From chaos to control: five ways to beat the enterprise software sprawl

Departmentally-deployed software packages, which sit outside the enterprise IT strategy, are a major headache for organisations. Here's one way of fixing the problem.

One of the biggest problems to plague IT departments is the independently, departmentally-deployed software package. Sitting outside the enterprise IT strategy, these often redundant packages and systems operate in isolation, quietly causing chaos in areas ranging from governance and IT administration to support and expansion.  
Among the most likely candidates for this scenario are document imaging, document management and workflow technologies. This is especially true in situations where software capabilities have been deployed in simplistic ways, for example, where a document management system is used to create an electronic filing cabinet. In the worst instances, the solution mix includes multiple vendors or a combination of home-grown and purchased software.
The reason this is so problematic is that all these technologies should form part of a true enterprise content management (ECM) enterprise platform. They are a core part of the central IT infrastructure and should not exist as an aggregated hodge-podge of departmentally scattered point solutions. When deployed as a single, enterprise platform, ECM capabilities go way beyond basic paperless filing and routing. ECM becomes a platform for supporting an organisation's mission-critical endeavours, introducing components such as records management, advanced capture, business process automation, advanced workflows and application integration. 
To avoid the danger of strategy-limiting, IT-burdening software sprawl and to ensure your organisation's ECM initiatives support rather than hinder the business, here are the five keys to ECM success: Consolidate, Configure, Connect, Consider the Cloud, Convert. 
1. Consolidate

Don't let your organisation become littered with one or more basic scan-store-retrieve systems or rudimentary document routing workflows.  Limited in functionality, it rarely takes long before users users of such systems begin to bump their heads against the low ceiling of capabilities. The most common areas of frustration are workflow, mobility support and integration with office applications.  
If you do find yourself being asked to deal with multiple or ill-considered systems, the solution is simple.  Map a strategy and timetable for shutting down disparate, redundant and unnecessary systems and for moving all departmental document storage and workflows to a single, central ECM platform. 
2. Configure 

When basic document management systems are administratively supported by IT, much of the setup and tweaking – especially in the area of workflow – calls for scripting and custom coding. That kind of work consumes massive amounts of IT resources or dollars on vendor services for subsequent departmental projects. 
The back-end administration tools of these systems are rarely intuitive enough for IT to consider handing off administrative tasks to the functional areas. As a result, IT is constantly burdened with requests relating to management of user privileges, adding document types or running system reports. 
When this occurs, it's time to consolidate or convert to a single enterprise platform that provides configurable system setup and administration. Look for point-and-click, drop down-menu-based configuration tools. Investigate how the system accommodates design and setup of business process workflows. If you don’t see a wide range of pre-built rules and actions for building user tasks and automated system work into processes, beware. 
3. Connect 

Integration is another common problem with basic imaging or document management systems. Users are limited in workflow execution and IT is limited by the lack of available tools to enable data exchanges with other enterprise systems or applications. 
The best advice is to seek a solution capable of connecting to many different systems. To avoid transaction failures, it should work in real time rather than operating on periodic batch updates.  The ideal ECM is a system that can handle real-time, bidirectional, database-level exchanges without relying on scripting or custom coding to make them happen.
4. Consider the cloud

Departmental-style document imaging systems are designed primarily for in-house deployment, management and administration. With an ECM however, there is always the possibility of a secure, stable cloud deployment. 
If the cloud figures in your enterprise IT strategy and your business objectives, look for a provider who offers the flexibility to move the system back in-house at a later date, if you so choose. Also confirm that the cloud-based ECM solution can integrate with your related on-premise applications. 
5. Convert

Attempting to extend a simple document imaging system to take on more complex tasks risks laying the responsibility for yet another custom development project at the feet of IT. More often than not, such projects fail or don’t happen at all because IT resources aren’t for ongoing support, and/or because the systems simply can’t scale, even with repeated custom-programming efforts. 
This is when the need to convert to an ECM platform becomes clear.  The “E” in ECM stands for breadth of capability and a design that allows expansion. Carried out appropriately, a conversion should not require any lost sleep. Just be sure that the process is characterised by diligent planning, measurable milestones and comprehensive input from stakeholders of all levels, throughout the enterprise.
If an organisation plans for controllable and sustainable growth, doesn't it make sense that it should seek those same qualities in its information systems? Independently deployed workgroup or department solutions may provide an expedient solution for the users, but they introduce numerous administrative, support, maintenance and governance problems for IT. By following the five steps above, organisations can reclaim order from chaos and make the transition from multiple disjointed and inadequate document imaging systems to a single, manageable, expandable and sophisticated ECM. 

Jim Bullough is the managing director Pacific region for CAYLX Software.

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