Things to Consider When Selecting An Enterprise-Wide Content Management (ECM) Solution

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by Rod Khan, November 25, 2016

Enterprise content management systems are more important than ever in this age of Big Data and analytics. So explosive is the number of companies deploying ECM solutions that the ECM market is forecast to more than double in just a few years.

That means that many companies are now — or soon will be — in the process of selecting an ECM solution. If your company is in the market for an ECM solution, performing the following steps will help you in evaluating enterprise content management solutions.

1) Identify / Select Impacted Business Units

Your first task is identifying and selecting the business units within your enterprise that have immediate business needs, and that will benefit most from an ECM solution.

This is extremely important. I would highly recommend that you begin by selecting your top three business units that will benefit most from an ECM.

How do you select these business units? I would advise that you utilize the services of a business analyst for this purpose. The analyst you select should understand the role and functionality of ECM solutions. Ideally, the analyst will have prior experience in selecting and implementing ECM solutions.

If no one within your organization possesses this expertise, consider on-boarding an expert analyst.

Once you’ve identified the three business units, it would be wise to create and document specific formal use cases detailing how each business unit will utilize the ECM system.

Time and resources permitting, you might consider extending the use case analysis beyond the three business units to the entire organization.

2) Evaluate Your Current Content

Making a wise choice in selecting an ECM solution requires that you have a firm understanding of the types of content you’ll be managing. Types and formats of content potentially cover a very broad spectrum, including:

  • Images
  • JPEG
  • Word Docs
  • Spreadsheets
  • XML
  • Emails

You’ll also want to develop an understanding of the typical size of your content files.

The exercise of evaluating your content will likely shed light on the types of content most frequently used. It can also serve as a great opportunity to do some housecleaning by discarding content that is no longer of value.

3) Determine When, Where, and How Content Will Be Accessed

It can be very helpful to research the life cycle of the various types of content your organization uses. Doing so will help you to understand when, where, and how your content will be accessed.

This can vary considerably from business unit to business unit. Your analyst can be very helpful in parsing the differing needs across your company’s business units.

It’s also important to understand your user groups and their specific needs. Are they all centrally located? Will they be accessing content from different corporate locations? Developing an understanding of users’ needs will help guide the design of the infrastructure for your ECM.

4) Analyze Business Workflows

Examine the content needs that are generated by the workflows of different business units. As an example, let’s consider a legal department that primarily handles contracts.

That unit has a business workflow that is very specific to new contracts. Each contract goes through an approval process. And along the way, many different people, ranging from junior legal aids to senior attorneys, may need access to the contract. So the contract goes through a process.

You want to understand what these business work flows are, and how this content is being utilized within the workflow, so that everyone has access to the most current copy of that contract as it moves through the workflow.

It’s important to develop a similar understanding of the process workflow for each business unit that will be impacted by the ECM solution. This analysis will often reveal that a given ECM solution is less suitable for some business units than for others.

5) Determine Content Security Needs

Security is a crucial component of an ECM solution, and it will be of greater importance for some business units than for others. Security will be a high priority for the legal department referenced above, for example.

An HR department is another example of a business unit for which security will be of great importance. It’s typical that HR departments require that their content be secure from the rest of the organization. And it’s not unusual that they even require divisions of security among various factions within the HR department.

Understanding the security needs of your organization will influence your selection of an ECM solution, but will also help you in developing a formal methodology for assuring those needs are met.

6) Examine Content Retention Policies

What’s the life cycle of your content? How long do you retain it?

If your organization does not currently have a formal content retention policy, this will be a good time to develop one. And having an understanding of your content retention needs will certainly play into the selection of your ECM solution.

7) Perform Integration Feasibility Study with Existing IT Infrastructure

This is of huge importance. The feasibility study will tell you whether the ECM solution will be compatible with your existing IT infrastructure: servers, databases, etc.

The compatibility of a given solution with your current IT infrastructure will greatly impact the cost of implementing that solution. The more aligned the ECM solution with your existing infrastructure, the better. And some ECM solutions simply offer more flexibility in enabling the use of multiple databases, network storage devices, etc.

You’ll likely want to involve your IT department in performing this feasibility study rather than relying strictly upon the business analyst.

