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ECM and the status quo

July 13, 2010

Working with clients, I spend a lot of time trying to get them to understand the value of improving their content management practices and finding ways to get their organizations to support those efforts. And as we’ve seen in other posts here, there are tremendous gains to be had by improving how you do ECM, even incrementally.

But in the interest of devil’s advocacy, I’ll ask the obvious question: what would happen if we just maintained the status quo around ECM and simply allowed folks to do what they do now with their content?

In doing so, I’m going to avoid countering the old saws about content chaos, findability, the time knowledge workers waste creating content that already exists, and all that–we’ve heard that non-stop for years, and yet an overwhelming majority of small, medium, and large organizations still, after all this time, have not gotten their act together around how they manage content. So clearly this line of argument is not compelling enough to get most folks to wise up and get religion around ECM.

Instead, here’s some real-world reasons why an organization might decide against investing in improved ECM:

  • Improving ECM requires IT involvement — and most organizations do not do IT well because the relationship between IT and the larger organization is strained, the business value of the work IT does is unclear, or the results IT achieves are not measured (at least not in the way manufacturing output, for example, is)–or some combination of these three.
  • Improving ECM requires (or seems to require) enterprise software — and LOB leaders are skeptical not only of vendor claims, but of the ability of their IT shops to implement and maintain ECM applications.
  • Improving ECM requires massive organizational change management –– because folks are managing content as a part of almost everything they do at an organization: we’re not just talking about a group of folks in one department or an activity most people do for a small portion of the day…for large swaths of the organization, we’re talking about almost everything they do, all day every day.

Given all this, our claims that an ECM program will save 2 or 5 or 10 or 100 million dollars over the next three years in e-discovery costs, efficiency gains, IT storage, or whatever, seem much less compelling because the ROI we’ve predicted is not 100% certain. That is, there is a risk that the organization may not be able to achieve the entire return, or even any of it (depending on how poorly an IT group botches an implementation or how strong the organizational resistance to change is around ECM).

And so, just as an ECM business case needs deliver ROI that the business values (i.e., not just “it saves knowledge worker time” but “it allows the saved time to be applied to a higher value business activity”), it also needs to acknowledge the non-financial costs and risks associated with ECM and the work required from vendors, IT, and the organization as a whole to make ECM successful. Only by doing so will it have a chance of overturning the status quo around how an organization manages its content going forward.

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