8 Steps guide to make your ECM project a success

By Hemant Prasad posted 10-22-2012 05:02


As per Gartner Research Vice President Tony Bell  "more than 50 percent of large Enterprise Content Management (ECM) projects fail if less than six months are spent on vendor choice and planning." (source:

So if more than half of the ECM projects fail, its a big reason to worry for those who are planning to acquire an ECM system by spending few hundred thousands dollars. ECM projects usually get initiated with great enthusiasm to save on costs and increase user productivity by the way of reducing paper usage and creating a digital repository of all contents for easier sharing amongst users. The adventure often ends-up with frustration of having a non-usable system which now stores everything but is tool slow and too complex for daily usage. Increased complexity and decreased performance of accessing contents compare to shared drives results in everyday escalations by end-users and business managers giving nightmares to IT managers.

So what should the CIO or IT Manager do right to avoid such a fiasco? I have summarized my experience below in 8 bullet points which can help you increase your chances of success.

1. Assess your business needs: It's important to know what does the business needs? ECM is a vast subject from capture to store/manage to process till archive and disposition and every piece of information which gets generated during the course of business activities comes within the scope of ECM. Starting from writing an email to your customer or vendor to receiving a fax till signing a contract or agreement. Hence the most critical stage of planning for ECM acquisition is to know as to what all ECM components do you need (from capture (OCR or ICR), repository, process/workflow, compliance, dynamic security, e-discovery etc), what all information should reside in your ECM repository and what must be excluded. The answer should be best left to the business managers or the department heads to carefully analyze and decide. The ideal approach should be to include the minimum and the focus should be on excluding as much as possible, else you risk creating an information junkyard where everyone throws their usable and non-usable documents.  This will serve no purpose and will be unfriendly for the end-users.

2. Appoint a consultant: If your organization doesn't have people experienced in implementing ECM solutions or with adequate knowledge on ECM solutions and its fitment into business, its wise to spend a fraction of your budget and appoint a professional to advise you on assessing your ECM needs, drafting them in a professional manner, helping you evaluate the right solution and guiding the shortlisted vendor to ensure successful implementation.

3. Pick the right solution: It's not easy to pick the right solution at a time there are hundreds of solutions available to choose from everyone claiming to be the market leader. We broadly categorize ECM solutions in three segments:

  • The minimal solution: As the name suggests, the minimal solution is the one which caters to your bare minimum requirements as on today, but doesn't really guarantee the scalability to meet future requirements of your growing business. The advantage of such solution is that this is usually less-expensive and simple solution recommended for beginners. The biggest disadvantage is that such a solution might not be scalable putting organizations at risk of migrating to another solution once the need grows. An example of such a solution can be a simple DMS system which can store various type of generic file formats and provides common library functions like checkin/checkout and versioning.
  • Comfort zone solution: Comfort zone solution is the one which meets all your requirements at present both technically and financially with the possibility of scaling up to some extent in future. Organizations across world mostly evaluate the solutions keeping their comfort zone in mind. Such solution will have longer self-life compare to the minimal solutions.
  • Best Practices Solution: Best practices solutions are mature solutions which are robust, scalable and reliable, though might not be affordable by majority of the organizations. Such solutions are often componentized and can be deployed in phases.

4. Choose the right implementation Partner: I happen to arrange a site visit for one of our prospective ECM customer to our existing ECM customer in banking domain. The prospective customer delegation knew very little about ECM and wanted to hear from another bank CIO on their experience of implementing and using the ECM system in banking environment. I was clueless as what my existing customer is going to say about our services, but the experience turned out to be good. The enthusiastic CIO took to the white board and started explaining as why they failed in their ECM implementation initially and how they corrected themselves after realizing the mistakes to achieve success. The 3 broad points he made were:

  • Technology does matter, so chose the right platform as per your growing business needs. A minimum solution might put you in a fix with-in next 12 months or a best-practices enterprise-scale solution can be too expensive to afford for business.
  • More than the technology, it's the right vendor you need to select, who doesn't just understands the platform you are buying, but also understands your business processes i.e. the domain experience plays a vital role during implementation, else you will waste lots of time on educating the developers about your business and still might get there. Managers in your organization spent years understanding your process in right way, so don't expect developers to master that art in few weeks.
  • Educate your end-user, send the right message: They need to embrace the technology to realize benefits of investment and increase the productivity and it can't be the other way around. You need to find your change management champion/influencer amongst users who can drive the team forward.

5. Pilots vs. large-scale implementation: You maybe be acquiring the best of breed solution from the most successful IT vendor, but that doesn't guarantee the success of same solution in your business environment. Every business is different and so as the behavior of end-users in each organization. Often the acquisition approach adopted by organizations includes calling the interested vendors for a presentation and then a formal bid during which they demonstrate the proof-of-concept (PoC) to confirm the fitment with desired technical and functional requirements. Usually the most competent vendor with lowest bid gets the project award. While there is no flaw in this process, more can be done to protect your interest before you sell-out money.

PoC is the demonstration of solution with minor tweaks to confirms the fact that the solution does have required ingredients to meet desired technical and business requirements. The PoC system gets scrapped post demonstration and the enterprise-wide implementation starts which is often completely different from what the evaluation committee might have seen as PoC during project bidding phase leading to the dissatisfaction of end-users.

Pilot system is an approach where organizations follow the same process described above to finalize on solution and vendor, but do not roll-out solution enterprise-wide at once and rather pick fewer departments and fewer processes as the initial implementation scope and later on-board other departments and processes in a phased manner. This process is less risky, easier to manage and guarantees better success ratio compare to large-scale implementation.

6. Integration with 3rd party applications, Go or No Go?: Most of the software applications today are built on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) providing a simplest and easiest way to integrate with other applications in your IT environment. While having the feature doesn't essentially mean you must use it, it provides you with an option to explore. Integration is always helpful and productive if achieved in the right manner. Most applications today provide information output in xls or pdf format, which can be stored in an ECM system for archival purpose to meet regulatory compliance or for further sharing within the team. Most ECM systems can also provide seamless integration with your line of business applications like ERP or other BPM solutions to ensure single repository for all your contents and save on costs. Consult with your solution architect and understand the pro and cons before deciding on the integration.

7. Ensure adequate post-implementation support: When the curtains come down and toasts are raised to celebrate successful implementation of your project, only a few will have doubt that the cherish moment is soon going to turn into a nightmare. In my experience the go-live stage isn't really a 'successful completion' stage for any project. The go-live date is more of a dream come true and the hard reality hits the ground when the system gets into daily business. So it's important that you engage your vendor to provide continuous technical support to make desired changes/bug-fixes atleast for next 6-12 months to make system stable.

8. Timely upgrade is a must: The only thing which is constant in this world is 'Change'. Your business changes with the time, so as the user's expectations from your IT systems. Most ECM vendors offer newer versions of their solutions free of charge as long as you are paying the annual maintenance for product. Each release includes some bug fixes and new enhancements. Hence its a must to keep updating your ECM system to realize the benefits of new enhancements and keep the system bug-free. So plan your budget properly to keep your ECM system in track with changing times and user's expectations.

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