Deploying a document management solution will change a company’s processes, enhancing corporate knowledge, enabling easier document retrieval, improving regulatory compliance, and saving time.
It can also change the corporate culture for the better.
However, deploying such a solution is not a quick and easy process. Because the project will impact every part of the organisation, it takes time and forethought to get the platform right, and that forethought needs to begin even before the software is chosen.
In my experience, there are three “foundation stones” of research that are essential for document management success:
Do your homework
It sounds trite, but before making any investment, it pays to be thorough in your research. The first thing to do is identify your biggest need. Look for areas of the business that will benefit most from document management and automation, where you can achieve fast gains and be assured of an early return on investment.
With the need identified, it’s time to create a shortlist of vendors. Look to vendor-neutral document management thought leaders such as the Australian Institute for Information Management, or Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia for information on best practices, seminars, research reports and surveys.
It’s also worthwhile tapping into the findings of analyst research firms such as Gartner and Forrester Research to help narrow your list.
Don’t forget to talk to your peers. By soliciting recommendations from fellow institutions and talking to end-users, you can often get a much better perspective on how a system will function in a real-world scenario.
Another useful source of information is the client lists on vendors’ websites. Call a few organisations similar to yours and seek their thoughts and experiences. They can provide an insider’s view into how they use their document management – or enterprise content management (ECM) – solution.
Cross examine your options
With a shortlist created, it’s time to research each vendor’s products.
Ask for a demonstration that isn’t just a generic show and tell. A strong vendor will tailor the demonstration, showing you your organisation’s own processes and if you choose, they can even use your own documents. The key to this stage is to ask questions.
Sometimes vendors use a slick demo with lots of bells and whistles, but when you look a little closer, it can be less than impressive. Asking vendors if they can do something isn’t enough. You should always ask them how they do it and why they do it that way.
Ideally, you want to identify the solutions that provide your required functionality out-of-the-box and those solutions that will need customisation. This will also help you to get a better feel for a total cost of ownership, not just the initial cost.
When evaluating document management or ECM solutions from a product capabilities standpoint, there are several questions to consider:
1. How well does the product’s functionality match your particular business requirements?
2. What is the expected return on investment?
3. What are the costs required to implement and use the solution?
4. How easy is it for employees to learn and use?
The answers will allow you to gauge a product’s capabilities and how well a given solution will meet your needs.
Although your initial need may be for a single department or for a particular business process, don’t limit your sights. The right solution should have the ability to expand beyond your immediate requirements and have the potential to become an enterprise standard. If it can’t scale to meet the needs of the entire organisation, you risk the solution becoming a one-off in a single department that can’t communicate with the other core technologies you use every day
Choose your best fit
The last foundation stone involves scrutinising the vendor. The reality is that every software implementation faces challenges. Document management deployments are no different. What matters is how serious those challenges will be; how many you can prevent; and how you and your vendor deal with them.
Therefore you want to select a vendor that you are comfortable with, who you believe you can work effectively with. You need someone you can trust and a company that will be there with you for the long-term.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to find a vendor that has extensive expertise in your field. They bring the added value of industry knowledge such as the best practices, tips and tricks for your solution.
Again, keep in mind how the solution will grow and evolve with you. It should be designed for change, easily altered by IT so that it meets your needs right now and over the next five to ten years. Make sure the vendor is focused on developing and improving the product, and that there is a history of consistent upgrades.
Spending time on each of these three research foundation stones provides the information that will enable you to make an informed choice of document management solution and vendor, resulting in the selection of solution that best fits your organisation’s needs – for your immediate project and for possible future expansion.
It arms you with the right knowledge to make a smart choice. All that’s left is the decision.