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Ensuring the success of ECM implementations is about more than just the technology vendor

Peter Reid.jpgSoftware is an essential tool in today’s technology-driven world. However, statistics show that more than 75% of software projects worldwide fail to meet their budget or satisfy their users.


Enterprise Content Management solutions are one of the most difficult software implementations, and therefore most vulnerable to failing to realise the expected benefits, for a number of reasons. Chief among these reasons is that, while significant effort is put forth into selecting an ECM vendor, many organisations then relinquish the entire project to the vendor and take no further role or responsibility. While it is not guaranteed that this type of “fire-and-forget” approach to an ECM project will fail, it certainly adds to the list of factors counting against success in an already difficult process. It must be stated up front that the most critical factor in a successful ECM project is choosing an experienced ECM Vendor, and choosing the right technology.

Successful ECM implementations rely on so much more than just vendors and technology – they need a passionate, involved and interested customer that will invest not just money, but time and energy into the project as well.

Often a C-level stakeholder can allocate budget to a project, but when asked if they could allocate a few days of their time per week, for weeks on end, the decision is more difficult. It is not unheard of for companies to have implemented several consecutive ECM projects with separate and independent vendors, all of which fail – and the company continues to behave in the same manner on subsequent projects. Ultimately the success or otherwise of a project is in the control of the customer-vendor partnership.

As a client, there are several key things that can be done to help ensure your ECM project meets its goals. First and foremost is to ensure involvement in the project. Simply purchasing a solution from a vendor and then leaving them to run with it will typically yield results that are not as expected.

Secondly, a relationship must be fostered that allows for the flow of information within the partnership – including bad news. A vendor that doesn’t raise issues early, before they become problems, is to be avoided – but conversely if a customer reacts negatively to this type of communication they drastically decrease the chances of the vendor seeing this as a healthy and active way of reducing risk on a project. In fact, some models that predict the likely success of a software project are based directly on the volume and frequency of the flow of information between customer and vendor.

 In addition, ECM projects, like most software projects, must be able to be flexible and embrace change. Sticking too rigidly to constraints from the beginning of the project, that may no longer be relevant, can result in a project that exactly meets the requirements but is not what is needed. Allowing for constant course adjustments throughout the project is critical. But if the vendor alone is doing these course corrections, the end result is a product that suits the vendor, not the customer.

Thirdly, Involvement from stakeholders across the entire enterprise, including business, IT and end users, is essential for success. End users are a particularly important stakeholder to have involved, as the success or otherwise of the project is measured on their ability to use it, and their input throughout the process can be invaluable. Creating a group of champions from across the business to work with the vendor can go a long way towards achieving a successful implementation.

In addition, working together is the only way to align the different goals of the vendor and the client. For the vendor, the goal is to deliver a solution on time and on budget. For the customer, the goal is to gain a usable, functional solution that adds business value. Forming an active partnership is the only way to ensure that these disparate goals align. Time, passion and interest are as important as the financial investment, and organisations that simply buy and forget will inevitably be disappointed.

As the client, firstly it is important to partner with the vendor to ensure that requirements are understood, and then it is necessary to ensure that all parties, both vendor and customer have the same criteria for success. Without this, it is impossible to accurately measure the success or failure of a project. While the same can be said of any software implementation, ECM projects are particularly vulnerable to these challenges. They are typically complex projects that are very specific to the way an individual business works – there is no one-size-fits-all, out of the box solution that will deliver the functionality required.

In addition, accurately visualising a completed ECM project at the start is difficult, as the complexity of these projects and their very nature mean that requirements tend to shift and change throughout implementation. Without client engagement, these changing requirements will not be understood, and the end result will be very different from the solution that was originally envisaged – typically viewed as a failure when the client has a hands-off approach.

When selecting an ECM vendor, organisations should look for a partner that is able to clearly articulate these issues, and makes it clear that successful ECM is not just about technology. The vendor should keep the best interests of the client, the project and the requirements top of mind, and should make an effort to understand the customer’s business, not just the technology.

Ultimately, however, it is up to the client to work with the vendor, partnering to make certain that solutions delivered match business requirements and strategy and deliver the necessary business value.​


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