ECM in government: The one thing that drove its adoption in the first place (and still is today)

When I read blogs and articles, I like “Top 10 Reasons You Should X” or “Five Questions to Ask about Y.”

I’m going to emulate that format here. Except, this time, the number is smaller than usual.


That’s right. One.

I’ll be getting into the one thing that started the enterprise content management, or ECM, ball rolling in government. It deserves its own list because, more than a decade later, it’s still a factor today.

That one thing? It’s microfilm (or, if you prefer, microfiche).

As inefficient as we think government agencies are, we can’t fault them for not trying. They saw that paper was a problem. So they tried microfilm.

They knew it would help with paper storage. But, microfilm couldn’t address the process side of the problem. Systems were disjointed. Data and documents were scattered. And all of it negatively affected how employees worked and citizens were served (and it still does in way too many instances).

Just when microfilm became too much to handle (and too expensive to maintain), ECM became a familiar term in enterprise software. It had already been used successfully in other industries for years, such as in banking to store check images. And after a closer look, government departments at all levels – federal, state and local – began to see how ECM could help solve their problems, too.

Fast forward to today. A lot has changed in the government world, especially in how it uses technology. But after all of these years, I still go into government agencies and see employees viewing documents on microfilm. It’s like fruitcake at Christmas: No one really likes it, but Aunt Suzie keeps making it because that’s just the way it’s always been done.

So is microfilm a new issue in government that ECM can address? No. But it’s an old problem that many agencies are becoming aware of lately.

This leads me to my next point. While microfilm is still driving a need for ECM, there are new trends that are popping up, pushing that need to never before seen levels.

Are you aware of any such trends? My next few blog posts will be about the top trends I’ve seen, and I’d like to incorporate your thoughts and experiences, too. Please stay in touch, and stay tuned for more to come soon.

Mike Bilardo

Ever go to your local Bureau of Motor Vehicles and wonder if there's a way for them to speed up your service? According to Mike Bilardo, Hyland's director of government solutions, the answer is a resounding, "yes." For almost a decade, he's worked with all levels of government - from small cities to massive federal agencies - to show them how enterprise content management, or ECM, can help them work more efficiently and, ultimately, give better service to their citizens. Want to learn more? You can reach him at

1 Response

  1. Ken Usman-Smith says:

    In the UK the drive was very similar and after Microfilm we grabbed Geogrphic Information Systems and now I am driving EDRMS. And the lesson is, change is everywhere.
    Rocks whereon greatest men have oftest wreck’d. Paradise regained MILTON Line 228
    The council in the UK that I work for (or depend on for services), is not going to simply change, it will not exist in anything like its present form after 2010!
    It is about to founder on the rocks of financial hardship. And its control of the services it has traditionally provided will at first alter and then be deleted as new models replace old spans of control.

    I am indeed rich, since my income is superior to my expense, and my expense is equal to my wishes. Edward Gibbon

    The Comprehensive Spending Revue of 2007 set the government funding to Councils to deliver services for the next three years. That was around a 2-3% increase each year. In 2010/11 we will enter its final year. And the Governments going to change possibly anyway as the credit crunch strangles ambitions.

    This is all because the economy as a whole has failed. The huge drop in revenue that has hit Councils as well makes this all far, far worse.

    But that’s only half the story! The next Comprehensive Spending Revue (No matter what shade of Government holds the purse strings after 2010) will slash that funding even further. Figures anticipating a 20% reduction are being whispered about in the financial press and corridors of power, and that is £20m slashed in a year!

    Money talks…but all mine ever says is good-bye. Anonymous

    What does that mean? In Rochdale we are already setting a draconian regime to cut £100M out of the budget over the next five years. In simple terms every 1% reduction in the grant is £1m less for services. But that was based on the 0% worst case scenario that seemed prudent. Others are not yet facing this, we are and the impact on staff and services is dramatic.

    The increase in the world’s population represents our victory against death… Julian Simon

    Jobs are going, schemes are cancelled and services streamlined as the need for more efficient services becomes the focus of our efforts, doing far more with far less. But people are out of work, adults and children need even more support as we live longer, work vanishes for young and old. And expectations are high on the street where we need more funding that will now not arrive.

