The Public Value of ECM

By Bryant Duhon posted 02-11-2014 13:03


In addition to sharing some of the experiences my organization has had in this process, my presentation at the AIIM 2014 Conference, April 1- 3 in Orlando, FL,  will offer suggestions on how to make a link between internal benefits in a public organization you are striving for and the demonstration of value to the community. Any successful ECM initiative requires support from all levels of the organization, but in the public sector the ability to generate buy-in from our external stakeholders (the public) as well when necessary can mean the difference between an approved project budget and random ideas that go nowhere.

Carah Koch, Manager, Document Management, Metropolitan Council, has worked with local government entities for over 15 years in a variety of positions, including as an elected official. With a background in policy analysis and public administration, she became involved in ECM in recent years as part of a drive to improve overall organizational efficiency and public/customer service. Carah is currently managing an ECM initiative at the Metropolitan Council, a regional, public sector organization in the Minneapolis-St Paul area. She has a Masters degree in Public and Non-Profit Administration, and is also a Certified Information Professional (CIP) and ECM Specialist.

For those of us working in the public sector, the mantra to do more with less is very familiar. Our citizens rightfully expect real results for the taxes they pay to the government, and services that don’t provide that immediate benefit or obvious outcome are often questioned. Internal initiatives (like enterprise content management, ECM) can face challenges in this environment as their value to the public is often not immediately visible, like a new park, improved roadway, or more police on the streets. Elected officials and public administrators choosing between competing expenditures and priorities might logically select the one with the obvious payback to the community.

Public sector ECM initiatives also face the challenges inherent in operating in a highly bureaucratic, structured, and regulated environment; all organizational characteristics that can hinder major change management activities. Anyone who has had experience implementing large-scale business process changes in an organization knows that extensive regulation and diverse stakeholder needs creates significant challenges. Add to this environment the varied nature of roles and responsibilities in a public organization (which can mirror some of the differences in defined preferences about expenditures from the public), and convincing government entities to take the leap (and commit the resources) to ECM may seem overwhelming.

Yet we shouldn’t give up. ECM has significant benefits to the public sector that transcends beyond the common outcomes of improved efficiency, security, and compliance. All of these outcomes are of course important (and should be included in any ECM proposal) but the real purpose of government is to serve the people. Government officials pointing to, for example, increased efficiency as a benefit of an ECM project or initiative need to take the step beyond demonstrating improved efficiency internal to the organization. They need to show not only how improved efficiency translates to value gains to the community, but also why it makes sense for our elected representatives to approve the expenditure of scarce resources for this type of initiative over other public services.

How do we take the first steps in this process? Obtain that internal support and develop a vision about where you want to go. This can be easier said then done; many public organizations, due to their focus on defined public services, may find it difficult to focus on a unified, internal project. In my experience, focusing scarce resources (time and people) on how we manage information may not initially be a priority for staff, but sitting down and actually talking about how much time they are spending each day looking for or managing their records can lead to those critical “aha” moments. You also gain that initial look at the business process that will be useful later on as you are identifying projects and establishing priorities, and hopefully acquire some interesting data that you can use to support your business case. While large-scale change projects (which ECM initiatives essentially are) can be pushed without stakeholder buy-in, you can make the process much more palatable, and successful, if you have taken the time to show individuals how it will benefit them personally.

Talking with internal stakeholders can also help you define your vision of the future state of your initiative. ECM is a broad concept, and its implementation will mean different things to different organizations, not only from an outcomes perspective, but also in the time and resources necessary to make it happen. There is a big difference between, for example, a goal of finding a solution that will help you eliminate file cabinets and get rid of paper, to looking at a system and initiative that manages content throughout its lifecycle and changes business processes across the organization. The current state and business needs of your organization will help you define this, but be sure this long-term vision is also understood not only by your executive sponsors, but by staff who will be directly impacted by the changes.

I look forward to sharing these perspectives with you in Orlando, and discussing your experiences as well!



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