Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Compliance, Collaboration and Web 2.0 Content Management (ECM)

With all the talk about layoffs, budget cuts and spending freezes it’s no surprise that investments in enterprise technology have declined. After all, how can you think about enhancing business performance when you’re not sure who’s going to be around to run the operation? However, as we’ve discussed before, doing nothing with your infrastructure during a downturn may be a recipe for failure itself. Businesses that ignore technology improvements can sometimes find themselves at a competitive disadvantage and possibly even become takeover candidates for more savvy competitors.

I was thinking about this after listening to a respected IT leader explain why she believed fear-based marketing tactics were not particularly effective in down economies. We were discussing what motivated organizations to adopt policies and technologies intended to better protect and track data when she suggested that a “greater of evils” decision theory might overwhelm more rational evaluations during tough times.

The concept suggests that if the economic environment is so unpredictable that managers are uncertain about the prospects for their business, then appeals to protect it from other potential, yet unidentified threats aren’t paid much attention. Thus, while compliance initiatives appear more sensible in calmer times, the desire to protect one’s assets from the unknown declines as economic uncertainty increases.

This sounded a bit like doomsday logic to me, until this same executive suggested that it made more sense for her to consider compliance technology investments based upon their ability to deliver competitive advantage vs. just providing calamity insurance. If you expect that your organization has an equal or better chance to ride out the downturn, she reasoned then adopting technologies that can put you ahead of your competition make sense.

The IT exec’s hypothesis seems logical to me. So, I guess the fundamental question for the glass half-full crowd is what technologies can meet this test? I would guess any solution would still need to present a rock-solid ROI pedigree and impose little hardship upon the current organization or its business processes. Solutions that behave the most simply - like familiar consumer web applications would appear most applicable, it would seem.

In the case of compliance solutions this would mean understanding how potentially at-risk information is being used and determining more efficient ways to facilitate that process. For this exec’s business, finding a better solution meant updating standard collaboration methods and migrating those processes to the web. Content became better protected during transport and in it’s stored state as a result. While compliance was improved, the strategic competitive advantage gained would be what paid for the solution.

Obviously, highly regulated industries can’t avoid compliance requirements. Businesses that compete within them must simply build the cost of compliance into their budgets. For other organizations achieving compliance is more often considered a necessary evil and avoided or pushed to the bottom of priority lists. For these businesses, achieving improved compliance via content management tools can be less like sugar-coating a bitter pill and more like getting a good two for one deal.

End users in many organizations are clamoring for easier ways to share information and keep up with the piles of documents that dominate their workdays. The collaborative benefits of web-enabled content management technologies have already proven their ability to help address these challenges. The fact that they can also help get an organization’s information into a more secure and compliant state shouldn’t be overlooked. It just may not be the first thing you want tell everyone about.

Why not test out this concept for yourself? Software as a service or (SaaS) ECM solutions are ideal candidates to become familiar with ECM technology without the hassle of installing and managing any software. Xythos on Demand is a good example of this. It offers many of the enterprise-class features available in its on-premise cousin and you can get started using it in minutes – literally. As always, please let me know what you think.

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