You Don't Need New Toys to Succeed at ECM

A version of this post originally appeared on CMSWire.

Victory! We finally did it.

My wife and I have been threatening to throw away, donate, or sell the majority of our kids' toys for years. If you are a parent, you know the drill. You've accumulated a massive horde of cheap plastic dolls and plush animals with enormous cartoon eyes. Every birthday, Christmas, and (let's be honest) trip to the grocery store only adds to the collection. Then, after what seems like mere hours, that toy joins the others in the trash heap you generously refer to as a "playroom".

We all know this is the pattern, and still, most of us fail to correct it or clean up the junk. I'm happy to say that as of Sunday evening, 80 percent of the toys in my house have been sorted for disposition, to borrow an industry term.

You Don't Need New Toys

I've been to more than my share of the big industry conferences. Once again, you know the drill. Enterprise clients have accumulated hordes of siloed solutions, each promising to finally solve the information management problem and each only half succeeding – if that. So when the vendors carted out their new big data, predictive analytics, and cloud collaboration tools, my clients asked what I thought of the new offerings. (Wait, this sounds a lot like my kids!)

What do I think? I think the technologies are great. But most of my clients don't need them. A lot of Fortune 1000 firms are struggling to provide to their internal clients the kind of basic content management capabilities that became commodities more than a decade ago. We've got a 2015 toolset, but most of us have yet to solve the content management problems of 1995.

Why? Because Wearables Won't Make You Healthier

To understand why, let's take a look at the current wearables market. I see a lot of people at the tech conferences wearing a FitBit or similar tool. From a fitness perspective, these products are great at quantifying your activity. But they don't make you more active.

Unless you change your habits, you'll just have an expensive device that tells you how much you don't do. On the other hand, if you started a regular fitness routine and stopped eating products with high fructose corn syrup, you would get healthier — with or without a FitBit to track you.

Three Ways to Have Fun Without the New Shiny Object

The best thing that can happen for many content management projects is that they don't get the funding they want to buy software. Don't get me wrong; it feels really bad putting a lot of work into building an “ask” for executive management, and then getting shot down. I've been in those meetings. But I've also seen our clients who don't get funding for technology lay amazing foundations for their content management program and get funded the following year. These programs are easily the most successful because they have developed the disciplines necessary for employing the technology effectively.

So as you strategize, think about different ways of getting the same – or at least acceptable – results without the cost and risk of buying the newest toy.

For example: What's the best way to have successful enterprise search? Don't do enterprise search – not directly. Focus instead on consolidating the mess into a smaller number of managed repositories. Then focus your search approach on those buckets. That will cover almost all your needs. You may have some outliers – e.g. some who need advanced specialized search over a scattering of buckets. But then you can get a specialized tool for just those use cases. This approach works much better than trying to get a single solution to address "all" your enterprise needs.

Here's another one. How do you succeed at enterprise email management? Don't buy an enterprise email management solution. Instead, focus on dramatically reducing the use of email for poor man's workflow and document management. Then your need for "enterprise” email management will be much reduced, and the likelihood of succeeding with an email management tool, if you do buy one, will be dramatically improved.

Last one: What's your best shot at succeeding with records management (RM)/information governance (IG)? You guessed it. Don't buy an RM/IG tool to address all of your needs. Work to rationalize your retention schedule to be more business user-friendly and develop an enterprise information architecture that identifies the key pieces of global metadata that you need on every piece of content. Your RM/IG software won't perform well without those pieces, and even if you don't end up getting a dedicated tool to manage RM/IG, a good records schedule and information architecture can be baked into most content management systems and you'll be way ahead in your ability to manage the record lifecycle.

Final Thought

The good news: Buying software doesn't preclude us from building better content management practices internally. And the opposite is also true. The tools and the practices need to be taken together. When I talk to software sales reps, they are often exasperated because their clients are angry with the tool for not fixing their ECM program or discipline problems. This is like blaming the FitBit for not going on my 5-mile run today. Technology can give us huge advances. But if we haven’t built a mature program, the technology alone will not make us more successful.

Where have you made progress in content management efforts without buying new technology? Or, if you bought software first, how did adding more ECM program discipline improve your efforts? Let me know in the comments.​

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