Seven Signs You Need an ECM Makeover

As we head toward the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in early November, I’m pondering ways IT organizations can address item #4 on EDUCAUSE’s list of top IT trends for 2012: “Improving the institution’s operational efficiency through information technology.” Why this item? Frankly, I’m honing in on this one because operational efficiencies can be greatly impacted – for better or worse – by the range of capabilities (or lack thereof) provided by one critical component of an IT infrastructure: the enterprise content management (ECM) platform. That’s assuming, of course, there is one in place at your institution.

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities have neither a roadmap nor a solution for getting them to true enterprise-supporting ECM. Instead, the IT landscape is often dotted with departmentally disconnected bits and pieces of basic document imaging and basic workflow routing capabilities. Useful but extremely limited, these are the barest bones of an ECM framework. This non-governed, piecemeal approach blindly ignores a comprehensive ECM strategy – the kind that drives and supports operational efficiencies across a wide and complex range of cross-campus processes and needs.

And, even if an institution has deployed a centrally managed document management system used by various departments, a study of its functional area use and a look under its covers – from a design and administration standpoint – may reveal significant limitations to optimal, efficiency-driving utilization and to cross-enterprise expansion. What can an institution do when it finds itself backed into ECM-stifling corners? In a word, convert. Move to a single, comprehensive system that doesn’t force departments to bump their heads against a low ceiling of capabilities and doesn’t require a heavy reliance on central IT to administer, upgrade and expand.

How do you know when it’s time for a conversion? Look for these tell-tale signs – first from the perspective of functional area users, then from the perspective of IT.

Functional Areas:

  1. Workflow – Business process workflows are limited to basic point-to-point document routing, with little or no capability for complex parallel or non-sequential processing. Want to send a notification from one process workflow to a user queue in an entirely different workflow? Want to do a sophisticated call-out to an external service? Forget it.
  2. Mobility – Functionality is not available on a variety of (or any) mobile devices – smart phones, iPads and the like. Or, if it is, the functionality is limited to basic document retrieval. Think you can execute workflow actions from a mobile device? Think again.
  3. SIS integration – At best, users are able to retrieve documents from student information system (SIS) screens. Wish you could automatically update the SIS document checklist as new documents enter the ECM system? Wish you could automatically update it with decisions users make in process workflows? Wish your document management system could get real-time updates from the SIS when key data values change? And, wish all those updates could occur in real-time, at the database level? Keep wishing.
  4. Office applications – Users who are heads down in applications such as MS Office, SharePoint and Outlook can’t easily – if at all – interact with document management tools without leaving those application interfaces. Want to execute a workflow task while working in your Outlook inbox? Want to move SharePoint document libraries and list items to a permanent, secure archive while retaining links to those objects within the SharePoint interface? Yeah, right.


  1. Configuration – Building out and altering business process workflows is a laborious, cumbersome process, characterized by a heavy reliance on scripting and custom coding. Want to hand off configuration tools for functional area technical leads and business analysts to tweak their own departmental workflows? Thinking about mapping and building your next five department workflows without relying on outsourced vendor services? Dream on.
  2. Upgrades – The thought of moving to the latest version of the document management software (if there is a new release, which is rare) is an anxiety-inducing nightmare. Wondering how you’re going to unbuckle all those custom-coded workflows, workarounds and bolt-ons and then put it all back together after the version upgrade? Sure you are. But, forget about ease and speed. Instead, prepare yourself for months of head-scratching – and headaches, otherwise known as downtime, delay and user outrage.
  3. Deployment options – Essentially, you have none. The document management system is designed for point deployment, department-by-department, and/or it has architectural limitations when it comes to scalability. Worse, your only deployment option is premises-based, on your campus – a campus already overloaded with applications to manage and administer. Hoping you can offload your ECM needs to a secure, proven and stable environment in the cloud? Sorry, but your head is the only thing currently in a cloud – your existing document management system can’t live there.

Face it. You’ve been in this neighborhood too long. It’s time to bring in the moving vans.

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