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Best practice: 3 mistakes to avoid in document management projects

Written by Tom Laureys on 09/06/15

Many organizations still fail to manage their digital documents properly. They store the growing number of digital documents in multiple locations or spread over a number of personal cloud-based file sharing accounts. As the amount of digital information grows at an ever faster rate, this chaotic approach to document management leads to frustration and lost time: employees waste time searching for the correct document version, business processes are slowed, more mistakes occur, and money is wasted.

However, on the other hand, fostering good collaboration between employees brings many advantages and enhances their abilities to work well together. Employee engagement and efficiency is higher, knowledge is shared, and business processes run smoother. With the right enterprise collaboration solution, employees quickly find the information they need and interact more. Working through the cloud, even working together whilst in separate locations is no longer a problem and allows employees the flexibility to work in any location suitable.

But document management and collaboration projects not always run as smoothly as expected. The reasons are often a mixture of wrong expectations and bad project approaches. In this post we would like to share our experience on document management best practices and discuss 3 mistakes we commonly see being made.

A little tale on a big file server

Meet John. John is the IT manager of GrowBig, a fast growing company which prides itself on being digital.  Until now, GrowBig’s contracts, invoices, reports and other digital documents were managed on a file server. But GrowBig is getting larger and employees have started to complain about the file server becoming a mess, that documents are lost and never retrieved, and that final versions are hard to identify. 

John knows the answer: he selects a top-notch Document Management System (DMS), hires a consultant to define document types and metadata and then gives all employees access to the DMS. Case solved.

A few weeks later, however, it turns out the DMS fails to attract users. Most employees are still using the files server, a few are using the DMS, and some used the DMS for 3 weeks and then switched back to the good old file server. John is shocked, angry even at the ungrateful employees who don’t seem to appreciate his swift action to save them from document chaos.

What went wrong? Are those employees really ungrateful? Well, maybe John made some typical mistakes when launching the DMS in GrowBig. Let’s analyze those common mistakes in more detail.

Mistake #1: Regarding the document management system (DMS) as an application instead of a platform

Some IT departments still roll out their DMS as if it were an application, like MS Office. They buy the DMS, install it and then just throw it at the employees. What’s wrong about this approach? Well, a DMS is a platform and not an application. This means that a DMS offers a bunch of features for managing documents (version management, search, metadata…) which can then, by means of configuration and/or coding, be used to build applications with it. 

But hey, a DMS typically comes with a default application and user interface, no? Yes, that’s true. But the default application for a DMS only covers a very limited use case  — typically project collaboration, such as in MS SharePoint and Alfresco —  and it would be quite surprising if all your document management requirements can be efficiently accomplished with it. Just think about GrowBig’s need for contract management, where you would typically need to have the system notify you some period before the contract expiry date in order to stop or renew it. This kind of useful business feature would never be offered by default, but would need to be configured based on the platform features in order to get to a powerful contract management application.

How to avoid this mistake?

Develop a Document Management roadmap: identify the document-centric applications for your organization and then prioritize them based on impact and feasibility.

By doing so, the AMPLEXOR consulting team has already revived a number of document management systems after failed first implementations. In such cases,  it’s taking a step backwards to move forward again.

Develop a Document Management roadmap

Mistake #2: Making things too complex

So a DMS is a platform with a bunch of pre-built document management features. In that sense it is often compared to a Swiss army knife. But a knife can cause dirty wounds when used wrongly, and the same goes for document management systems. Some document management implementations aim to use the available features to the fullest: they define plenty of document types with lots of metadata, develop workflows that span multiple walls and create user interfaces with a dazzling number of options. 

In fact, mistake #2 can be considered the opposite of mistake #1: while in #1 the DMS implementation was too simple, in #2 it’s much too complex. Some DMS implementations seem to suppose all users are trained archivists who love categorizing documents.

But in fact 99% of employees just want to get their work done and are not interested in filling metadata or handling workflow tasks if there’s no added value for them. So let’s hope John’s consultant is aware of that, and was experienced enough to avoid useless complexity.

How to avoid this mistake?

Strike the right balance between simple and complex.

This requires expertise from the business analyst: knowing when to stop squeezing in that extra function or button. A track record in past DM implementations, knowledge of user experience design and some technical background create the perfect mix in this case.  

Strike the right balance between simple and complex.

Mistake #3: Forgetting about change management

So often preached and so rarely performed: change management. 

A DMS implementation often touches a large portion, if not all, of your employees. To make things worse: there's nothing simpler for your employees than dragging and dropping document on a file share (even if that leads to chaos in the long term). Both facts make change management essential. No matter how well-designed the document-centric application was, I’ve rarely seen success without true change management. If we return to John’s DMS woes, this was probably his main mistake. If you don’t involve employees, they will most probably stay with what they’re used to: the file server. 

How to avoid this mistake?

Just do it.

Organize that change management, not just by providing some end-user trainings but by involving end-users from start to finish. Explain the plans to them, involve them in the analysis phase, have them test the implementation after each sprint and show them the value.



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Tom Laureys

Written by Tom Laureys

Tom Laureys is Solution Manager ECM at AMPLEXOR based in Belgium. For the past 10 years, Tom has been helping clients across industries find the right technology to effectively digitize their business processes and improve collaboration and productivity. His combination of strategic thinking and expertise in a range of platforms - from Alfresco and Documentum to SharePoint and Office 365 – grant him the capacity to capture new trends on the market and turn them into solutions for our customers.

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