How to develop an ECM strategy and roadmap The 7 stages of enterprise content lifecycle management

5 steps to a successful ECM implementation project

Implementing an ECM system is not all about technology; it's also about the people. A proper rollout requires feedback from key business departments and personnel.

An enterprise content management system can provide major benefits, such as organizing important digital information, making business data and documents easily findable. But the implementation of such a large and complex system can be time-consuming and presents major challenges.

Before you reap the benefits of ECM, you must implement it -- a process that involves a variety of different departments and stakeholders. The key to a successful ECM implementation lies in the combination of planning and partnerships.

Here are five steps you can take to ensure a smooth ECM implementation.

1. Enlist a team of stakeholders

Many people think an ECM implementation is centered around technology. But the success of your ECM program depends only minimally on the technology you choose. A more important consideration is centered around your stakeholders -- the end users and team leaders who plan to use or benefit from the ECM software. You should examine how these key stakeholders feel about the project and whether certain ECM systems can meet their business needs.

Input from your stakeholders should help you understand how an ECM system affects different departments of the business. This understanding should improve your chances of success.

You should create a concentric team by moving outward, from an implementation team to a governance team and an executive sponsorship team.

listicle image for the five steps of an ECM implementation
Follow these five steps for an ECM rollout.

2. Define your ECM goals

An ECM system is expensive. Therefore, your company must clearly understand why you need content management software and how you plan to implement it. Defining the project's goals can be a good exercise for all involved teams, including IT and executive teams. This should help everyone get on the same page regarding priorities and processes.

You should define the goals of your ECM project with your stakeholders. Goals depend on your specific situation, but some common ECM goals include the following:

  • Improve information security. An ECM system should build content security into storage, workflows, and all potential interactions of content creators, content consumers, ECM developers and ECM support. Customer data might require special security features.
  • Support compliance. The ECM system should support compliance with relevant laws, regulations, guidelines and standards for policy, business process, privacy, traceability, records management and security. For example, the corporation needs to provide discovery and legal hold; the ECM should support the litigation team in this process. Build risk limitation into your program with continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) and other processes that limit the possibilities of human error in the management of code and testing.
  • Reduce friction in the business. As you roll out your ECM strategy, evaluate opportunities to improve the business, such as streamlining search time or reducing friction between users and their access to the information they need. The best justification for your program is a measurable ROI.
  • Implement content tagging. Determine ways to identify your content that could help with search, navigation and workflows. For example, think about how a taxonomic ontology could improve business processes. Understand how you can automate or simplify the creation of tags for pieces of content as your users interact with the content lifecycle.
  • Integrate automation and AI. Ask yourself if there are manual rules and processes that you could automate. Can some content tasks -- such as approval, archiving and routing -- be better aligned to your business outcomes, thanks to big data analysis of the content? Content management is not merely document management. It includes non-document media types, such as audio and video, as well as unstructured documents. These might present additional automation opportunities.

3. Plan for your goals

Once you determine your goals, plan on how to reach them. This could be through refinements of the current system or building a new system. This might require you to consider content migration and user training and buy-in.

For each goal, it's important to balance time-to-market with its effects on the business. Determine whether there are important things you can complete faster than others. During this step, optimize your implementation timeline and roadmap.

An ECM system must adapt to new realities if you want it to remain viable and valuable to your organization.

4. Build, test and deploy your ECM

One of the biggest mistakes in an ECM project is using the waterfall model to drive the implementation process. In this development methodology, an IT team gets a list of requirements and a long timeline to figure it out. Almost invariably, the team returns with a Frankenstein's monster that meets no one's expectations.

It's better to drive your implementation project using the Agile or Scrum methodology and CI/CD to maximize stakeholder engagement and program flexibility. Iterate in biweekly or monthly releases that stakeholders can evaluate.

By moving incrementally toward the goals, you provide opportunities for learning and course correction as the program progresses.

5. Iterate and refine the system

Despite completing a successful implementation, the work is not over. An ECM system must adapt to new realities if you want it to remain viable and valuable to your organization. You should include in your plan the capability to build, integrate and refine your ECM to deliver future business value.

Editor's note: This article was updated to improve the reader experience.

Jordan Jones is a writer versed in enterprise content management, component content management, web content management and video-on-demand technologies.

Next Steps

Document management vs. content management: How they differ

Dig Deeper on Content management software and services

Business Analytics
Data Management