Is Your ECM Solutions Stack Enterprise Ready?

Over the last several weeks I’ve been working on a project that has led me to reflect on what capabilities or qualities organizations and their suppliers need to consider if they want to better enable the enterprise to derive as much value as possible from process improvements and technology solutions adoption.

The concept of Enterprise Readiness (ER) is not new.  Quite a bit has been written on the topic by academics, end-users and vendors much of it focused on how various technology advancements in cloud computing, enterprise search, intelligent capture, network topologies, storage technology and mobile enterprise solutions support ER.


ECM Solutions Stack Components

All of the above mentioned technologies are essential to enterprise content management (ECM) on some level. However, not much has been written on ER for the ECM solutions stack which, at minimum, includes case management, content analytics, message archiving, document or records management, ediscovery and governance risk and compliance (GRC) applications as well as security, forensics and web content management (WCM).

One of the more interesting pieces of research I found was a scholarly paper prepared by Rahul C. Basole for the 26th ASEM National Conference in 2005 entitled, Mobilizing The Enterprise:  A Conceptual Model of Transformational Value and Enterprise Readiness.  I have reconfigured two of his charts for this post.


Enterprise Readiness For Content Management 

Enterprise Readiness for Content Management  (ERCM) is a multi-dimensional challenge for which both the end-user organization and solution providers have responsibility in all
7 areas listed.  Despite shared responsibilities, ultimately the organization needs to oversee the entire process and set the strategic direction for their ERCM initiative.

The end-user organization needs to have a strategic information management (SIM) plan in place which assumes senior management is fully supporting the enterprise-wide initiative and a cross-functional team with representation from Finance, HR, IT, Legal and Lines of Business that is actively participating in the process.



ERCM Solution Attributes

Picking a solutions partner or partners to help define, build, implement and support the solution and provide training is key.  Table stakes for an ERCM solution need to include most if not all the following attributes as organizations should expect more from their providers today whether the application is hosted, on-premise or a hybrid solution.

Accessibility –  Improved access to information for workers across the enterprise is the number one “soft-dollar” benefit for implementing ERCM.  The ability to access and receive multiple document types and forms from a variety of sources including paper, email, fax and electronic documents is essential.

Affordability – In most cases, an ERCM solution should be able to demonstrate an ROI of one year or less.  Vendor pricing should take into consideration “casual” or occasional users.  Obviating the need for custom coding or frequent intervention from IT and empowering business users to configure their own solution is key to cost control. 

Configurability –  The ability for non-technical workers to configure ECM software to create new workflows, accept new document types and work centrally or remotely through a thick client or a thin client, web-based interface – without direct IT intervention or support.  The ability to configure the solution to mirror existing workflows, if desired, rather than forcing customers to create workarounds to accommodate technology constraints.

Extensibility – The ability to extend the functionality of the initial implementation beyond its original intended use. ERCM solutions should be leverageable to other departments or for other processes.  The ability to re-use ECM technology is critical.

Flexibility – Able to provide flexible web services capabilities. Ability for customers to leverage ECM investment throughout the enterprise by enabling organizations to define services and integrations to match their unique architectures.  In other words, SOA (service oriented architecture) enabled.

Interoperability –  Ability to easily integrate with existing enterprise software stack including Analytics, Case Management, ECM and ERP solutions. Allow for “calls” outside of the standard ECM solution and ability to integrate into existing processes and workflows. The solution should leverage industry web services standards including http, html and  xml.

Manageability – ERCM solutions need to be easily administered from a central console or remotely through a web interface as required by the organization.  Native auditing and reporting capabilities need to part of the ECM solution and the ability to feed more sophisticated report writers with limited or no IT intervention necessary.  Ability to auto classify documents as part of an existing business process.

Modularity – Ability to deploy portions of an ERCM solution  e.g., start with a centralized solution and add on a web-based distributed solution at some later date.  Ability to easily add users and departments as needed.

Reliability – An ERCM solution should be highly reliable, stable and meet availability requirements of the organization whether hosted, on-premise or a hybrid solution.

Scalability – Ability to easily and dynamically scale number of users.  Use of multi-threading to ensure ability to scale processing speeds and alleviate process bottlenecks.

