Six Questions to Ask Before Your Next Content Management Project

For the last twenty years, decisions about document and content management systems were basically about one thing: Which vendor’s product to use.  The major Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors — IBM, Documentum and OpenText — all had similar offerings. Each provided a monolithic platform with a broad range of functionality, with the understanding that they were providing a platform for the development of applications.

In the last year, a lot has changed. OpenText purchased Documentum, new vendors emerged with new approaches, and Gartner declared the era of ECM over, in favor of a new genre of software they call “Content Services.”

Anyone considering a content management initiative today has to make more a fundamental IT strategy decision. That analysis includes whether to extend the use of a platform already in place or, alternatively, to procure a “best of breed” application that provides the business functionality required without the required investment in underlying technologies. And that first decision leads to other choices, such as how to go about mitigating your risk if you stay with a legacy platform environment, whether to migrate your existing applications and whether to start planning for the decommissioning of the existing platform environment.

Sorting through the options and their implications is a daunting task. As a first step, here are six questions you should ask about your current use of content management technologies and upcoming needs; the answers will highlight some of the factors that should be at the heart of your decisions about your strategy for content management technologies.

Question 1: How many content-oriented applications do you have in place today?

If you have two or three enterprise applications running on a legacy ECM platform, you have more strategic flexibility than if you have twenty. So building an inventory is an obvious first step.  Build a quick list that shows how many content management applications you have in place today, what technologies they are the built on, and who constitutes the user base.

Organizations with just a few content management applications may be well-served by a decision to move forward with a cloud-based, best-of-breed approach to content management. That means going to market, choosing the best application that meets your requirements, and leaning on the vendor for managing it. The benefits in terms of strategic simplicity, lower internal investments, and continued flexibility will outweigh any purported benefits of having a set of highly integrated applications.

For organizations with a large portfolio of content management applications running across the enterprise, an approach more focused on IT infrastructure and strategy may make more sense, with an investment in internal capabilities and infrastructure that you can leverage across a larger set of applications.

Question 2: Do you have an internal capability for building content management applications?

If you have been building content management applications in-house and have that capability, continuing with a platform-based content management architecture may be the right strategic direction for your organization.  This may mean continuing with your next project on the same platform you have been using, or it could mean shifting your applications to a new content management environment and retraining your team to the new environment.

On the other hand, if you do not build applications in-house — and today most of us don’t — then shifting your plans to the purchase of best-of-breed, cloud-based applications probably makes more sense than expanding your dependency on third-party vendors tied to one of the “big three” legacy ECM environments.

Question 3:  Where are you in the transition to the cloud for enterprise applications?

For companies with a clear commitment to transition to the cloud, there is a reduced justification for investment in a single ECM platform. You can shop for a solution to your needs one application at a time, making decisions based on the applications match with your business requirements and the vendor’s success with other customers. You can take the platform technology decision out of the process since you won’t be managing the infrastructure or developing applications.

Organizations that are still hesitant in their move to the cloud need to be more careful about the systems that underlie their applications as they will continue to have responsibility for maintaining that infrastructure. You have a vested interest in maintaining fewer technologies in-house to reduce complexity and to align organizational capabilities with fewer architectural alternatives.

Question 4: Are You Trying to Solve a Content problem or a Process problem?

The ECM category has expanded over the years to include a diverse set of application types, some of which are mostly about storing and managing content and others which are focused on workflow processes involved in moving the content through a set of steps.  How would you describe your process?  Is it content management with some workflow or process management with some content?

The question is important to ask (and answer) because different content management solutions have different strengths.  In fact, some business needs are best answered with solutions traditionally categorized as business process management tools (BPM) even when those needs include some element of content management.  Traditional ECM platforms are generally best thought of as content management applications with some integrated workflow capabilities.

The point of this question is to understand your needs before you go shopping for a solution so that when you do go out to the market, you can include the types of products you need, even if they are not under the content management umbrella.

Question 5: What is the plan for your existing content management applications?

Your existing portfolio of content management applications is an important factor as you consider your next content management projects. If those applications are effective and efficient and ensconced in your business, it makes sense to maximize their lifespan and continue to invest in them. That may mean doubling down on the platform they sit on.

Alternatively, if your current applications are not central to the business and less than robust and effective, now is probably a good time to cut ties with the vendor that provided the platform underneath them, and plan to migrate, rebuild and retire.

The key success factor, in this case, is to consider each application separately, not the group together.  In other words, don’t worry about migrating to a new platform, focus instead on creating a plan for each application’s specific case.  For example, for one application there may be a clear, proven and attractive cloud-based alternative with an easy migration plan; that would be a case where migration makes sense.  Another application may be older and sparsely used, and the need it addresses solvable with another solution already in place in the organization — that is a candidate for straight-out retirement

Question 6: What do you have stored in your content repositories?

The content accumulated and stored in content management systems can act as an anchor, dragging down your plans and schedule to move forward with new solutions.  And that same content can present high risks because it often includes confidential and private information. The risks involved tend to freeze organizations in place and prevent the adoption of the best new technologies.

Fortunately, there are tools that are available to make this challenge easily solvable. In the “Information Governance” category, there are two key tools that play a role in addressing this problem. (Disclaimer: Everteam offers tools in this category).

The first category of tools is “file analytics” solutions that allow you to connect to content repositories, shared network drives, and other content stores and analyze what they contain.  These tools identify content by type and contents, surfacing items with personally identifying information and credit card numbers, for example.  They also identify duplicate and obsolete versions of documents and provide tools for cleaning the content and isolating and masking the confidential information.

The second category includes archiving tools that allow you to extract content from content management systems and store it separately, eliminating the need for the content management platform but ensuring continued access for business users to the historical content. The best archiving tools also add records management capabilities, so that archived content is managed according to defined retention management rules, enabling its destruction when its expiration date has occurred.

Setting the Path Forward

The six questions above do not constitute a “how to” guide for making decisions about your next content management project.  The answers should, however, help you think through some of the most important factors that you should be weighing in your decisions.

Ultimately, for companies with investments in legacy platforms such as FileNet, Documentum and OpenText, the fundamental options when it comes to your next project are to 1. Invest further in the platform with another application, 2. Select a solution that is independent of that platform but leaves the platform in place or 3. Start the process of moving off of the platform to the next generation of content management services-based architectures.

Getting the answer right is a critical step in 2017 as we move into the post-Documentum era. This era is characterized by a new generation of cloud-based, packaged content management solutions and new content-services-based architectures for building content management solutions. The right answer for your organization starts with asking the right questions.

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