As data volumes continue to grow at an exponential rate, enterprise content management (ECM) solutions have become increasingly critical, says Saurabh Kumar, MD at In2IT Technologies South Africa.Without the ability to store, organise and manage the vast and growing amounts of information effectively, organisations can quickly become bogged down in the data, reducing efficiency and creating a host of other issues. However, when implementing ECM, many organisations opt for a ‘big bang’ approach that typically fails to deliver in the expected manner.

In order to leverage the many benefits of effective ECM, organisations should adopt a step-by-step approach, beginning with process definition, to create a solid foundation upon which to build an ECM solution.

Organisations today generate more data than ever before, and this volume only grows year on year. Without effective management of this data, critical information is prone to being lost and specific data is difficult to find and manage. Furthermore, organisations can spend inordinate periods of time tracking, searching and versioning information – time that could be more profitably spent on practices that add business value. ECM has thus become critical for assisting organisations with the capture, management, storage and preservation of digital content.

There are many benefits to the implementation of ECM, including improved efficiency, enhanced compliance with data management legislation, and the ability to quickly locate information when it is needed. However, when implementing ECM, there is one common mistake that typically results in these benefits being lost. Often, organisations will purchase an off the shelf ECM solution and then attempt to align their organisation with the standard functionality of the product. However, every organisation is different, with its own unique challenges and processes, and this ‘big bang’, all or nothing approach inevitably leads to disappointment. Ensuring the successful implementation of ECM requires that organisations find a solution that fits them, instead of trying to fit their organisation to a solution.

Process is the biggest challenge regarding the implementation of ECM. ECM has the ability to bring IT closer to business, but for this to happen, the IT organisation and the Chief Information Officer (CIO) need to have a solid understanding of the business needs. This requires that processes be well defined before any ECM solution is sought. Organisations need to identify the objective of implementing ECM and what short and long-term gains they wish to achieve, and then create roadmaps to get there.

Building trust and aligning IT and business are essential to the successful implementation of ECM technologies. In addition, ECM will change the way people work, and adapting to this can be a challenge. First understanding the processes, and then identifying how they will change, and then building and aligning the ECM strategy around them, is essential to success.

Once objectives and change management needs are understood, they can be aligned to best of breed products. The key is to find a solution that does not require extensive customisation, and that has features that can be adopted by the business to improve process. It is also crucial to have business leaders within the organisation driving the solution. From there, ECM can be rolled out step by step across the organisation to firstly manage internal content, and then, if necessary extended outside of the organisation to include external information such as social content. Business leaders need to align ECM to their department objectives, ascertain how this external information will be gathered, and then plan change processes to accommodate this.

A phased approach with regards to implementation includes tackling individual areas such as digitising documents, defining workflows, defining storage requirements, defining portals such as SharePoint, and finally defining how documents will be moved from one application to another – in other words the store, search and find capabilities. In addition to taking a step-by-step approach to implementation, it is essential to roll ECM out in an enterprise-wide fashion. Simply adopting ECM in one or two departments will not deliver the full benefits of effective content management, and may lead to further inefficiency.

When correctly implemented, with due care and thought given to ensuring strategy aligns with business and process, ECM has the potential to become a critical tool for business success. Benefits include the ability to define deliverables and service levels across the enterprise for both internal and external customers, more efficient data search capability, and the creation of a full audit trail of documents, authors and changes for compliance purposes. The concept behind ECM is to create a business eco system around data, and in a world driven by data, where information is money, this can only lead to improved profitability and business efficiency.