Common Characteristics of Highly Successful ECM / KM Projects


Several years ago I did a large survey of content and knowledge management projects. The aim was to understand what led some projects to succeed and others to miss the mark. The survey covered more than 80 organisations.

There were indeed some common factors, and even a decade later, the factors remain as relevant today as they were originally. While good governance is critical, the nature of a project is also important. Projects which aim to improve the effectiveness of an organisation’s processes generally achieve more than projects aiming at improving efficiency.

A couple of key differences stand out. A decade ago, there were few enterprise-wide ECM / KM projects, whereas today there are few which are not. A decade ago most projects targeted a set of processes, and in general had clearly spelled out, process-related goals. If you read my blogs, you’ll see I have a strong view that information architecture should be based around business processes and organisational strategy. I believe that enterprise-wide implementations have contributed to a focus on generic ‘content’ at the expense of processes, leading consequently to difficulty in writing a business case and measuring success. Mind you, it’s hard to imagine in today’s environment organisations NOT using their ECM in each and every one of these process groups.

The saying ‘content is king’, often heard from ECM vendors, misses the mark. Process is really the king. Its our business processes which develop and deliver products and services – and for that matter drive our expenses. All content results from processes, designed as input or support for other processes.

The article below is extracted from a larger paper I wrote as the keynote for a marketing technology conference in Taipei. If anyone would like a copy I am happy to email it through.

How to Make Content and Knowledge Management Succeed

The subject of content and knowledge management covers a broad area and requires special skills and planning. What do we need to do to succeed? Let us look at some lessons from a survey of 83 companies that looked at the focus of effort and outcomes resulting from 93 separate content and knowledge management projects.

The projects were classified as high-, medium- and low-impact projects based on realised benefits, usage trends and levels of enthusiasm amongst the user communities. Each of the projects was linked to a strategically important activity involving the re-use of information.

More than two-thirds of the high-impact projects related to production, development or customer service, as shown in the table below.



Production   Development


Customer   Service


Competitive   Intelligence/Strategic Planning




Sales   Processes


Project   Management


Intellectual   Capital Management


Table 1: Application of High Performing Projects

 Of the overall projects, 65% were associated with revenue generation or process quality improvement. 35% were primarily for cost reduction. However of the high performance projects only 5% were associated with cost reduction.

A number of key characteristics were common amongst the successful projects.

Plan Your Approach

76% of the high-impact projects had a detailed strategy for reaching their goal. By comparison only 13% of low-impact projects had a detailed strategy. Content and knowledge management is a means not an end, and must have a well-defined business goal and supporting strategy.

Organise Your Content

Information must be capable of being found and being understood. Merely storing it in a database holds little value. You must be capable of creating paths through the information via structured information hierarchies, key word searches and high level information about the information (metadata).

The companies that are most effective at organising and transferring information also ensure that the key individuals who know the subject matter are identified (termed knowledge gatekeepers), and that references are available to assist consumers of the information follow up with next steps.

Invest in Content Maintenance

84% of the high-performance projects provided for investment in ongoing content maintenance. Two kinds of roles were commonly defined: Those who had skills to extract and organise the content (librarian roles); and the business experts who created or determined what went into the content.

Plan for Change

If you change your process you must plan for it. Measures vary depending on the focus of the information and include user training, usage promotion and ensuring that the community understands what is in it for them.

Of the low-impact projects, none included change management measures.

In addition to the above I recommend strongly that any tools you choose should also give you metrics allowing you to measure how the systems and information are used. Remember that usage patterns will change over time – and if they don’t you are in trouble!


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