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April 4, 2012 by Terence Roche Terence Roche

An Open Letter to the ‘C’ Team –
Why You Need to Push an ECM Strategy Now

040412a“I like work. It fascinates me. I sit and stare at it for hours.” –Oscar Wilde 

Greetings, “C” team members. And, just to clarify, the “C” team is not the group of employees at your bank who managed to maintain this letter as a grade point average from grade 9 and beyond (although some of us, given the level of ingestion, socializing and other non-educational activities we undertook during that time, are actually pretty amazed we averaged even this).

No, this offering is for the CEO, CFO, CIO and other “C” level executives who have the opportunity and responsibility to focus the organization on opportunities that can be game changers. The game changer that’s the topic today is enterprise content management. The message is that it’s time to focus the organization on this initiative.

To begin, you are by no means the people who will ever understand, or need to understand, the details of ECM, and there are people at Cornerstone Advisors (GonzoBanker’s mother ship) who will forget more on this topic than I’ll ever learn. Disclosure complete. So, the focus of today’s rant is really on what an executive should know and do about ECM.

ECM, at its simplest level, can be described as the combination of:

  • Document management – capture/scanning, storage, distribution and retention/disposal;
  • Digital records management (think e-mail and Web data) – same activities; and
  • Workflow management – creating tasks and processes that integrate the records with the tasks being performed.

One big point to understand here is that ECM, when successful, is thought out and deployed throughout the enterprise with a common set of rules and approaches. More on that later.

So, you might think at this point that imaging systems have been around for years in your shop, and there are lots of other technology/strategic projects in the works right now, and “gamer changers” have come and gone and all that’s changed is your cost (upwards). So, why this, why now, and why you?

There are 7 big reasons:

  1. There’s a big damn win out there in terms of ROI. There are almost no financial institutions right now that aren’t staring at the reality that overhead grows more slowly than assets or, in some cases, reduces them outright. Many of the areas where ECM needs to happen are complex businesses with complex processes where the solution for better efficiency is not straightforward – e.g., commercial lending, wealth management, dispute resolution. Two of these are also areas where banks have some of their highest-paid employees (sorry, dispute resolution). We have been benchmarking these functions for years and can tell you that a high performer (75th percentile) is consistently more productive than an average performer by 15 to 25 percent. Translate what a bottom-line pickup like this would do to your performance. It is multiples of the investment. The “C” level needs to demand the payoff.
  2. ECM and process improvement must be joined at the hip – one won’t work without the other. In simple terms, deploying ECM without looking at the processes it supports is, in the words of my associate Michael Croal, nothing more than creating a glorified archiving system. The only payoff is a little less space and fewer file cabinets required, hardly a game-changer payoff. Looking at process without looking at what happens to paper and other records is – well, if I need to explain this to you I have a garage full of IBM Selectrics (yeah, the ones with the cool balls with all the letters that spin when you type!) I’ll sell you right now. The “C” level doesn’t need to orchestrate this in detail but does need to make sure both parts of the conversation take place. 
  3. 040412bEnterprise standards need to be set. There are times when unique standards in different business areas make sense. This is not one of them. There is little value to multiple ECM systems if a single one works. There is no value to different naming conventions and file storage techniques. I was at a bank recently that had six completely different names for a promissory note because six business groups independently chose them. There were also multiple copies of the same files everywhere. The net result was a bank with 1,500 employees that had more than 400 different names for loan documents and over 1,300 files per employee on the bank’s shared drives (and that doesn’t even begin to count what people had on their local drives). Whatever efficiency is, it ain’t this. How do you compare? Go count – you’ll be amazed. Now, you at the “C” level and me writing this article know as much combined about ECM naming conventions, file structures, and single instances of information as we know about the specifics of extracting iron from hematite. However, the concept and principle of standards must be enforced from the top. They will seldom if ever result from bottom-up agreement when multiple groups use the same system. And this is an area where standards don’t inhibit success or get in people’s way in the slightest. In this area, standards are actually empowering, i.e., it is the standards that will enable the success.
  4. You probably already own a lot of the technology you need. Here’s the best thing about this idea. You already own much of the technology you’ll need. Certainly, all ECM systems are not alike and we would understand that some banks may need to upgrade their entire ECM solution. In many cases, though, the ECM tool you have can support your needs, and you may only need to purchase the workflow or some other pieces of the solution to get rocking.  


    “Hey sister, you’re just moving too fast, you’re screwing up the quota.” –Patti Smith

  5. Resources need to be focused and it will be worth it. We have a lot of respect for how many projects your team is working on right now. We also understand that most of your managers, although they would love to get to ECM, probably are just too buried to put people on this – and so they haven’t. You at the “C” level can get and allocate the staff or third party resources necessary to jump start, or accelerate, this initiative.
  6. Vendors won’t ride in and make this happen. Waiting for your ECM vendor to proactively come in and tell you how to do this will not work. This is not a knock on ECM vendors. Rather, it is recognition that vendors, at the end of the day, sell and support software and tools. They don’t sell and support process redesign or information management reinvention. That part’s on you, and it takes top management focus.
  7. This one takes time. A successful enterprise ECM deployment doesn’t fall into the quick-win/low-hanging-fruit space. While there can be some quick benefits realized in key departments in the first 12 months, real enterprise design and deployment will take two to four years. That’s a long time in the world we live in. But that’s the reality. First, it’s worth it in terms of the measurable performance you can see. Second, long projects always need a steady guiding hand at the top of the house to keep focus and interest alive.

Most of you know there is no longer any single big win that can change your performance, if there ever was one. Improvement requires the focused combination of enterprise design, standards, process revision, technology and measurable/enforceable success metrics. The whole area of ECM is ripe for success.

But it needs “C” level focus to happen.

See?
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