The Right Stuff: Choosing the Optimal Enterprise Content Management System

By Warren Glick, Director of Corporate
Marketing for ACOM Solutions

The market offers many choices for an enterprise content management (ECM) system - and therein lays the problem.

When companies start comparing the features of various platforms, the process quickly becomes bewildering. These selection tips will help keep your search on a straight path to making the right choice for your organization.

Document Current ECM Requirements

Before even looking at ECM features and benefits, decision-makers should document their high-level functional requirements, and to the greatest extent possible - separating "must-have"¬ù functions from "nice-to-have"¬ù functions. Important considerations include:

+ What are the data and document capture requirements? Does the platform need to support EDI, ACH, XML, etc.?

+ What specific active (e.g. Web pages) and fixed (e.g. paid invoices) content will be captured and stored?

+ Which employees, customers, suppliers, and/or business partners will be accessing stored content, and on what devices will they retrieve it?

+ Is the user base computer-savvy or likely to have a steep learning curve?

+ Does computer competence vary from department to department, and if so, where does each user group stand? (Accounts payable, human resources, purchasing/procurement, etc., typically utilize ECM systems.)

+ With what internal systems must the ECM integrate?

+ Finally, what is the budget? These questions will help professionals zero-in on an ECM platform with a sweet spot that matches their core needs - and just as important in the initial stages of their search, they should eliminate platforms that are poorly aligned and would only confuse and complicate the search process.

Document Future Requirements

How will ECM requirements change over the next three to five years? This is a very important (and exciting) question to consider before beginning the search, because scalability may be a crucial platform attribute. For instance, a retail/ecommerce organization offering 1,000 products could utilize a "basic" ECM platform quite easily. However, if the company plans to sell 25,000 products within a few years, will this "basic" platform still be efficient? Similarly, organizations with an aggressive acquisition strategy may require a system with very sophisticated collaborative functionality.

Look at ECM Platforms Beyond Raw Functionality

Identifying an ECM platform that aligns with present and future requirements is obviously important, but the search process should not end there; in fact, it may be just the beginning. In the rapidly changing world of technology, companies come and go, and slick software is no guarantee the company behind it will be around to support the system for years to come. Factors to consider when assessing the company behind an ECM deployment include:

+ Is the provider open-source or proprietary software? If proprietary system, companies are locked into the system to a very high degree, and reliant on that provider's internal development staff for upgrades. Open-source software, in contrast, allows users all over the world to participate in the system's development.

+ If the provider is open-source, does it have a large, active user base? To the extent it does, the likelihood of rapid innovation with platform stability is greater.

+ Is ECM a sizable part of the provider's product offering, a small part or an afterthought? How much support is the provider ready, willing and able to commit to its ECM platform?

+ Does the provider have a track record of success? Is it new to the business or a reliable, highly regarded firm? Is it financially sound? Does it have a talented and stable (by technology industry standards) leadership team?

Start Big, Then Go Small

It's important not to get bogged down in functionality details early in the search process. After one has narrowed the field by looking at these big-picture areas - current requirements, future requirements and a provider's organizational attributes - the time is then right for technical specialists to dig into specifics. Remember that no ECM will be a perfect match. However, a well-developed ECM platform will follow industry best practices, and whatever internal adjustments are needed to use them will probably be in your firm's best long-term interest.