Deploying ECM across the enterprise

23 06 2009

I was keeping the world up to date with my day on Twitter, when I read quite an interesting article based around an organisation looking to invest in ECM and deploy it in one lump across the whole of their enterprise.  The article was looking at the “main” players in ECM, so Oracle, IBM and EMC Documentum. It really highlighted the problems these companies had in pitching to the client, demonstrating their product and trying to show how this would work across the complete enterprise…

Having worked with all of these companies in some form in the past, I remembered just how great their platforms are, but also how heavily entrenched they are with marketing and hype. Putting together a demonstration was never a 5 minute job!

Deploying across the enterprise

This is a lovely idea, but in practice unbelievably hard to achieve (don’t listen to sales banter). I really don’t see how it can work well.

Let’s look at some of the basic challenges of deploying a single ECM solution across the complete enterprise in one go:

  1. Scale – If your enterprise sprawls across the UK, or even Europe and the world, think of the challenges you have of implementing the system, allowing access and dealing with distributed performance…None of these are show stoppers, but remember a lot of logistical work will be needed
  2. Training – Ok, how you going to train hundreds maybe thousands of users for a go live date?
  3. Individual requirements – different parts of your business will have different requirements / needs from their ECM platform and BPM
  4. Administration – again logistical challenges
  5. Support – you need to have in place vast support services

None of these points will stop a project; however each one requires a lot of thought, a lot of processes to be put into place and more importantly a lot of people with drive to ensure everything runs smoothly. However, point 3 (individual requirements) is potentially a show stopper, and it is this point that the large players in the ECM platform try to address with management, configuration, integration and mapping tools. These all demonstration well (when the sales agent gets it right) but actually require a lot of “professional services” to get them working to meet your actual requirement.

Delivering for everyone

It looks great in a demonstration, the presenter simply clicks on a wizard, answers some questions, fills in some datafields and hey presto, your system is integrated and reading in data from a third party. Wow. Likewise, the presenter clicks on a nice processing map, drags some icons onto the screen, joins them up, again ads some datafields and hey presto, you have a workflow….

Now this does look great in a demonstration. And in simple cases, this will work for you. However across the complete enterprise? Will it be flexible enough to meet everyone’s requirements? Are the simplish points of integration shown so well in a demonstration going to work like that for your organisation…….I am guessing a strong NO here is the answer.

These sorts of tools are great for demonstrations, even great for very simple integrations and maps, however the price you pay for such tools far outweighs their actual benefit to your organisation, unless of course you leverage some “professional services” to ensure the system meets your businesses complexities.

The investment…

So to achieve a massive roll out of ECM across your enterprise, you are looking at a massive investment in both time and financially, and then no doubt you will need to address individual units of requirements….All of these factors make it harder for your solution to succeed and deliver that promised ROI.

How would I go about things?

Well first things first. My ECM platform / purchase would not include fancy integrator and mapping modules. For me these add vast costs to the initial purchase and licensing, on top of which you have to purchase additional “professional services”. In my experience, it would work out cheaper to just pay for “professional services” to develop the integration (for example) with your other systems from scratch. Essentially this is more often than not what happens under the term “Professional configuration services” or something similar. However, you have also made a purchase for that integration module license in any case….

This is one of the reasons why I stopped working with the big ECM players, and decided to invest time and resources into our own ECM platform workFile (www.workFileECM.com) We have not wasted time nor money investing in complex integration tools and modules, that look great in demonstrations, but fail to deliver real business benefit. Rather, we develop the integration you require specifically for an organisation, meeting 100% their requirements, based around our open XML Web Services API (something you should insist your ECM provider provides). The same applies to our business process maps, workFile utilises the development platform of Visual Studio to design process maps. Why? Well a developer has so much freedom here, so much so, they can code complex business rules, algorithms, calculations, integrate with numerous other systems and make the workflow work seamlessly for the end user, basically ensure the process map is the power behind the actual solution.

Secondly, look to deploy your ECM unit by unit, or department by department. Each department will have a different requirement, and each department requirements need to be looked at seriously. An enterprise wide ECM solution will only work if each department takes it on board and uses it correctly. This is only going to happen if the system meets their requirements and is championed by the staff.

By implementing ECM unit by unit, you ensure that requirements are not lost, you ease the load of training, administration and support, while easing new processes onto the organisation a step at a time.

 

Conclusion…

By working in a unit by unit basis you not only identify all the requirements needed across the enterprise, but you also ease your implementation headache and keep costs down (often removing the need for fancy enterprise integration modules). For sure, your ECM provider will try to make you go for a “big bang” implementation across the complete enterprise, and no doubt, show you some wonderful tools that make it all seem so easy. But there is nothing stopping you striking that enterprise wide deal, then addressing the implementation on a unit by unit basis, re-negotiating cost if needs be as you go.

Remember fancy demonstration tools may look great and promise the earth, but almost always won’t meet 100% of your requirements. So you need to know what you are looking at for “professional services”, again on a unit by unit basis…

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