If you're an SMB, it's likely you've recently found yourself in the market for an ECM solution. According to Forrester Research, purchase plans for content management technologies increased 15% from last year as firms of all sizes adopt strategies for managing documents, Web content, and digital assets. A recent survey by AIIM shows that a large portion of this growth can be attributed to the SMB community. The survey asked businesses with 100 to 1,000 employees to divulge their ECM purchase plans for 2005. Seventy-four percent of these businesses said they would spend at least $10,000 on ECM technologies throughout the year, and 50% said they would spend more than $25,000.
There are several reasons for the demand for ECM technologies among the SMB community. First, businesses of all sizes have been affected by recent government-imposed regulatory requirements such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). These acts require public and private companies to establish and maintain document retention policies to prove they are operating in an honest manner. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty financial penalties.
Second, the reduced cost of document scanners and storage combined with greater ease of use through improved Web functionality and GUIs (graphical user interfaces) have made ECM solutions an affordable and appealing way for SMBs to optimize internal business efficiencies. "ECM solutions used to be designated for larger enterprises with high-volume, paper-intensive applications," says Greg Schloemer, president of DocuWare. "This is no longer the case. The recent affordability of hardware and software components makes ECM solutions a strategic possibility for all businesses, and SMBs are quickly taking advantage of the technology."
Many large-platform ECM vendors that traditionally targeted Global 2000 enterprises have taken notice of the surge in IT spending by thousands of mid-tier organizations. These vendors see SMBs as an untapped sales opportunity and are vying for entry into this market. Many of these manufacturers have begun offering scaled-down versions of their enterprise applications to make them more affordable for SMBs. Others are acquiring and rebranding vendor solutions specifically designed for midtier businesses. Of course, smaller ECM vendors that have always targeted SMBs continue to refine their solutions, and new SMB-focused vendors and products seem to pop up in the industry every day. An SMB interested in implementing an ECM solution is now faced with a barrage of options and can easily become overwhelmed and confused. The following tips can help you filter through the clutter and choose a solution that best meets your needs.
MODULAR ECM DEPLOYMENT HELPS SMBs CONTROL COSTS
An SMB's objectives in implementing an ECM solution are essentially the same as those of a large enterprise — reduce expenses, improve margins, increase efficiencies, shift costs to growth-oriented initiatives, and comply with changing government regulations. However, there is a major difference in the way SMBs and large enterprises deploy ECM solutions.
"Larger enterprises have the resources to deploy ECM technology as an infrastructure," says Bill Priemer, executive VP and COO of Hyland Software. "While robust, these implementations require considerable installation and integration costs, as well as ongoing administration and support overhead. SMBs are more apt to seek out departmental ECM solutions that address the needs of specific lines of business."
Typically, SMBs initially use ECM to address one business problem area — whether it's accounts payable, human resources, or contract administration. Once ECM helps streamline one process, SMBs look to expand the solution incrementally through the enterprise. The main reason SMBs take this approach is they do not have the monetary or IT resources necessary to implement an ECM infrastructure all at once. By implementing an ECM solution in a modular fashion, you can control costs, making the project more agreeable to company executives.
SMB-FOCUSED ECM SOLUTIONS SHOULD BE SCALABLE, EASY TO DEPLOY
Many characteristics can help determine whether or not a software package is well-suited to the way you implement ECM solutions. First, the software needs to be easy to deploy. "As an SMB, you want software to be implemented quickly and cannot afford to spend many months on external consulting work," says Paul Lord, president and CEO of Westbrook Technologies. An ECM suite with a central point of security and administration can dramatically reduce overhead requirements. A solution that allows integration with other business applications without the need to program through an API (application program interface) also reduces implementation time and costs.
The ECM solution should also be easy to learn, train employees on, and maintain. When evaluating an ECM suite, you should ask yourself how much effort it will take to educate employees on the product. You should also ensure that the solution has an upward migration path so that it can evolve with future technology changes.
Finally, the ECM solution should be scalable to address the growing volume requirements an SMB may face in the future, while being flexible enough to address multiple lines of business from the same platform. "Many midtier organizations make the mistake of choosing software because it provides complete out-of-the-box functionality at a low initial price point," says Hyland's Priemer. "The problem is many of these solutions are point solutions that address only one business need well. As a result, many companies end up purchasing multiple point solutions to address the needs of different departments. This creates administrative overhead, integration issues, and redundant functionality — all of which drive up the total cost of ownership."
FIND AN ECM SOLUTIONS PROVIDER THAT SPEAKS YOUR LANGUAGE
With all the acronyms and blanket terms that exist in the ECM industry, it is easy to become confused by the technology. The key to avoiding confusion when evaluating an ECM system is not to get overly technical. "An SMB shouldn't have to worry about the inherent differences between document imaging and document management, and they really don't care if auto-indexing will allow them to locate a document 5 minutes faster," says DocuWare's Schloemer. "SMBs should focus on how ECM can provide a particular line of business with C-level benefits, such as bottom-line improvements, competitive advantages, and enhanced internal services."
The vendor you choose to work with should be able to speak your language. It should understand your business and be able to talk intelligently about the day-to-day issues you face. It should also be able to communicate how its software can address those issues without a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo. If it can't, look elsewhere. Also, if a vendor tries to convince you to change your processes in order to use its solution, take warning. A technology should adapt to fit your business needs — you shouldn't have to adapt your business needs to fit the technology.
SMBs making their first ECM purchase may find it helpful to work with a local VAR or systems integrator to implement solutions. Many VARs specialize in specific line-of-business ECM applications and have a wealth of domain expertise. These experienced partners can bring together multiple proven technologies to meet your business needs and take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation for an SMB. Furthermore, the high-touch service and local support that VARs provide reduce the risk of the investment and reassure the customer.