Chicken or Egg? Three Simple Ways to Jumpstart Enterprise ECM Expansion

At the recent EDUCAUSE annual conference, I heard a theme repeatedly entering into conversations among IT professionals:  When it comes to pushing use of core enterprise software platforms across the institution, what is the role of IT? What role do functional area business owners have in doing the same?  In terms of advanced departmental use and steady cross-campus expansion, the answer echoes that age-old question: Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Does the push come from the “chicken” – IT’s technical understanding of a platform’s true capabilities? Or, does it come from the “egg” – departmental improvement initiatives which uncover the need for new or enhanced technologies?

The answer, of course, is both. Taking enterprise content management (ECM) software as an example, let’s consider ways to leverage both perspectives to drive system growth and ROI.

Share Successes – As with any platform deployment, departmental ECM rollouts will reveal varying degrees of power and sophistication – particularly if the initial departments are still only in early stages of use. But by the second or third year, some pockets of envelope-pushing use of the system will have emerged. Seek out champions on the “egg” side of the house – those innovative departments and functional area leaders who are raising the bar.

Lean on those folks to communicate proven best practices and demonstrate optimized use cases to the larger campus constituency. You can do this through departmental open houses, collaborative retreats, and the like. And, remember to bring the Swedish meatballs: Combine food with food for thought, and the wheels of enhancement and expansion will likely start spinning.

During these sharing sessions, here are some things to investigate and build upon:

  • How, when and why did particular departments evolve from a basic scan-and-retrieve use of the ECM system to utilizing its more sophisticated capabilities, such as business process optimization (i.e., workflow), application integration (particularly with the student information system), mobility, and so on? What results did they achieve?
  • What kind of collaboration occurred between IT and the functional areas that fostered and supported the success of these advances?
  • What recommendations do the departments that have successfully evolved have for others that want to leverage the ECM system to its fullest potential?

Take a Tour – Similar to #1, this is about leveraging the larger “egg” by tapping into the experiences of the broader peer group using the same ECM platform. As we know, higher education is, by definition, “collegial,” and its tight-knit professional organizations – including EDUCAUSE – are a testament to that. Folks in the IT and functional areas of higher education are delighted to share their stories of implementation success. Seek out institutions in your peer network and/or in the user community of the ECM platform at hand that are more advanced than yours in terms of both usage within particular departments and the sheer number of departments that are up-and-running on the system.

Here are some additional things to investigate:

  • How did they handle budgeting and planning for expansion?
  • Were there formal timetables, milestones and benchmarks established as the system began to grow more overtly at an enterprise scale?
  • How are they handling administration and governance of the system as its usage grows?

Show (Technology) and Tell (Stories) – Okay, this one starts with the “chicken.” Have IT take primary responsibility for keeping up with the development roadmap and enhancement offerings of the ECM platform. Make sure IT thoroughly understands the full range of capabilities available in the system and is prepared to disseminate and illuminate those capabilities to the campus at large. Then, complement that understanding with the ground-level, department- and process-specific knowledge of the business units.

Schedule periodic meetings in which IT meets with departments that are either not using the ECM system at all or using it only in basic ways. Provide a forum for departments to describe their business goals, processes and needs, and allow IT to then help identify and align advanced ECM capabilities. Without collaborative discovery sessions such as these, IT is often left in a state of uncertainty about which departments to contact regarding potential ECM initiatives and projects. Similarly, departments are left unaware of capabilities that could well ignite the fires of innovation and improvement within their areas.

Bottom line:  If you want to fully leverage a core platform investment across your college or university, it’s time to start sharing, touring, showing and telling.

Tom von Gunden

Tom von Gunden directs Hyland’s market research, strategy and advisory initiatives in higher education. Tom holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and spent more than a dozen years in higher education, serving as a tenured university professor, program director and accreditation specialist. His deep understanding of best practices in deploying ECM (enterprise content management) capabilities comes not only from his direct involvement in system implementations in colleges and universities, but also from his prior work as chief editor of Web and print publications focused on ECM and data storage technologies.

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