The Future of ECM: The Elephant in the Room

Here’s an excellent post from my colleague Glenn Gibson, thinking about the size of enterprise projects and how we might tackle those given this new era of reduced staff and budget…

Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time

I first heard this amusing question six years ago from an ECM expert, Byron Aulick. He posed this in an educational video series while addressing the formidable challenge of rolling out an ECM solution across an entire enterprise.

Now, while this analogy helped explain how a massive ECM project should be approached (one small step at a time) it still left two important questions in my mind, all but begging for an answer:

1. Who actually wants to eat an elephant anyway?
2. How long would that actually take?

Unfortunately, this analogy likened the task of rolling out an ECM solution across an entire enterprise to be an unappetizing, heart-burn causing, time consuming and ultimately overwhelming experience.

Now, I know that this was not Byron’s point. He was one of the earliest educators on ECM technologies and was certainly not trying to scare people off. His illustration simply addressed the reality of approaching any huge, enterprise-wide IT project, whether that project is ECM or anything else.

As we know, with any gargantuan project, there are only two ways it can go. Good or bad. When it’s done right, champagne corks will fly and high-fives will be given. When it’s badly managed and goes wrong, heads will roll (figuratively!) and wrists will be slapped. While many organizations have had tremendous success with their ECM initiatives, others have seen their nightmares come true when their ECM vendor delivered outrageously long implementation times making the promised ROI a distant dream instead of a reality.

Yes, these risks and rewards seemed to be inseparably tied in to the very idea and core concept of enterprise content management. The reality that, for many organizations today, they don’t have the desire or the time to eat an elephant. So what is the future for ECM?

Since Hyland launched the latest release of its product in mid-July, OnBase 11.0, I’ve been thinking more about this question, especially in line with how Hyland is shaping its roadmap for OnBase. ECM is more relevant in today’s business climate than ever before, a point I believe that can be illustrated by asking a slightly different question to the one posed above:

Question: How do you eat a chicken?
Answer: It’s easy, you cook it and you eat it.

So are chickens the future of ECM? No, of course not. By chickens, I mean rapidly deployable solutions.

While ECM has always been about providing solutions for businesses, the key here is the “rapidly deployable” part. Instead of biting off more than they can chew, organizations are thinking about improving their business one area at a time. They need appealing, bite-size solutions, that they can get their teeth into, see tangible results and move on to the next business process concern.

The ECM analysts have recognized this trend and are using terms such as “case management,” “composite content applications,” and different flavors of BPM to describe it. Regardless of what these are called, they all have a common theme: solutions which address a very specific business need and can be rapidly deployed.

The key for ECM vendors is having the agility to both create and deploy these solutions as the needs arise. Sometimes these solutions are born by a piece of legislation (like the recovery audit contractor (RAC) program in healthcare), specific departmental challenges and even new technologies that open up new possibilities for how current applications are delivered and used.

With ECM, you should choose to partner with a vendor who understands this and develops a truly comprehensive and integrated product suite. For you and your organizations, this means that not only can you can get quick wins, but also that you have a product at your disposal that you can use to deploy your entire solution piece by piece across your enterprise.

Yup, it’s time for the elephant to leave the room. Start looking for areas in your business you can improve and get your poultry in a row. Pretty soon you will find that you have successfully eaten an elephants’ weight in chickens.

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David Reinbold

Thanks for the post, Terri. Enterprise content management is an area that many businesses have a difficult time addressing. I agree that simple, effective and quick solutions are paramount.

Are there any specifics that you or other members have encountered? What worked? What didn’t work? Why?

Terri Jones

We currently have over 1100 government customers and they have had all kinds of success and sometimes they struggle to move forward. Since our ECM product is modular and it doesn’t have custom code needs, it lends itself to the starts and stops of government pretty well. We have seen successes when people take a process that cuts across departments, in my case it was a vacation request process. It was a small process, with a triplicate form that we spent money to create and print each year and we eliminated that form and expense, electronically routed the request to the supervisor and emailed our payroll clerk and the employee when it was approved. I think those types of processes have been very successful in the ECM realm. There are more examples here – .