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User Involvement: A Critical Component of Successful ECM Rollouts

“Ease of use” is not the only factor to consider in gaining user acceptance and adoption.

Recently, I’ve been working on a project that has me talking to a variety of people about the biggest challenges they face in executing their company’s enterprise content management (ECM) strategy. And while they each phrase their observations somewhat differently, the one they all seem to cite as their biggest challenge is user adoption.

On the face of it, this seems counterintuitive. Aren’t we dealing with a workforce full of technology-savvy people? And wouldn’t you think that those people would embrace anything that stood to make it easier for them to find the information they need to do their jobs?

Well, no – and no.

As technology-savvy as members of that workforce increasingly are, when you roll out ECM, whichever software solution you put in place, you are still asking them to change the way they work. You have to find a way of motivating them to adopt what amounts to a new way of working – whether than involves adding metadata to a document, or saving that document to a new repository. There’s a characteristic resistance to change (“Tell me again: Why do I now need to do this?”) and a human factor that has to be accounted for when you roll out a technology that is going to affect the most basic documents people work with on a daily basis – the ones they’re accustomed to creating on the fly and then just shoving into some folder on whatever happens to be their department’s sliver of the shared drive.

The fact is, you can have the best articulated, most detailed ECM strategy out there, but it will be less than successful unless you find a way of addressing the issue of user adoption. In many organizations, there’s an enterprise group that creates the system and the use cases and then develops the lock-down constraints for the content – and then they wind up creating so many constraints, that it’s an insurmountable hurdle for the user population. Certain members of that population then start creating ingenious work-arounds, and where does that leave you? As many early SharePoint adopters discovered, it leaves you with the proverbial shared drive on steroids.

I’ve drafted plenty of ECM requirements lists in my years at Doculabs, as well as my share of RFPs for clients in the market for an ECM system. It never fails but that “ease of use” (or “user-friendliness”) is listed as one of the requirements. But in all too many cases, it’s mere lip-service; that’s the only time the users ever get mentioned.

The key to achieving user adoption is to involve those users from the beginning. Bring them into the solution selection process: help them understand the situation that presents the organization with requirements that need to be met, and how ECM technology will fulfill those requirements. As one person told me, people who have a say in the solution are more likely to invest in it. And you can save a lot of time if you involve representatives of the general user population from the get-go.

This kind of user involvement is a cornerstone of Doculabs’ consulting methodology. We do it through user interviews and user surveys, and the educational value cannot be overestimated. We hear out these representatives of the ultimate end users concerning the content-related issues they face, and we help them understand where ECM would make a difference. Engage the users throughout the process, and you stand the best chance of reducing the resistance to change – not to mention you also identify, early on, any pockets of potential resistance, the better to address them during the rollout. But ultimately, you also educate them and help them understand the value that ECM will bring to them in their work processes, as well as the business benefit it brings to the organization as a whole,