ECM Governance 101

Everything you need for the successful governance of an enterprise content management (ECM) program you learned in your freshman English class in college. If you can write and develop a clear thesis, understand your audience, and revise your drafts, you can develop a successful governance program for ECM.

First of all, what does it mean to have effective governance of an ECM program? From my perspective, it has nothing to do with technology. All of the technology providers do basically the same thing, with the caveat that SharePoint and cloud solutions are not full-grown ECM technologies on their own and require additional capabilities from an ISV or other “add-ons”. But most of our clients have one, or two, or forty systems, and are not considering going all-in on, say, SharePoint or Box.

That having been said, let’s run through the fundamentals.

Write and Develop a Clear Thesis

I’m sure you remember that the thesis is the one-sentence idea that summarizes your entire paper. My thesis for program governance is: Program governance defines the mission of ECM in an organization and how that mission is going to be accomplished. (Full stop.)

Your thesis needs to define the mission of ECM at your organization in a way that is simple to understand. A lot of people want to skip over this and begin rolling out applications to the business. They often offer vague benefit statements like, “Using a system of record will make us more productive.” But it is impossible to roll out the right applications to the right business units in the right order if you don’t have a clear idea of what the ECM program’s mission is.

The mission you define should align with corporate goals and the corporate value chain.

Aligning with corporate goals is not as easy as saying that your organization values collaboration, and ECM will provide a platform for collaboration. You need to be more specific. Every company wants to be creative and collaborate and innovate. But under the corporate catchphrase bingo, there are real objectives with operational impact.

For example, your firm might have a vague goal of “growth”. But you need to understand if that growth will be achieved through acquisition, expansion into new markets, or by offering new products or services. Each of these has dependencies upon ECM capabilities. But the way those capabilities are aligned to the business will depend on your organization’s specific strategy for achieving growth.

Understand Your Audience

The best writers I’ve known are incredibly in tune with their audience. You can have all the right facts in a paper, but if you don’t organize them in a way that is compelling to your audience, you will still fail to communicate to them.

For our present purposes, “understanding your audience” means that after you have aligned your ECM mission to the corporate goals (your thesis), you need to make sure you understand your organization’s value chain.

A surprising number of RIM and IT professionals don’t understand what their product is. Not the services your organization delivers to the business, be they legal, RM, IT, or others, but the actual way your company makes money. If you manufacture widgets, how does ECM impact widget production? Now, add that to the corporate strategy above. How can ECM impact widget production in such a way that it provides leverage for expanding into new markets? If you can communicate how ECM will impact the value chain in your company, then you will have moved from just presenting all the right data to truly connecting with your audience.

Revise Your Drafts

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “The first draft of anything is sh-t” (FYI he wrote it without the strategically placed hyphen, but you get my drift). This is just as true of developing the mission for ECM in our organizations, as it is for a freshman English paper or writing The Old Man and The Sea. This means you need to set up opportunities for inter-departmental dialog about the purpose of ECM. These should be opportunities for Business/IT/Legal/Compliance to iterate what each of them needs from ECM. In reality, “business” should mean the first business unit you plan to impact. In the future, you will repeat this process with other business units, and the revisions will continue.


At the beginning of this post I made the claim that everything you need for ECM governance you learned in freshman English. In this post, we’ve barely scratched the surface. But you can see how important developing a clear thesis (ECM mission statement), understanding your audience (tying ECM to the value chain), and revising your drafts (inter-departmental dialogs) are for an ECM program.

There’s much more we can say about ECM Governance and Operations. For example, to learn about the ways governance committees can be structured, read this post by Doculabs’ own Richard Medina.

Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.