Rethinking ECM

Over the past 20 years or so, the aspiration of many organizations looking for enterprise content management solutions (ECM) has been to standardize on one common platform where everyone in the organization can store and find content. Aspiration is the operative word here.

While many companies bought an ECM platform with the hopes that it would be the single source of truth for the enterprise, few have achieved enterprise-wide adoption.  In fact, many so-called enterprise content management systems engage only a small percentage of the organization’s workforce.

As many of us who have worked on big IT projects have discovered, IT plans do not always translate into user adoption and action. Regardless of IT directives to use the ECM for document storage, users have options. They can park a document in a file share, the email system, a Web drive (like Box or One Drive) or on their local hard drive.

For specialized work environments, standard ECM clients are not so appealing. If you ask an engineer if they would prefer to use the ECM system or their CAD tools for managing drawings, they’ll probably pick the CAD system. Ask the law department staff if they want to use the organization’s ECM offering or a DM system designed for legal documents, most will choose the latter.

Another area where users rebel against using the ECM system is with structured business processes, where the user works in a system dedicated to a specific business activity, like A/P processing. Most users prefer to store their content in the same system that they do their work in. For A/P processing, it’s easier for the A/P clerk to store and retrieve purchase orders and invoices within their A/P system, rather than switching over to an ECM system. It’s also easier for their managers and the company auditors.

Given these challenges, it is not surprising that most organizations have mixed results in trying to implement the same enterprise content management tools for all users. So what’s the next move? Let’s look at the trends:

  • Applications moving to the cloud (like Office 365)
  • The ability to personalize software without requiring customization (like LinkedIn or Facebook)
  • Specialized applications that do one thing very well (like Waze or Twitter) or perform a specific business process (like Workday or Trello)

These are all examples of making software easier and more relevant to a business process or specific user needs. All of these trends may improve adoption of enterprise platforms.

Obviously, an organization doesn’t want to pick a bunch of different solutions for managing documents. Many already have that and it’s not working the way they want. The common repository is still a compelling objective. It makes it possible to find everything in one place and more effectively comply with expanding regulatory requirements like security, privacy, and document retention.

However, there are now more options for getting documents into the repository:

  • Users can store their documents in file shares, local drives, Outlook, or SharePoint and those documents can be automatically synced up with the ECM system.
  • Users can access documents from outside the ECM system, using a mobile app, SharePoint, Outlook, or other integrated application.
  • Document management can be embedded into business applications like SAP, Salesforce, and Microsoft CRM. The user doesn’t have to enter data in one application and file a document in another. Document storage and retrieval can be part of the structured business process.
  • If all else fails, custom integration is supported by all ECM platforms.

Different ECM platforms have different strengths, but most ECM vendors have built capabilities to expand the choice for users to store and access documents outside the ECM system. The result is that it is now possible to feasibly construct a have-it-your-way strategy in implementing enterprise document management.

Given this opportunity to impact the way organizations will manage unstructured information for years to come, the have-it-your-way options may make it easier to reduce the risk of putting all your eggs in one basket.

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