What We're Thinking When We're Asking You About ECM

By Richard Medina posted 04-07-2013 00:15


This post isn’t groundbreaking but it may be useful to you. Here are the kinds of questions I ask our ECM clients when assessing their ECM requirements. Use it as a starting point, a checklist, a sanity check – or just tell me how I’ve missed the mark.

There are two sets of questions:

  1. The first set consists of 5 categories of questions (a total of 27 questions).They are the most relevant to defining the ECM functional requirements for the departments in most organizations. But in most cases, they are NOT the ones to ask your end users. You’ll get the best answers to these questions by first asking the second set of questions.
  2. The second set consists of 11 kinds of questions we typically ask stakeholders when we’re conducting interviews in ECM strategy engagements. It is usually more productive to ask these as a way of determining each business unit’s functional requirements, rather than asking specific functional questions directly (except as follow-up or when it’s clear that the specific functional questions are appropriate for the respondents – e.g. when you’re talking to IT or the ECM Program Team).

In other words, #1 is what we’re (primarily) asking ourselves but #2 is what we’re (primarily) asking the end users.


#1:  The Questions that We’re Asking Ourselves

General DM and Repository Capabilities

  1. What kind of general repository management and library services do they need, such as check-in/check-out, document security, etc.?
  2. What kind of version control – e.g. support for both major and minor versions?
  3. Do they need both manual and automatic document import into the repository?
  4. Do they need both manual and automatic indexing (classification, tagging) capabilities?
  5. Do they need rendering to different formats? Different languages?
  6. What kind of organization/navigation (foldering) capabilities do they need?
  7. Do they need document linking capabilities (static, dynamic, and/or other)?
  8. Do they need support for offline and remote workers?
  9. Do they need granular document security (e.g. including even annotations)?

Document Capture and Imaging Capabilities

  1. What kind of general approach to capture do they need? E.g. should it use only inherent capabilities of the capture system (or ECM system), or should it also include integration with third-party specialized capture products?
  2. Do they need support for multi-functional devices (MFDs) and distributed capture?
  3. Do they need support for multichannel ingestion, including mobile device capture (smart phone, tablet) fax server integration, email integration, and file import?  
  4. Do they need support for advanced production imaging capabilities, including high-volume capture, IDR, OCR/ICR, and capture workflow?

Search Capabilities

  1. Do they need all “standard” document search capabilities for document search (e.g. nesting combinations of Boolean terms and parameters, wildcard/proximity, stemming/literal, Unicode, etc.)?
  2. Do they need full-text and keyword search for all relevant content?
  3. Do they need search across multiple repositories, servers, databases (within the same solution)?
  4. Do they need federated search across third-party repositories, including commercial products, inhouse developed systems, email systems, SharePoint, shared drives, and hard drives?

Workflow Capabilities

  1. Do they need document-centric, “author-review-approve” workflow?
  2. Do they need team collaboration workflow (beyond document approval workflow)? What kind of collaboration capabilities do they need (e.g. project management, threaded discussions)?
  3. What kind of workflow development tools and processes do they need? Do they need to enable non-IT business users to define, modify, and maintain processes? Do they need a graphical designer, library of starter objects and templates, and a test environment?

Records Management Capabilities

  1. Do they need both manual and automatic records declaration and classification?
  2. What kind of records management (RM) repository approaches and capabilities do they need (internal RM repository, ECM repository, external integrated repositories)?
  3. Do they need physical RM capabilities?
  4. Do they think they need email archiving and management capabilities for email?
  5. What kind of record retention plan development and management capabilities do they need? (I.e. do they have RM requirements that entail certain capabilities associated with the retention plan? E.g. a business unit might have renderings/versions of a record in multiple languages, each with different regulatory requirements – thus entailing additional complexity in the retention plan and therefore the software that manages it.)
  6. What kind of retention and disposition do they need?
  7. Do they need integration with hierarchical storage management (HSM) and content addressable storage (CAS) systems to provide granular, ensured retention, disposition, holds, and releases?


#2:  The Questions that We’re Asking the End Users

  1. Key Objectives and Business Priorities:What are the major business goals or priorities for your functional area?
  2. Processes and Document Types:What are the major business processes in your functional area? What are the major document types involved in each application? What are the major information sources that you interact with – e.g. line-of-business systems, databases, etc.? What is the general level of complexity for the major work processes – e.g. number of documents, systems or people involved, approval processes, etc.?
  3. Document Volumes:What is the current volume of your work product? What is the expected growth (or decline) in volume? Are there peaks and valleys in volumes? Is it challenging to handle peaks and valleys?
  4. Work Styles:What is the nature of your functional area’s typical work style – e.g. solitary process, chain of approval, group collaboration, etc.?
  5. Document Creation and Authoring:What is the general process for document creation or authoring? How many people in your group are involved in this process? What is your role in this process? How do you track changes made to documents? What is your role in this process? Have you ever experienced problems with tracking document versions?
  6. Document Review and Approval:What is the general process for document review and approval? How many people in your group are involved in this process? What is your role in this process?
  7. Tools: What are the primary tools that your group currently uses for these tasks (authoring, review, approval)? Is there any workflow automation that is currently used to streamline your document creation, modification, and approval processes?
  8. Document Sharing:What are the major distribution channels for your work product – e.g. print, e-mail, web, etc.? Who needs access to your work product – e.g. others in your group, other groups in your organization, external parties, etc.?
  9. Document Archive and Retention:Is there a need to archive documents after they have been created and delivered? How is this content currently archived? What are the retrieval requirements for these documents? What are the security requirements for your documents? What are the retention periods for your documents? Are you aware of any policies or procedures for document retention and disposition?
  10. Major Challenges:Overall, what are the major issues or challenges you face in your current processes?
  11. Ideal State:What are the big things you would like to see changed in your current processes? Are there things you would like to do in your current processes, but that are not possible in the current state?

So those are the eleven questions we ask. One note: This list is skewed toward “knowledge worker” organizations (i.e. organizations without transactional processes or production imaging and workflow). For “process worker” situations, we primarily modify questions 5 and 6 to get at the interviewee’s specific work processes.

And as I said, I’ve found that the best way to identify the ECM functionality your users need is to ask them the more general questions (Set #2). Then, based on their answers, ask yourself the 27 questions in Set #1 to determine the specific functionality each user group will need. I don’t mean to sound boneheaded about it – of course you can ask the end users Set #1 questions when it’s useful, but this is almost always after you’ve led with Set #2 questions. And of course you should discuss the kinds of ECM capabilities that are relevant to the end users. Set #2 is just a lot more helpful to answering Set #1 than asking end users directly the questions in Set #1.

#requirements #end-users #stakeholders #Interview