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Use what you got

January 11, 2011

I came across a wonderful quote in Redefining Health Care by Porter and Teisberg the other day:

Despite the unmistakable opportunity to improve quality and lower costs simultaneously, a surprising number of system participants still assume, and act, as if advancing the state of the art in health care required more services and more expensive technology. This can sometimes be true, especially in the early life of a new technology, but the far greater opportunity today is to use better the technologies known already. (p. 111)

Swap out “health care” for “ECM” and this quote is spot on for the work I do day-to-day with clients and in the industry.

Breaking point

Many organizations I run into have reached the breaking point with how they manage content across the enterprise:

  • Shared drives becoming larger and less manageable
  • SharePoint sites growing rapidly and without governance
  • Legacy applications creating seemingly endless reports that no one reads and saving them to expensive repositories
  • Incoming faxes being saved to a server then printed out, shared, and rescanned (often multiple times)

The list of ECM worst practices you see regularly at organizations includes these (and many more).

Organizations hire me as a consultant to help them find the right technology to solve these problems. Unfortunately, while technology can help enable better content management and alleviate many of the problems organizations face, there are more often than not simple, lo-fi problems at the root of their ECM pain points.

For example, shared drives growing out of control. Yes, new technology can enable an organization to retire shared drives and get that content into a managed, controlled repository with all sorts of bells and whistles to enable top-notch ECM.

However, there are two issues with throwing technology at the shared drive problem in this way. First, the real problem isn’t the shared drives themselves, but how folks are using them: they’ve got convoluted processes that are unmanaged, unmeasured, and out of control (in the technical sense).

Second, how successful would the implementation of an enterprise document management system on top of these suboptimal processes be? If you’ve been involved in a document management project under those kind of conditions, you know the answer is, “not very.”

Keep it simple

The truth is, the real benefit to the organization comes from the lo-fi work of fixing the suboptimal processes. The application of technology to those processes is simply going to be gravy–if, and only if, you fix the processes first. Otherwise you risk automating a bad process or simply having the whole implementation fail outright.

And it’s not just the shared drive example. All the examples I cited above require significant non-technology efforts to succeed; the use of technology must come after this work if it’s to deliver real value.

The final word

It should be no surprise that organizations do this, because we do it in our own lives, especially this time of year: we spend money on high-tech exercise equipment when the answer is as simple as eating better and walking 30 minutes a day? (Side note: am I the only one who goes “hmmm” at how many products there are on the market to help with sit-ups…an exercise that really doesn’t require any equipment to do effectively?) We buy fancy organizers or personal productivity software when the answer is as simple as making a crisp to-do list every day and following up on it.

And despite how frequently I encounter the willingness to throw technology at a problem and how frustrating it can be, I find it incredibly rewarding to help an organization step back, take a deep breath, and make an honest assessment of the work–people, process, and technology–that will help them improve ECM at the enterprise.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2011 12:05 am

    Great post, Mr. Shepley! As always, I find your posts on ECM and their underlying processes to be spot on. In a world that is looking for the newest, shiniest, most over-promised technologies for curing our data management and information overload challenges, you take a step back and do what few consultants do these days: stop and put the horse in front of the cart before moving forward. Bravo!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. January 12, 2011 3:03 pm

    Thanks, M. DeRochier!

    Appreciate not only your willingness to jump in and get the conversation going, but also the kind words!



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