Story: Evaluating Enterprise Content
One of my consulting clients is an organization that provides cloud computing services to businesses of all sizes. The company was founded 3 years ago and has grown rapidly on the wave of movement to remote cloud computing and data storage. Services provided by the company include design and development of applications and data management using remote servers accessible through Internet-connected devices. The nature of the business requires management of significant amounts of content from clients and from the internal operations of the business.
During the last 12 months, the company has realized that the lack of formal enterprise content management (ECM) has caused a loss of potential and existing clients because of delayed project implementations, poor management of client information, and the inability to demonstrate the security required to protect client content in the event of problems. Management understands the path to improvement begins with an evaluation and understanding of current content management practices. The difficult question is where to begin.
The evaluation project was initially assigned to the chief information officer (CIO), who in turn delegated the project to the information technology (IT) manager. As with any typical IT manager with too many projects and a lack of expertise in broader topics such as ECM, the project sat unattended for 2 months before the CIO decided (with some steady complaints from the IT manager) to use an outside resource (me) to get the project rolling.
I have experience in ECM, and I know the first step in these projects is an evaluation of the current content and content management processes of the organization. I have been through this process before, and one thing I have learned is to never be surprised by what you discover when you start exploring this area of an organization. It would be nice if you could walk into an organization and easily catalog their content and processes, but this is seldom the case. This organization had virtually no documentation regarding the content used, and this is typical of most organizations. They use their data, but they do not pay any attention to what the data are, how they get them, or how they manage them. Consequently, bad habits are applied to the content, and it quickly gets out of control. Data are not protected, content is duplicated and changed by unauthorized personnel, and as a result, the content becomes much more costly to the company and less useful than it could be.
My first step in this company was difficult and time-consuming. I had to look at every system in the company and explore the content used, where the content was stored, how it was acquired, and what processes, if any, were used to manage the content. All of this information was carefully logged so that I could get a good picture of the overall content for the organization. This was just the content evaluation phase, but it is completed now, and a lot was learned in the process.
I learned that the company maintains a lot of content that it does not really need. There are databases taking up storage space that nobody accesses, or the information in them is duplicated in other databases. Some simple redesign of these systems will eliminate roughly 25% of the storage needs. There is content that some people in the company would like to have, but they did not even know it already existed. With some relatively low-cost application development, the existing content can be used by more people, and the company can run more efficiently.
A good example is the support department. When they receive a support call from a client, they enter all of the client’s information into their incident tracking system. All of this information already exists in a separate database used by the sales and accounting departments, but the support group did not have access to that. It took 1 day for the IT department to create a bridge application to share this database with the support group.
I could make a long list of these easy changes that will make a tremendous difference for the company, but the process has just begun, and a lot more work needs to be done before the list of changes is complete.
Moral of the Story
It is easy for an organization to focus on business operations and ignore business content. Content accumulates like junk in a garage. It will grow, almost by itself, to overflow the available space. Content also follows the law of chaos because if it is left by itself, it will become disorganized. Content needs management. Processes that affect content need management. An organization simply cannot ignore content and expect that content to be used efficiently to promote the health of the company.
There will eventually be a price to pay for ignoring the management of content in an organization. Like so many things in life, an early investment will pay big dividends later. If an organization expects to grow, then enterprise content management should be implemented very early in the life of a company. In the early stages, ECM is relatively easy to design and implement. The structure instituted by ECM will keep content in check and will help a company avoid the kinds of costly problems described in this story.
The story you just read shows how difficult it can be to get started with formal enterprise content management, particularly if very little attention was given to ECM and documentation of content in an organization. For this discussion, research the library and Internet for information about the evaluation of enterprise content management in organizations, and then respond to the questions. Consider the difficulties faced in the story and how some of these difficulties were overcome when responding to the questions below.
How do you think the enterprise content management practices of an organization without formal enterprise content management can be evaluated?
What steps should be followed to properly evaluate an organization’s enterprise content management practices?
Select 1 of the most likely problem areas of an organization’s enterprise content management infrastructure, and discuss how the difficulties could be overcome.
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