Selecting a new ECM solution is not a task to be performed lightly. The system you choose will manage your corporate secrets, touch every staff member, and comply with every geographical and industry regulation known to your business. This is an important decision and one that will take some time. 

Identifying and selecting the best enterprise content management software for your organization has multiple dimensions. From precisely defining what you need the new system to do, right through to testing the solution before you purchase, this is a project, not just a simple task. But fear not - in this blog, we create a project template for you by exploring four simple steps that you need to take to build the perfect selection process. 

1 - Understand Your Needs

Believe it or not, many organizations do not explicitly define what they need before selecting new software. Crazy right? But how many of you have simply replaced old versions of software with more recent versions without considering alternatives? Why? Because it is easy. But this approach causes more problems than it solves.

You need to begin the selection process by exploring what you are actually looking to do. 

  • Not which system you are looking for. 

  • Not what the budget is. 

  • And, most importantly, not what functionality the new system should have. 

  • But what you as an organization need the solution to do. 

The answer could be as simple as storing all of your legal correspondence or as complex as processing thousands of monthly incoming invoices using AI - but defining the objective allows you to set firm expectations and clear scope for the pitching vendors.

Once you know what you are looking for, it is time to talk to the people who do this daily - the end-users. This conversation will be enlightening as the users’ view of what is required is often very different from IT or finance. Discuss with the users whether the existing way of doing things works - or if there could be better or alternative ways of achieving your goals. The key here is to engage users early and often throughout the scoping phase and beyond.

This phase of the selection project should result in a concise but detailed core requirements document. That document should contain details of:

  • Precisely what problems the solution should address

  • Any other processes or systems that the new solution needs to interact with

  • Any legal, regulatory, or compliance factors that need consideration

  • What incumbent options exist - with an honest evaluation of their success to date and applicability to solve the problem 

With the core requirements document complete, you can move onto the next step.

Recommendation

Use professional business analysts to create the requirements document. If you don’t have these on staff, hire them in for the project. You will save time and money in the long run.

2 - Understand the Options

The good news is that there are many places to go to research ECM solutions to address your needs. But equally, the bad news is that there are many places to go to research ECM solutions! Oh, and everyone does things in a slightly different way. However, when exploring ECM products, there are particular core functions and feature-related questions you should be asking. These fundamental questions include:

  • Is the solution available in the cloud, on-premise, or hybrid model?

  • What pricing options exist? 

  • Which core ECM capabilities does the solution offer? [Link to WP] 

    • Capture, Store, Access, Process, Analyze, Migrate, Federate, Integrate & Automate

  • Does the system have an open integration capability via REST-APIs?

  • What out of the box integrations exist?

Recommendation

Create a standard checklist to grade each potential vendor against - identifying each vendor’s product capabilities and build a prioritized list of your top choices.   

3- Look Beyond the Software

  • Of course, the software is only part of the overall package you need to select and purchase. In fact, many ECM specialists claim that the software only accounts for around 25% of the overall deliverable. So what else needs to be considered? You need to understand more about the vendor themselves - what other customers they have, what delivery services they offer, and more.  Does the vendor have other customers who are similar to you - vertical, size, geography? If they do, then you know the solution likely solves your challenge. If not, are you willing to be the first?

  • What support levels and packages does the vendor offer? Knowing that you have on-demand access to bug fixes, technical and user support relating to the product is important for some enterprises but essential for others.

  • How long has the vendor been in business? Do they have a track record, or will your organization be their first client? 

  • Does the vendor offer migration services? Can the vendor import your existing data and documents to the new system or introduce a partner to do so?

  • Does the vendor offer professional services to configure the solution to your specific requirements? Unless you purchase an off-the-shelf solution - which rarely happens in ECM - you will likely need professional services for installation, configuration, training, and migration.

  • Is the vendor recognised in the marketplace? Do they have customer references, peer reviews, or analyst ratings?

  • But most of all - what type of vendor are they. Are they an up and coming player with exciting, innovative solutions? Are they a legacy vendor who has a 20 year track record, but an aging product? Or are they somewhere in the middle? 

Only you can decide which of these profiles fits your specific requirements - but choose carefully!

Recommendation

Ask early for customer references in your industry and of a similar size to yours. Make sure you talk to them - about the solution capabilities, the implementation process, and more.

4- Try Before You Buy

As the saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding,” so sample the pudding. Very few people buy a car without a test drive; few marry someone without getting to know their future spouse first - so why would you commit thousands of dollars of spend on a system that might not be a good fit for you?

  • If you’re looking at a SaaS or cloud solution, it should be straightforward for you to test it.

  • On-premise solutions are slightly harder to test because they require more upfront effort to install but should still be possible.

But in all cases, you should fight to get access to a trial environment, or even better to perform a proof of concept (POC) that includes your data and some sample business process. 

However, you need to be prepared to pay for this privilege. A vendor should not do this for free - but consider this an investment. By taking the time to test your potential purchase, you are either confirming that you are about to make the correct decision or finding out that you are about to make the wrong decision - both of which are incredibly valuable. 

Beware of any vendor who will not commit to a PoC.   

Recommendation

If you pay for a POC, build a clause into the contract that treats the POC payment as a down payment or deposit on the overall project cost. 

Final Thoughts

Any enterprise content management solution is a large and complex beast. But while the selection and purchase need to be comprehensive, it should not necessarily be lengthy nor complicated. The four steps described in this short blog offer a straightforward plan to define specific requirements and then check all relevant boxes when identifying and selecting the best fit ECM solution for your organizational project.    

 

For more information on what makes a great ECM solution and how to identify the best system for your environment, take a look at the additional resources below: