Forming a Shared Service for ECM? Five Tips for Developing an Effective Model

Many of the clients we work with have distributed IT organizations, with specific IT groups dedicated to the individual lines of business they serve. From an enterprise content management (ECM) perspective, this usually means the organization is taking a fragmented approach and not realizing the maximum value of its ECM investments.

Why? Because while a central IT group or team may own the ECM platform and infrastructure, the individual ECM applications are typically built by the business-aligned IT groups or by the third-party solution providers they hire for specialized expertise. And since project teams come and go, once the ECM project for a business unit is “finished,” the team disbands and resources are allocated elsewhere.

There are a number of problems with this model. An IT project team may develop some ECM expertise for a specific project, but that expertise isn’t re-used or leveraged elsewhere. The approaches and practices for leveraging ECM capabilities and automation may be inconsistent from project to project. The result is every new ECM project becomes a “one-off,” where new teams need to be formed and new skills learned or acquired. All of this means more time and cost required for every ECM project – and when a project is more expensive, it’s harder to develop the business case needed to get it approved in the first place.

Establishing an ECM shared service or center of excellence (COE) is a best practice that addresses these challenges. Based on our work with clients that already have or are forming ECM COEs, here are some tips on how to develop a good model.

  • Communicate recent successes and benefits achieved. Even without a COE, most organizations have some ECM implementations that have been successful and have delivered measurable returns in areas such as process acceleration, time savings, and labor reduction. Take the time to review recent ECM efforts. Gather metrics about benefits, prepare some case study material, and identify other areas of the business that are currently underserved by ECM, but which could likely achieve similar business benefits.
  • Build upon the expertise and resources and resources you already have. If you’ve had some success with ECM projects (even if they were “one-offs”), do whatever you can to retain that expertise and pull the resources into the ECM COE team. You’ll be saving time and money on hiring and training new resources.
  • Promote the consistency, repeatability, and governance that the COE can bring. One of the benefits of an ECM COE comes from its ability to deliver ECM solutions that are repeatable (using the same technology components and pre-configured templates, for example), and to identify common usage scenarios where standardization in ECM usage can be applied. In addition, the COE can provide governance over ECM at the enterprise level, ensuring that all ECM solutions are provisioned according to a consistent methodology and implementing processes to monitor adoption, usage, and content retention and disposition. (See my recent post for more details on ECM governance:
  • Structure the COE’s chargeback model to be more attractive than other alternatives. If your organization’s businesses and their IT project teams lack ECM expertise, their alternative to the COE is to hire or train their own resources, or to source resources from software vendors’ professional services groups or from third-party integrators. The fact that the COE has in-house resources and expertise that are dedicated to ECM means that the COE should be able to deliver projects faster than if the COE didn’t exist, and at a lower cost. When third-party services are needed (and they will be needed, for major projects), the COE can manage the relationships with ECM vendors and service providers and engage the right outside resources as needed.
  • Allocate a portion of the COE’s time to upfront consulting. The COEs that are successful are those that ensure they are continually filling their pipeline with demand from across the business. One way to do this is to educate IT leaders across the organization about the COE’s capabilities and benefits, and to offer time to the business areas to perform quick-hit consulting engagements to evaluate their ECM opportunities and develop proposals for conducting the work. This is really a sales activity for the COE, and it requires good business analysts that know ECM and that have strong skills in process analysis and business case development.

Do you have other tips for forming an effective COE, or to make the case for forming one? I’d love to hear your comments.

Rich Medina
Joe Fenner
I’m VP of Consulting. I oversee Doculabs’ delivery team and consulting practice, as well as leading numerous client engagements.