Accelerated Adoption of ECM Across an Organization – Why is this Important, and How do I do it?

By Mark Mandel posted 04-08-2010 15:40


One of the great challenges of the Enterprise Content Management industry is that it is seldom truly deployed enterprise-wide. It is most often deployed for a specific business application or department within an organization. Often multiple ECM systems are deployed in an organization over time, each from a different vendor and with no integration between them.

There are many reasons for this: limited budgets, lack of executive sponsorship, logistics obstacles, lack of internal expertise in the ECM domain, lack of an internal champion who is a proponent of this approach, and so on.

From a Records Management (RM) perspective, the ideal vision of an enterprise electronic records management system, which manages both physical and electronic records, cannot be fully realized unless the ECM application is also used across the organization. Industry best practices today dictate that Records Management is a fully integrated component of an ECM suite, and it is therefore a prerequisite that ECM be deployed first so that the RM system can manage all digitized and electronic records throughout their lifecycle.

I feel very strongly that organizations should therefore adopt an accelerated rollout strategy. This strategy addresses rapid adoption of a basic feature set across the enterprise. The basic feature set includes capture, storage and retrieval first, followed by integration with existing business applications. Workflow, business process management, electronic forms, etc. are deployed in future phases.

I have seen this approach adopted by several organizations, and it works wonderfully. The Return on Investment (ROI) is realized very quickly and the approach involves very low risk. Change management issues are minimized, and the quick and very visible success produces an infrastructure upon which more advanced processes are more easily deployed.

The key is to limit functionality in the initial rollout to “out-of-the-box” functionality, with no custom development. The first phase includes installation of the enterprise infrastructure, including servers, database, storage, network, backup and disaster recovery components, scanners and user workstations with the requisite large monitors (note: 22” widescreen LCD monitors are under $300 today). A SaaS or Cloud approach minimizes this step.

A key component of this phase includes development of an enterprise document taxonomy that includes definition of document types, indexing criteria, required fields, field masking and validation, security and access controls, retention rules, and so on. This study can be performed in phases, beginning with a group of high priority departments and addressing additional groups of departments or agencies in a logical order. It is important to address multiple related departments together to understand how documents are shared and to ensure that each document type is defined only once, reducing duplication and normalizing the index criteria. For example, a Resume is used by Human Resources, but it is also used by all other departments. You want to identify a Resume and its index values only once, and not have different definitions for each department.

Document Capture includes two basic models: Centralized and Distributed. The Centralized model includes one or more high volume scan centers with full time staff, high volume scanners, and an optimized processing model. The Distributed model includes use of desktop, workgroup and production scanners, and multifunction copier/scanners, which are located in departments. Typically in an accelerated rollout a combination of these approaches is used.

A method for capture in this accelerated rollout process is what is sometimes called a “back end capture” model. This model addresses scanning after the paper has been processed, essentially replacing paper filing with scanning and indexing. This approach minimizes change management issues because the current paper based process is not changed. Only the filing aspect is changed.

A very successful and low risk approach is to develop, using the results of the document taxonomy study, a Web-based indexing application that allows users to select a Document Type, enter index data, and press Submit. Pressing "Submit" produces a barcode label or cover sheet which is then placed on top of the document. The document is now ready to be scanned, and indexing into the system is automatic based on the barcode value. Scanning can be done in the department using the Distributed model, or documents can be collected and sent to the central scan center using the Centralized model.

This approach reduces change management issues dramatically. It is a very simple approach that takes only minutes to learn, and most people find it easier than filing documents in a filing cabinet. The approach pushes the document preparation and indexing task out to the end users, reducing and simplifying the effort required for scanning even very high volumes. Indexing is typically very accurate, taking advantage of the Web based indexing application’s built in indexing tools such as required fields, edit masks, drop down lists, numeric and alpha formats, date formats, and pre-populated fields. Once documents are scanned, barcode recognition is very accurate.

Now, when users need to find a document, they go to the ECM system to search and retrieve their documents in seconds. Out of the box features such as zoom, rotate, annotations and sticky notes, fax, email, etc. are easily learned. No longer are there “out of file” issues, missing documents, or days or even weeks of searching for important documents. Once a document is scanned and indexed, it can be automatically associated with the correct retention schedule based on Document Type, and the RM system can track it throughout its lifecycle.

This accelerated approach provides basic capture, storage and retrieval functionality as a baseline across the enterprise. It addresses most of the hard dollar costs of paper based issues: staff time for filing and searching, storage space costs in the office, file cabinet and supply costs, and short and long term third party storage costs. Digitizing the documents addresses compliance, E-Discovery, FOIA, and audit requirements. Therefore, with this low risk, high reward approach, enterprise adoption can become a reality, and the benefits can be articulated with a huge, easily documented ROI.

This baseline infrastructure now can be leveraged to integrate the ECM into business applications, so that users can retrieve their documents directly from their financial, human resources, manufacturing, or engineering applications.

It can also be leveraged to introduce new automated workflow applications, moving the capture from “back end” to “front end” processing, scanning at point of capture (or using E-Forms) and using workflow to route the documents through the appropriate business processes. Introduction of these advanced processes after the baseline storage and retrieval application is in place and is commonly used reduces the risk and change management issues dramatically, and typically minimizes adoption issues.

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