Why Does ECM Take So Long?

I don’t often find myself speechless—just ask anyone who knows me—but last week I found myself in a client meeting with absolutely no idea what to say.

We were describing the typical 3-year timeline for an enterprise content management (ECM) roadmap, when an exec interrupted with, “Why does ECM take so long?” She went on to explain that she had rolled out SAP globally in 6 months at a $30 billion energy company, and she couldn't understand why you'd need any more time than that to roll out ECM.

I gave a few angles—SAP has a better defined set of vertical applications, such as accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR); or that 6 months sounded like an unusually short timeframe—but  she wasn't having any of them. I finally told her that I didn't know why ECM took so long, but that it just does, and offered to connect her with dozens of ECM owners at companies large and small who’ve been on the ECM path anywhere from 5 years to a decade or more. She thanked me, and we moved on.

But it got me thinking about the question. Not sure if this post provides any answers, but at least it will point to some areas for further investigation—and hopefully the collective wisdom of you all out there will shed further light in the comments.

So here goes: three possible reasons ECM typically takes longer to roll out than SAP.

Reason #1: SAP Has More Resources and Support

For a global SAP rollout, you typically have dozens, if not hundreds of folks (many of them high-paid consultants) working on the effort, putting in lots of overtime. These teams often take over entire floors or whole buildings as their war rooms. They have direct access to active and engaged sponsors in the C-Suite who get the team any resources they need in order to push SAP across the finish line.

Contrast this with the typical ECM effort.

Usually no new hires are brought in, and the project is run as more of an “edge-of-the-desk” initiative. ECM has low visibility for CXOs, which leads to it being far less a priority for stakeholders vis à vis their other commitments (their day jobs, other initiatives — like rolling out SAP!).

Then there’s the difference in commitment to training. ECM efforts struggle to get even baseline training for their end users. Can you imagine saying, “We’ll just give SAP users links to video clips to train them and then turn them loose”?

Reason #2: SAP Directly Involves Core Business Processes

SAP (and enterprise resource planning in general) is all about automating core business processes like AP, AR, order-to-cash, procure-to-pay, etc. Given this, it can’t drag on and on, because these processes are part of keeping the lights on. There are hard-dollar repercussions in any organization when you compromise processes like order-to-cash or AR.

Contrast this to ECM, which, generally speaking, has a far less direct impact on keeping the lights on, focusing instead on more general business use cases. Which is another way of saying that no one really cares if document management or collaboration is compromised.

Is it a pain? Yes.

Do we directly lose dollars? Typically, no.

Reason #3: SAP Has a Well-Trodden Path to Implementation

The final contributing factor is that SAP has a well-trodden path to implementation: a single vendor with a limited set of well-defined use cases (AP, AR, supply chain management, etc.), and many highly experienced system integrators who have a decade or more of experience at making it work.

In contrast, the ECM market space is made up of a range of vendors with a loosely defined set of use cases: document management, collaboration, case management, etc. ECM only recently started to deploy vertically against use cases/business applications, rather than horizontally as a generic platform. Once it makes this switch, I think deployment may get faster, but for now, ECM usually means an enterprise platform deployment, rather than a targeted business application.

So there you have it: my three best guesses as to why SAP might deploy faster than ECM. But part of me also feels like my executive’s experience with the 6-month SAP timeline is far from normal. I've heard of organizations struggling for years with SAP (and other ERP solutions), sometimes never getting it right and having to jettison the whole thing.

So I’ll close this post by asking all of you out there: Do you feel like ECM is slower than SAP? If so, any ideas on why? Or do you think SAP is no faster (or maybe slower) than ECM?

And finally, just curious: Any thoughts on my executive’s claim that SAP can be rolled out for most organizations in 6 months?

Rich Medina
Joe Shepley
I’m VP and Practice Lead, focusing on developing Doculabs’ InfoSec practice and its applications in a wide range of industries.