Author: Laurel Sanders
Preparations for a successful ECM implementation do not happen overnight. They involve in-depth analyses of processes; software that is both flexible and extensible in its integration capabilities; vision; and commitment. They also do not occur in a vacuum. When your enterprise makes the conversion from paper to electronic processes, you will want to pay as much attention to your workforce as you do your technology to ensure that your transition goes as smoothly as possible.
A good change management strategy is critical to the successful adaptation of your project. Accurately preparing your staff for the arrival of your ECM system can mean the difference between success and failure. One of the best ways to generate excitement about the transition is to include users from every area of your enterprise in the planning stage of your implementation.
A transition to electronic processes has the potential to improve the work environment significantly for your end users. Repetitive tasks such as filing and paper retrieval are replaced with immediate access to information. The potential for lost, duplicated, and misplaced records is diminished. Staff can be repurposed from menial data entry jobs to positions that require analysis and critical thinking. Nonetheless, your workforce may be experiencing anxiety surrounding your transition. Talk about automation often leads to assumptions of downsizing-especially in an unstable economy.
Communicate your plans for your staff at the outset of your project, and be sure to address any fears that they may be experiencing. Share your goals and expectations for the project, and invite your staff to participate in the process analysis that will precede your implementation. By openly addressing fears as well as highlighting opportunities, you will help to solidify staff commitment to the project.
Fear of change is one of the biggest reasons that ECM implementations fail. Open communication and staff involvement are critical factors in a successful transition that are often overlooked. Involve your users-along with administrators, IT staff, and decision-makers-by creating a team that will help document your business processes and direct the development of your transition. Set short- and long-term goals. Accept and acknowledge that change-even if it brings immense benefits-is often challenging. Generate a climate of excitement about your transition. Recognize when milestones are met, and celebrate your achievements.
Communication is inexorably linked with collaboration. Be aware of interrelationships within and between departments, and make sure that you are aware of processes that overlap. Successful collaboration should leave you with a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. It involves:
Awareness of documents that are shared between departments
Communicating internal knowledge and experience
Coming up with common search terminology that will be meaningful to different departments as indexing terms
A shared vision for process improvement
Input from every department to encourage buy-in
Encourage creative thinking during the planning phases of your implementation. Are there overlapping processes that can be combined? Are there processes that can be eliminated entirely? The more you can involve your staff in the planning process, the more invested they will be in your automation solution. By collaborating, they will be able to get a firsthand glimpse into the benefits that ECM has to offer.
Another way to ensure acceptance of your ECM system is to make sure that your staff has the tools in place to succeed. Change can be intimidating. But by providing proper training on your new software, you can dissipate many of the fears that are associated with change. A thorough business process analysis prior to your implementation will ensure that at the time of your transition, your organization will be optimized for efficiency. Be sure that you also gauge the current skills of your staff in order to determine your training requirements.
When you assess your training needs, your vision should be more inclusive than just training your end users. Administrators, managers, and other employees could also benefit from a tutorial on the new software system. As part of the training process, determine whether you have the option to practice with your new system before going live. This will help build confidence among your staff and will also ensure that you are able to identify and address any areas that may have been overlooked.
Training will emphasize the ways that your current processes will be enhanced, simplified, and improved by your ECM system. This will help to instill user acceptance. By choosing an ECM system that is flexible and extensible in its integration capabilities, you can ensure that users can continue to work in their familiar applications with minimal disruption. Again, when your users see that the new system will not require dramatic changes in their skill sets, it will help to minimize the stress surrounding the transition.
Choosing the right software
Is your prospective ECM system easy to use? This factor alone has a big influence upon user acceptance. At the end of the day, if the software doesn't simplify the jobs of your staff, they will have very little motivation to adopt it. Software should be intuitive. Access to information should be at your users' fingertips, and should be as simple as point and click or drag and drop. Users should not be subject to multiple log-in screens.
A recent AIIM Survey (Find, Control, and Optimize your Information: State of the ECM Industry 2009) found that "ease of use" was the number one criterion in the list of satisfaction factors for ECM systems. It beat out both "ease of integration with other systems" and "ease of implementation." In terms of functionality, flexibility and extensibility are critical components to a state-of-theart system. But without ease of use, even systems with stellar functionality are doomed to fail.
Encourage your staff to forge relationships with your ECM vendor. Established ECM vendors offer decades of experience. In addition to possessing an in-depth knowledge of the software products, a reputable vendor will also have vast experience in process analysis. When end users are able to work with a vendor support team, they are able to see the benefits that a partnership will offer. Working together, your vendor and staff can identify ways to streamline processes, which will significantly improve working conditions for your users. In addition, they can find ways to enforce consistency throughout your enterprise.
It's true that—as in any industry?there are some unscrupulous vendors out there. Pay close attention to a prospective vendor's reputation, and talk with current customers. Find a vendor that understands your existing business processes, and offers the technology to implement your vision for the future. That vendor will act as a true partner in your ECM implementation, instilling confidence and loyalty among your staff.
About the Author
Optical Image Technology offers an integrated suite of imaging, document management, and workflow software, including document archiving, lifecycle management, electronic forms, and email management products.