Archive for the ‘Process-centric design’ Category

Common Characteristics of Highly Successful ECM / KM Projects

July 4, 2012


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!


Intranet / Solution Sponsors and Governance

June 6, 2011

This week I have had meetings with a number of clients where the issue of governance has been a major topic. Two in particular come to mind, and which I would like to look at in this blog article. After comparing and contrasting their situation, I’d like to invite you to comment on which you think will be more successful. I’d also like to pose the question about what level in an organisation you need to have sponsorship and authority.

At the outset, I include not just intranet and information management solutions in general, but line of business or point solutions built on ECM technologies, exposed through your intranet. True ECM platforms provide content management, workflow, forms, and reporting, and these are the building blocks of line of business solutions.

Both of these clients are at the initial stages of implementation and planning.

The first of my clients has an admirable grasp of the complexities of information management. They understand that business content is in a constant state of flux, and that the framework needs to encompass relatively static content (eg. policies and procedures) but also the transient content generated by collaboration. They understand the importance of classification and taxonomy, of communicating the corporate models across business units, and ensuring subject matter experts are responsible for managing their part of the corporate taxonomy. They understand that information has a lifecycle, and are committed to information management policies that enforce retention where appropriate and automate the review or deletion of information after its useful life has passed. These are major parts of an information management or governance framework.

The second of my clients understands that governance is important. They don’t yet have a picture of what governance means in any detail. They don’t understand the roles which will be involved, or how it will be done. They are learning along the way. They understand that it’s very important to have senior sponsorship, which they have achieved in a state of management flux, and an inclusive process which brings departmentally based stakeholders into the process.

Both are using the same ECM solution – in this case SharePoint – not that the specific technology is particularly relevant.

Which of these projects is going to be successful? This is what I would like any readers of this blog to think about.

This is a bit a of trick question. It’s the start of the journey for both organisations. I sincerely hope both will be successful. In the former, it’s a bottom up approach, driven by IT. In the second, it’s a business driven approach driven from senior level with substantial pressure for a short delivery timeframe, but understanding that it’s strategically important to get it right.

By now there should be some alarm bells ringing on both sides.

I believe client #1 has the best approach for maxiumum potential outcome, but the least chance of achieving it. Further, I think they have the chance  of it being a resounding failure. Client #2 I assess as having a good chance of achieving a moderate success. But at best, they will fall far short of what they could achieve as far as business benefit. I doubt this will be an issue – because they will be blind to what they could have achieved.

Client #1 has no business authority to impose the processes and responsibiities needed for success. IT will need to negotiate with each business unit and get their agreement to adhere to a common approach and invest the cost of departmental staff and time. They have three chances of success – a) fat chance b) pushing it uphill c) in a month of Sundays. Having no effective ability to go out and explain or communicate things to the business is the primary issue. They probably have grossly insufficient budget to do so. Having a senior sponsor is not an automatic fix for these issues – but having one lessens the difficulty and increases the chance of cooperation of stakeholders.

Client #2 doesn’t know what they need to do to make their initiative successful. But they’re willing to learn and adapt along the way. Most importantly, they have ownership and authority to impose directions, ensuring consistent adoption. What they are missing is an understanding of how best the technology can be used to support business processes. Nontheless, they will get some sort of value and business benefits from their initiative.

In these 2 clients there are some absolutely critical truths to be learned. In order of importance:

  • You need executive sponsorship at the lowest level which has authority to impose a mandate and authorise change across the business units affected
  • You need to have budget for training, communications, organisational change management
  • You need to understand what the ECM / technology solution can be made to do to realise business benefits, and ensure this knowledge / skill is spread through the organisation

What does this mean? Let’s take each of these points briefly in turn.


When you implement an intranet or a line of business solution integrated with your intranet it will cover a number of business units.  Line of business solutions are inherently workflow-based, and hence span numerous business units. Think of any business process, and then those who are its participants from start to finish. You’ll have:

  • some initiation trigger or event
  • a need to formalise this into a request – typically then ready for entry via a form
  • maybe an approval from a manager to authorise the request, review the request for completeness, or assign action
  • passing on to the next person for some sort of processing in the next step. Complex workflows may have branching based on conditions and / or parallel processing – as many as required to complete the process
  • final approval – in itself potentially automated
  • execution and / or follow up

In addition, you need to identify metrics, gather them, and report on them both to particpants and management in some sort of consolidated manner. The easy part is the FAQs, policies and procedures and other support content.

Each step typically goes to a different team or business unit. Workflow rarely travels up and down an organisation chart – it traverses organisation structures.

For acceptance of your solution, you either need the approval and buy-in from each of the business unit managers involved , or approval and buy-in of a senior management level executive who has authority which spans each of these business units.

Communications, Organisational Change Management and Training

Setting expectation in those affected by change, and obtaining their agreement that change contributes to some sort of positive and necessary outcome, is critical for acceptance of change.

It doesn’t mean that people have to be happy with change – although this is ideally what we seek to achieve. Some sorts of change are inherently painful, and come about because they are necessary and unavoidable. Thankfully this is not the case in the majority of instances.

However what is critical irrespective of the nature of change is:

  • Telling people it’s coming, what the change will entail, why it will be done and the expected outcomes, when it will happen, what you expect people to do, and how people will be given the information / skills to do it
  • Doing this via a range of communication measures: executive briefings, email messages, posters, online communications
  • Reiteration of the first point again – progress reports
  • Training
  • Constant support in the immediate lead up to, during, and after cutover
  • Ability to report, resolve and communicate the resolution of issues

All this needs to continue until the new skills or behaviours are reinforced and become business-as-usual practice. All of which takes considerable time, expense and hence budget. The key practitioners in making this work are HR and Communications specialists, working in conjunction with technical subject matter experts and business / process analysts.

Understand What ECM Technology Can Be Made to Do

User-centred design is one of the greatest crutches ever invented. Engaging people and seeking feedback during the development process is a different thing. Basing design largely on user input will result in small incremental change based on what they are currently familiar with or experiencing – and side stepping inherently valuable tools in your ECM toolkit.

When people are used to the horse and buggy, they are not going to be able to even conceive what you can do with a motor powered, electrically enabled vehicle – or the types of subsystems and their maintenance required to keep them running.

It’s a huge challenge. Very few people undersatand what a moderm Enterprise Content Management system can be made to do – and without this udnerstanding, the benefits not identified and realised are substantial.

Experience tells me that a business-focussed, business and process analyst who understands what ECM technology can be made to do (as opposed to having to know the nuts and bolts of how it’s done) is a critical role. Equally crtiical is the necessity of ensuring these skills are passed through the organisation, and that this becomes part of the planning and governance framework.

So let’s hope both clients perceive the holes in their respective projects and find ways to plug them.