’t even know what ‘ECM’ is,” admits my expert victim, er, I mean, subject, this month, Randy Baird. Randy is Open Text’s vice president for ECM strategy and its “Value Enablement Program.” He goes on: “But they DO know what their business process is. So we should get away from confusing acronyms and focus on the business problem. We need to understand what the pain point is first, then whatever the technology is that addresses it hopefully aligns with that understanding,” he says.
I get what he means. After all, business units have their own functions to fulfill... mortgages to sell, medical records to maintain, HR issues to resolve. ECM is most certainly NOT what they do. In and of itself, it means nothing to them.
“And the vendors don’t address this correctly; they sell features/functionality instead of getting to the business problem. The trap they fall into is that they deal too much with the IT group, and not enough with the business,” says Randy.
That’s changing. The CIO is becoming much more integrated into the business. The relationship between the IT organization and the business is changing...for the better. Randy considers this a crucial organizational shift. “Developing a more robust relationship among ALL the important groups—not only between IT and business, but also legal and administrative—is going to become not a ‘nice-to-have,’ but a ‘have-to-have.’ It’s a requirement going forward,” says Randy.
I suppose at this juncture I should admit a bias. It’s been my observation that cross-pollination in organizations, especially large ones, doesn’t occur much. The line-of-business guys, the legal folks, the administrators... they don’t even know each other at the Christmas party, much less collaborate on the “ECM platform.” So how do you expect an organization to agree on something as wispy and undefined as a content platform?
“I’d say there’s no easy answer,” admits Randy. “You have to start at a high level, for one thing. But you also need to understand the operational structure of the company. Every company is different. Some are more centralized, for example. Their processes are very well defined, the IT department has already-developed standards, they are very centrally controlled. That’s one type of company,” Randy explains. (He mentioned some names here that I won’t reveal, because personally I think he’s being generous.)
“Then there’s a very different operating model, which is more distributed, with business units that are very autonomous.” (That sounds more like it.) “This is why I think ‘enterprise’ content management is a misnomer. The best you can hope for is to deploy content management on a department-by-department basis, and over time, solutions might be leveraged in another part of the organization. Does that make it an ‘enterprise’ solution?” he asks rhetorically, because he already knows the answer. “Yes and no. But a maturity does develop—it’s like an evolution—in organizations as they become more centralized and find the synergies between departmental solutions on a more company-wide basis. Over time they choose to consolidate technologies into a ‘shared services’ model. That’s what mature companies do, anyway; they X-ray their organizations, look at what they have in place already and seek ways to leverage existing solutions for efficiency and cost-saving.”
That sounds peachy keen, but Randy is the first to confess that it’s a rare and special organization that can accomplish it. “I go into rather large organizations—I won’t name names—that don’t have these efficiency models and don’t have the governance necessary to take advantage of shared services. They don’t have a vision. They have too many decision makers,” he says. “You have to understand how an organization operates before you can assess how to deploy solutions. And that’s both from a vendor perspective AND internally. You have to understand the politics of the organization, basically, and it’s not an easy task! There’s no cookie-cutter approach.”
Where’s the Value?
Randy makes a big deal out of the “value creation” that ECM brings to an organization, and rightly so. But while it might be true that the emphasis should be on value creation, how do you justify that? And how do you get it funded? The expression “creates value” is a little vague to put in an RFP response.
“That’s unfortunately correct,” admits Randy. (I think I’ll have that carved on my tombstone: “He was Unfortunately Correct.”) “We do a ‘value scan.’ It’s like going to a doctor for the first time. How can the doctor make a diagnosis without asking many basic questions? Our value scan happens after we’ve pre-identified the stakeholders. It usually involves both business and IT. It’s typically a workshop-style scenario, then we move onto individual interviews. The initial scan is not trying to find a solution yet; it’s a checklist. Then we gather the data and take it offline to assess what we’ve learned before we ever come back with any recommendations,” Randy explains.