Shopping for ECM is just like buying a suit
With some weddings looming on our family calendar, my wife took to encouraging me to buy a new suit. Now, I’m usually quite happy for my wife to buy me clothes as she has much better taste than me. However, a suit is something a bit different. It’s a more expensive purchase, I’m going to have it for a long time and it is going to have to fit me. There was no other option than for me to do this myself.
After assessing my options and budget, I finally bit the bullet and started shopping around, trying the cheapest and fastest option – the department store. My first venture out was rather discouraging. After several stores where I just couldn’t find anything, I was finally closing in on a suit I liked, when the sales assistant approached me and said, “Oh sir, I think you are looking in the wrong area. These are athletic fit.”
The cheek of it!
I went home to lick my wounds, dust off my gym membership and rethink my options. The department store “off-the-shelf” route was proving difficult. Another option which I’ve always fancied was visiting a tailor, so I started poking around with that idea. The first website I visited proclaimed that they were “one of the top six tailors in the world,” talked about a “Custom Experience,” “Personal Investment” and had pictures of bottles of Scotch right on the website (my favorite).
All of this screamed EXPENSIVE to me and I went no further.
So there I was, stuck between the expectations of my wife and two choices I didn’t really like. I needed something that was exactly right for me; I am a business professional so wanted something quality and that looks sharp, it needed to fit the body I actually have (rather than the body I want!), but I didn’t have the time, money or desire to get something custom made.
It occurred to me that I was now in the same position as many people when they are shopping for an enterprise content management (ECM) solution. Those involved in this important decision need to ensure they are buying a quality product that will meet the expectations of their organization and fit their processes today (even if they are not as lean as they would like). They also have budget and time constraints. The fact that a successful project will make the decision-makers look good galvanized the analogy between suit shopping and ECM purchasing in my mind.
So how do these two options relate to ECM? Let’s explore the same two options I did:
Option 1: Buy something “off-the shelf”
Sure, there are some cheap and quick-to-deploy products out there touting themselves as “ECM” that can get you up and running quite quickly. However, though you might have initially been willing to squeeze your processes into solutions like this, pretty soon you will find their inflexibility – the inability to be adapted as your processes change, to add new functionality or to evolve and meet your future requirements – will leave you as uncomfortable as that cheap polyester suit your mom bought you when you were 12.
Option 2: Get something tailored
Although no ECM vendors call themselves “tailors,” some are just like that. While some offer a range of “ECM capabilities,” they don’t offer it all in one ECM platform or product – they own several through years of acquisitions. To actually build your solution will require the “stitching together” of several different products and the creation of custom code.
The end result can often be of a very high standard, but the majority of the cost is in discovery, custom code, testing and implementation. These solutions take a very long time to implement and can continue to be very expensive in the long run because the “tailor” will either insist, or be the only one qualified, to make all future changes themselves. This leaves many hot under the collar.
So what’s the right path? Are there really only two options: off-the-shelf or custom-made? In discussing my suit dilemma with my wife, she opened my eyes to a third option.
Option 3: Find something that fits and tailor to your taste
This is the route I ended up taking, and it was great. I went to a shop specializing in suits where the cuffs and trims were unfinished. I found one I loved that fit my body type, the on-site tailor measured me, asked my preferences and in a week or so, I had my gorgeous new suit which fit me perfectly and came in right around the budget I had in mind.
This same option exists with ECM. As you utilize tools such as the Gartner Magic Quadrant to evaluate vendors, look for a vendor who specializes in ECM, where they have specific expertise in your industry and provide a platform which is easily configurable without requiring custom code to meet your exact needs. You want to work with a technology provider who knows exactly what you need, and has the expertise to get you a perfectly fitting solution, in a cost and time-efficient manner.
The experience was so good, in the end I didn’t just buy one suit from this vendor, or even two, but three! The lesson I learned was this: when making an important purchasing decision, of course the end result is important. However, how you get there is just as important. Ask as much about the vendor and their approach as you do about the product itself. That way you will totally understand what the whole experience is going to be like, from the beginning of the project and way into the future.
In the end, I accomplished the most important thing. By making the right decision, I delighted my key stakeholder (my wife) and that suits me just fine.