ECM: What To Do Before You Get Organized

Written by Tim Haight

I'm VP of Technology Services for CGNET. I love to travel and do IT strategic planning.

June 17, 2014

ECM should organize this officeEnterprise Content Management (ECM) is the practice of organizing material electronically so that it can be effectively stored, accessed, and used by an organization. But what do you do when you have to organize information before you’ve done any ECM?

Here’s an example I’ve been thinking about. What if a major executive is leaving? The executive is faced with documents on personal computers (and perhaps other devices), on file servers, in email, and in non-electronic form. I’m using documents in the broadest sense, to include multimedia and possibly even strange file types, such as apps. Probably, by the time that the departure is clear, there is a short period, at most a few weeks, to organize what is to be left behind.

If your organization is prescient enough to have developed policies for this situation, you’re in luck. Even without specific procedures, other policies may come into play, such as broader document retention and discovery policies. But let’s assume they don’t offer much practical help, beyond setting limits.

Ultimately, all this stuff could be put in a nice repository, such as in SharePoint. My advice to you, however, is not to attempt this in these circumstances. Instead, do as little as possible and resolve that now is the time really to get started on serious ECM.

Minimalist ECM

This does not mean to do nothing. Two main issues have to be addressed. Who should not see some of this material (confidentiality)? And who really ought to see some as part of the transition (urgency)? The confidential material should be separated out from the rest and put somewhere with restricted access. The urgent material should be classified in terms of who is supposed to see it and distributed accordingly, and securely.

For the rest, the first question is how the information is being used now, how it is currently structured, and whether a particular human is going to be responsible for it after the executive has left. If there is time, some discussion of use cases would be helpful. If we know what categories of documents are used for different purposes, we can begin to create a folksonomy within the general category of that person’s documents.

This, however, assumes that the way the documents are currently organized isn’t good enough. A lot can be done with full text search over a reasonable file structure. It is possible, after all, to index network drives. The basic consideration should be not to hastily create a structure, such as one full of quickly conceived categories in a deep folder structure, that is going to make the real ECM effort that should come that much harder. People are finding that flatter folder structures work best.

The usual solution for email, in the absence of an organized system in which to integrate it with other content, is to preserve the account and give the appropriate person access to the account. Hopefully, not much personal content was ever there, and what was there was removed.

My main point, however, is that efforts like these neither substitute for ECM nor provide an opportunity to achieve ECM quickly. What they do is remind us that it’s time to start the longer process of getting organized.


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