Security  – An ERCM solution needs to maintain its own security levels for system administrators to easily add and delete users while leveraging exiting enterprise security protocols as well as internet security standards for distributed, web-based applications. 

Usability –  Implies intuitive, easy to understand screens and commands for both non-IT power users and entry level workers with little or no technical acumen.


The ERCM Value Proposition

Current business processes are not free.  There is a cost to completing critical tasks that can easily be measured in worker productivity and other quantifiable expenses associated with both out-dated electronic and paper based processes including retrieval times, storage, printing, copying and shipping as well as the risks associated with lost or misfiled records and a lack of litigation or regulatory readiness.

Unless there is a major “trigger event” such as a lawsuit or regulatory requirement, end-user organizations most often get derailed in the ECM acquisition process when trying to build their cost justification.  Perhaps those organizations need to broaden their perspective on the value ECM solutions can deliver by more effectively measuring intangibles.

According to Doug Hubbard, author of How to Measure Anything, “Business managers need to realize that some things seem intangible only because they just haven’t defined what they are talking about. Figure out what you mean and you are halfway to measuring it.” Hubbard, who has worked extensively with IT professionals and organizations throughout the world on building technology justifications adds, “Management needs a method to analyze options for reducing uncertainty about decisions.”



What most IT ROI calculations have in common is the desire to measure Cost, Benefits, Risk, Flexibility and Value. Hubbard urges managers  to “be creative” and use tools they already have at their disposal or adopt measurement tools that already exist. Based on these five key ROI categories the following components should be considered by each organization when assembling their unique ERCM ROI model



– Software License, Maintenance and Implementation Fees

– Necessary Software License Upgrades

– Custom Software Development

– System Configuration Changes

– System Integration expenses

– Additional Hardware or Hosting expenses

– Impact on Network and Web Infrastructure

– User Training and Learning Curve Impact

– Administrative Support from IT, Help desk



– Improved Worker Productivity

– Reduced Operational Expenses

– Reduced IT and Vendor Intervention

– Creation of New Information Views

– Reduced Risk Associated With Paper



– Solution Does Not Meet Requirements

– Implementation Time Takes too Long, Project Fails

– Implementation Costs Outweigh Benefits

– Process Improvement Minimal

– Users Not Prepared For Change

– No Value Added to Customers



– Extend Solution Beyond Initial Use Case

– Integration with Existing ERP, ECM Solution

– Little or No Ongoing IT, Vendor Intervention Required

– Configurable by Business Users for the Way They Do Business

– Intuitive Interface Accessible Locally or Through Web

– Little Training Necessary Even for Unskilled Workers



– Increase Profit Margins

– Improve Customer Satisfaction

– Create Additional Revenue Streams

– Support Improved Decision Making

– Establish Competitive Advantage

– Grow Business with Existing Staff


Bottom Line 

Solution adoption rates almost always lag behind technology availability.  While innovations in case management, content analytics, message archiving, ediscovery, enterprise search and the rest of the ECM solutions stack are well documented, adoption rates are hampered by organizational politics, outmoded processes, inadequate justifications and other non-technical challenges.

End-user organizations need to be on the lookout for enterprise ready ECM solutions that can be leveraged across the organization and invest time in seeking out vendors and solution providers who view the enterprise as a holistic entity not as a patchwork of departments each with its own needs, peculiarities and, most of all, budgets.

Ultimately, the responsibility is on the end-user organization to seek out opportunities to deploy ERCM solutions.  The good news is there are some vendors and service providers in the ECM space that understand the problem and have solutions ready to deploy.


About Gary MacFadden

Gary's career in the IT industry spans more than 25 years starting in software sales and marketing for IBM partners DAPREX and Ross Data Systems, then moving to the IT Advisory and Consulting industry with META Group, Giga and IDC. He is a co-founder of The Robert Frances Group where his responsibilities have included business development, sales, marketing, senior management and research roles. For the past several years, Gary has been a passionate advocate for the use of analytics and information governance solutions to transform business and customer outcomes, and regularly consults with both end-user and vendor organizations who serve the banking, healthcare, insurance, high tech and utilities industries. Gary is also a frequent contributor to the research portal, a sought after speaker for industry events and blogs frequently on Healthcare IT (HIT) topics.
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