8) Establish a Budget

In most cases, establishing a budget for implementing and maintaining an ECM solution will involve calculating and combining two components:

  1. Implementation and maintenance costs
  2. Yearly licensing fees

Determining funds that should be budgeted for implementation and maintenance will require a certain amount of guesswork. And in my experience, organizations tend to estimate on the low side of actual costs. For that reason I would recommend adding a cushion of 20%-25% to your budget implementation and maintenance estimates.

Devising a budget for yearly licensing fees will require little guesswork, but may necessitate lots of homework. That’s because the licensing models from many vendors can be quite complicated. Getting your legal department involved as you analyze (and develop a budget for) the various licensing models from vendors can be very helpful.

9) Implement Change Management (from the start!)

Implementing an ECM solution across an enterprise will be disruptive to a certain degree. It will be a paradigm shift for many people. And it’s human nature to be somewhat resistant to change.

Involving change management professionals from the very beginning — even before the ECM solution has been selected — will put you ahead of the curve in ensuring a smooth transition to the new solution.

10) Assemble An Internal Steering Team

Putting together an internal steering team for the selection process is an important step.

How do you select a steering team? Pick some champions from the three business units that you selected in step #1. You’ll probably also want to add some key people from IT to your steering team. Your project management office (PMO) team and sponsors of the project should also be represented.

It’s crucial that you have a nicely balanced team comprised of people that are knowledgeable of all the criteria we’re discussing in this article. It’s also important that the team be representative of all business units that will be impacted, and not just of a select subset of those units.

11) Create An RFP for Vendors

The steering team should be involved when creating a Request For Proposal to be distributed to selected vendors. Each RFP should include the use cases created in step #1.

Including the use cases in the RFP will help to make your specific needs very clear to the vendors. And that, in turn, will help the vendors focus on demonstrating how their products can serve your needs. Be sure to make it clear within the RFP that the vendor is expected to specifically address your use case scenarios.

Distribute the RFP to all selected vendors at the same time with a scheduled deadline to respond.

12) Short-List the Vendors

As responses to RFPs begin to arrive from vendors, the process of short-listing the vendors will begin. This will be the job of the steering team.

The best way to objectively short-list the vendors is to create a scorecard for each. Each scorecard will consist of many of the criteria listed above such as use cases, budget, IT infrastructure compatibility, etc. You can tailor the scorecard however you want, but each criterion of the scorecard should be quantifiable: a score on a scale of 1 to 10, for example.

A single representational scorecard can be created for each vendor. Or alternatively, each business unit can independently score vendors, and the organization-wide average tallied as the final score for each vendor (this is probably the best approach).

13) Invite Short-Listed Vendors for Demos

The next step is to invite short-listed vendors (based upon scorecard results) to perform demonstrations of their product.

Most vendors will have canned generic demos that they routinely use for all prospective clients, but that’s not what you want. Instead, ask each vendor to tailor a demo to the specific use cases that you provided in the RFP.

Demos tailored to your use cases will give you the best feel for whether a product will truly meet your organization’s needs.

Steering Team Selection Criteria

The process culminates with a decision by the steering committee. The scorecards created earlier will be an aid in making this decision. Accordingly, each scorecard should be updated with the quantified results of that vendor’s demo.

I also recommend one additional step: performing a functionality gap analysis.

The most likely outcome of this process is that no single solution will meet all of the organization’s needs. The functionality gap analysis will help identify the shortfalls of each product, and rate the relative importance of those gaps between organizational needs and product capabilities.

Conformance to the projected budget may also be a decision-influencing criterion. And it’s also important at this point to look at customer ratings and testimonials for each vendor under consideration.

The steering team will have the responsibility of taking all of the above, weighing it against the needs of the company, and formulating a recommendation for vendor selection.

It’s An Important Decision…

If your company is among those that will be selecting and deploying an ECM solution, it’s crucial that you select a solution that will be the most compatible with your needs.

Making the wrong decision can be very costly and disruptive. But making a wise choice when selecting an ECM solution can pave the way to a smooth transition toward realizing all the benefits that an ECM can deliver.

Conforming to the above criteria for selecting an ECM solution will help to assure that your decision will be sound.

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