    And if it is going to be a 20% reduction year on year then that £100m goes to £220m! And the significant changes around what we do to achieve that will need to be so extreme, so totally radical, that the structure that emerges will be unrecognisable.

    “Everybody has accepted by now that change is unavoidable. But that still implies that change is like death and taxes — it should be postponed as long as possible and no change would be vastly preferable. But in a period of upheaval, such as the one we are living in, change is the norm.” Peter Drucker

    It was 10 years ago that Peter Drucker said this. Many of my colleagues are saying that we have been here before. As Council managers and leaders we have lived with constant change, driven by legislation and demographics. The galloping inflation and the International Monetary Fund having to bail UK plc out are recalled. The upheavals of Compulsory Competitive Tendering as privatisation bit, and the creation of public/private partnerships, and any number of budget shortfalls have come and gone.

    Y2K that meant our ICT infrastructure would collapse, and then embracing technological change and 100% of services on line, the threats of terrorism and climate change. These were all managed and we preserved the core structures.

    A leader is a dealer in hope. Napoleon Bonaparte

    On Friday 20th November 2009 at a senior management event in Rochdale, Roger Ellis Rochdale’s Chief Executive confirmed that this time it is very, very different. This is something we have not seen before and it will totally transform what we will be doing from this day forward. And the challenge we face and how we meet and overcome it will bring out skills that will be in demand the world over.

    He was addressing the 200 Rochdale managers who have almost all now been on the Enterprising Leadership Program. They will face this challenge and his challenge is simple, you will come up with radical and innovative solutions, and I will not expect to give you permission to do your job, you will just do it!

    The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done. Peter Drucker

    So what does he think will be needed? In the past if we as a Council decided a scheme was needed by a community, or the government or the community wanted it we delivered it. If take up or outputs seemed low, we went back and put more resources into it to make it a success. If an elderly customer was eligible for support it was put in place and delivered. If you were entitled to meals, or any of our services, we put in the infrastructure for you to access it. It was all about counting outputs and meeting targets.

    Oldham praised for ‘revolutionary’ care: A revolutionary scheme which puts Oldham people in control of their own budgets to buy social care has received national acclaim. Oldham Chronicle – 30th April 2008

    But if take up is low then you are saying ‘I don’t want it. If giving control of a personal care budget to the client is possible then you need to do it. The institutionalised care regime, the hand out based dependency, all created the broken society of destroying our humanity. We see it all around us, and so if we give control and budgets to the clients, then they buy what they want, they create a customer centric service.

    “The system starts with the assumption that they [the care providers] have the right to be in control, so you will get abuse [of the system]. We have seen the massive growth of residential care since the 1980s, with no evidence that this is a good model and a lot of evidence that abuse is more likely, yet we don’t seem to be able to break the logjam.” Simon Duffy

    For a UK system of self directed support to work, Duffy says, it must be simple, and sufficiently universal in its application, not to go the way of schemes in Canada and the US. There bureaucratisation has seen money wasted in systems that “suck back power and control” to the state. This will be easier to achieve now, as the funding crises strips the back office systems to the bare bones.

    Because the purpose of business is to create and keep a customer, the business enterprise has two-and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Peter Drucker

    This month marks the centenary of the birth of Peter Drucker and its fitting that we are returning to the understanding that the Public Sector is also a business. We need to innovate and we need to sell what we have, the structures we have built up over time may simply no longer be fit for purpose. We need to consider ripping up the rule books and stating again.

    FAHRENHEIT 451: The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.
    If they give you ruled paper, write the other way. – the quote on the first page by Juan Ramón Jiménez.

    In the public sector leaders and staff must now deliver real and cost effective innovation, to deliver a world class performance as a business. Not just by ‘acting’ as virtual markets and business units. It will have to be real and it will have to be radical.

    We cannot afford to fail as we are like the banks, we will not be allowed to fail financially and that adds to the burden of every man, woman and child in our society. We are at the very core of what makes the society we live in function, and at the very heart of its failure.

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like...