Deconstructing ECM

The IT universe is littered with acronyms; SQL, ERP, KPI, WiFi, LAN, WAN, ECM. All of these terms get bandied about during meetings, sales engagements and tech research quite a bit. However, just like acronyms for stats in sports or business buzz speak, I posit that most folks tossing them around do not understand them and an even higher percentage of the clients and or partners in the aforementioned conversations do not understand them. Many business people (I am so very guilty here), make assumptions when communicating and often, in our excitement about a concept or an idea, do not fully take into account the audience to whom we are communicating with and their potential level of understanding. Even worse is in a sales engagement when our pride, excitement, or sense of hubris in a concept is deemed to be sufficient and that clearly delivering an understanding is secondary to getting the close, winning the vote, or pushing our idea.

So in all of that, what do acronyms and Ben’s theories on communication have to do with Enterprise Content Management?  ECM (yes I just used an acronym), is so often overlooked, poorly executed and watered down or dismissed due to lack of research and/or poor communication that therein lies the relevance. I do not care if you are peddling consulting, fish sticks, making whiskey for sale, or running a giant corporation, there is a series of documents or information captures that happen from the time the proverbial phone rings to start a sales/business cycle and to when an invoice is sent. Along the way data is gathered, be it invoices from suppliers, customer request information, shipping requests, financial documents...the list could go on and on. Now, consider your internal documentation needs with regard to human resource concerns, business process, and the like. All of this represents the information CONTENT that drives your ENTERPRISE; and I guarantee any business expends energy on its MANAGEMENT. Whether it is an old-school metal filing cabinet forest, files in desk drawers, offsite document storage facilities, banker style file boxes, not to mention the shared folders on a server, and our My Documents folders; we are continuously searching for, recalling, referencing and utilizing that information. Manual processes to use this information slows down sales, extends invoice cycles, generates additional overhead in the form of labor and takes valuable office space or increased storage, physical or digital.

In some cases more than twenty years ago, organizations began discussing a paperless workplace. Much like perpetual motion, cold fusion or transparent aluminum, this concept has been vigorously pursued and while progress has been made in each arena, none of these ideas have come to complete fruition. An office can build a near paperless process for most things, however, it is important to note things will still get printed, come to you in paper form and require original documents. The beauty of a well-executed ECM system is that it allows you to either continue in a mainly paper driven business process or to transition to less paper in a fashion that will allow your organization to execute this all without shocking your systems and employees completely. Clearly delineating your current process and then honestly analyzing said process with a willingness to change or eliminate steps is key to a successful ECM deployment and, more importantly, adoption. Most of us have a garage or closet full of tools that looked cool that we never used, or lack the understanding to use effectively. Sadly software in a business is all too often similar -- we buy expensive and or extensive systems and then use only a fraction of their power. Why is it that these investments, be they tools or software, go so underutilized? In the end it comes down communication.

If we do not truly understand a tool or software’s capability we need to ask for clarification. Training needs also must be communicated clearly from both the trainee and trainer. Lastly, communication within an organization as to new and improved ways to adopt and refine the process are all critical to getting the most out of any ECM deployment. As software consultants, our duty is to make sure our clients understand the systems and process we sell them and to,more importantly, listen to them and work as if we are part of that organization to maximize their investment. As a client, it is incumbent upon us to ask questions, take notes, ask for more training and execute and communicate internally in order to capitalize on our investment, improve our business and ultimately take better care of our clients. In the end, what Enterprise Content Management is to you and your organization can be anything from digital filing cabinets to a sophisticated method of automating work process that allows for greater transparency, security and quicker research when needed. There are many excellent systems of varying degrees of cost and sophistication available today.  I would encourage you to do some homework on your current non digitized process and get a wish list even before you entertain the first conversation with a vendor or consultant. Also bear in mind your business’ five year plan and strategy for growth, so as to find a system and tools that will grow and flex with your plan along the way. Acronyms save key strokes and sound smart, but utilizing Enterprise Content Management to truly streamline our business process saves time, increases profits, improves customer service, and is just smart.


Written by Ben Arntson | RMC ProIT