Enterprise or Departmental Content Management: Is It an ‘Either/Or’ Decision? 8 Questions To Ask First

Enterprise or Departmental Content Solutions?There are two seemingly divergent approaches to software implementation. Either you take an enterprise approach, in which an insurer strategically addresses all of its needs at the same time, using the same technological platform, or a departmental approach, in which different workgroups and divisions choose solutions and deploy them as needed.

Proponents of the first approach say it offers a more cohesive methodology that facilitates better decision-making and saves money over the long haul, while backers of the second claim it yields a rapid return on investment and allows users to select tools that best suit their needs.

Each approach has its merits and drawbacks. But, does implementing enterprise content management (ECM) solutions in insurance have to be an “either/or” decision? Can’t insurers begin departmentally and evolve to an enterprise-wide solution?

Blending the two – departmental and enterprise – is often the best approach because no solution is one-size-fits-all.  While an enterprise-wide deployment strategy may bring loads of power, functionality and the economies of having everything in one system without having to integrate multiple separate applications, it also brings lengthy, complex implementation and administration.

For many, this kind of undertaking is too much to deal with to address the operational or tactical problems of one or more departments. On the other hand, departmental deployments address one specific need, are easier to implement and tend to be much more feature-rich and robust relative to enterprise suite offerings. But they have the headaches of integration.

To further complicate things, the functionality gap between best-of-breed departmental offerings and enterprise suites has narrowed. At the same time, best-of-breed departmental offerings available as Software as a Service (SaaS) help lower the upfront costs of purchasing new systems and modern technologies (.Net, J2EE, and XML) make it easier to integrate different systems quickly.

If you find yourself torn between implementing an enterprise-wide solution and deploying a scalable, best-of-breed departmental one, consider the following:

  1. Are your needs really that specialized? A surprising number of insurers think their business is entirely unique. While some areas are, many are not – and, vendors have been addressing those “unique” insurance needs for a long time.
  2. Do you really need to integrate all of your systems? Insurers start researching new solutions assuming that integration is essential in every single case, when, in fact, many business functions are disparate.
  3. Does your existing core solution vendor offer what you need, and is it truly integrated? Although many core systems vendors have built out functionality over time and claim to offer breadth within their suite, most fall short of delivering the business requirements insurers need. If your vendor acquired the system, or built it on a different code base, it might not be “truly” integrated, sacrificing functionality.
  4. Do you have the necessary IT resources? While the .Net, J2EE, and XML platforms make integration easier, they still require IT expertise to implement and manage – not to mention a commitment from end users.
  5. Is it better to reap smaller, short-term returns, or hold out for greater, long-term improvements? As the saying goes, “Time is money.” For technology decisions, time is also risk. The longer the wait, the greater the challenges – including technological changes, “scope creep” and evolving business processes.
  6. How viable is the vendor? While some vendors are financially and strategically viable, others may be too young and/or have too narrow of a focus to survive in a competitive industry fueled by acquisitions.
  7. Is a deep discount offsetting less functionality? While adding a module to an existing core system usually costs less than implementing a best-of-breed departmental system, best-of-breed systems cost about the same and deliver considerably more value.
  8. Does the new system warrant a different deployment model, like SaaS? If the business requirements include collaboration, mobility and/or remote access, implementing a best-of-breed departmental system via SaaS makes more sense.

Researching, evaluating and selecting new software solutions are notoriously tough endeavors. They don’t teach this stuff in college and very few professionals make a career out of buying software solutions. Taking time to consider the questions above will help guide your decision.

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