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By Jim Jones, Solution Consultant 

You know the Cheez-It commercial where the lab tech assesses how mature the wheel of cheese is?

How would your organization’s enterprise content management (ECM) strategy do when put to the maturity test? Would it model maturity, growth and poise? Or would it be sloppy, unorganized and stick its tongue out when people aren’t looking?

In the mid-1980s, the Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute developed a Capability Maturity Model for the Air Force. The intent was to demonstrate the software development process for military projects, but many organizations have since extended the model to include different subject areas and industries. These models provide a useful way to measure where an organization stands in a variety of disciplines including content and process management.

Different models use different categories to describe the organization’s current state. One particular iteration has the following classifications:

  1. Initial
  2. Repeatable
  3. Defined
  4. Quantitatively Managed
  5. Optimizing

The following information is intended to help you figure out where your organizations sits in the content and process maturity spectrum.

Enterprise Content Management Maturity Level 1 – Initial 

The lowest maturity level represents an organization that has many manual processes that function mostly via the exceptional efforts of a few self-appointed leaders. The content environment is typically unstable because documents are in a variety of formats ranging from physical paper to email attachments. There is little organizational control over content, which leads to unnecessary confusion, low customer satisfaction, and lots of hidden costs. The good news is that if you’re here, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

  • Your organization receives documents from many places – email, snail mail, fax, forms, electronic documents
  • Often have trouble finding documents
  • Customers often have to produce the same document multiple times
  • Employees are unsure if the document in their hands is the most up-to-date version
  • Processes are followed based on historical precedent
  • A few key people instruct and enforce manual procedures for document handling
  • Manual, paper-based, ad-hoc processing
  • Often abandon processes in chaotic times
  • Inconsistent document storage methods
  • Document versioning is non-existent
  • Duplicate data in your system
  • Misfiled documents

If your organization is at the “Initial Stage,” you should be worried about losing customers to your competition. If a customer can transact business with your competitor more easily (AKA without having to provide the same document over and over and wait for long periods of time), it won’t matter how great a personal relationship you have with the client – they will move on.

Our Advice if You’re Stuck Here

Start to use shared drives and put documents in folders. Although this strategy is limiting because it creates departmental silos and there is no way to index the documents, you’re at least leveraging the technology available to you.

Change starts with the people who operate at this level every day. Recognize the flaws in your processes (the things that drive you absolutely nuts) and make moves to improve. Once you establish a folder organization strategy, you can integrate technology that performs the actions for you.

ECM Maturity Level 2 – Repeatable 

Organizations that have a “repeatable” content maturity level have some automated processes within their operations. They also have a few departments that leverage different technologies to help with content management. If your organization is at “Level Two – Repeatable” it also means there is at least one person who actively tries to improve your systems.

Organizations usually arrive at this level in stealth mode. Motivated individuals within particular departments recognize the insanity of it all and start utilizing technology to address their specific issues in a unilateral fashion. Don’t be surprised if the initial movers are associated with sales or order processing activities.

  • Your organization receives documents from many places – email, snail mail, fax, forms, electronic documents
  • Your organization is starting to learn about ECM technology and how it improves efficiency via electronic document storage
  • Simple electronic workflows are invading individual departments
  • Individual departments are starting to see the power of metadata for locating documents
  • Mix of manual and automated processes
  • Select departments with electronic methods for storing and locating documents

Some of the same challenges from Content Maturity Level 1 (e.g. duplicate documents, no formal procedures and difficulty finding documents) carry over to this level, and a new one is introduced: a disconnect between business users and IT employees. While certain departments understand the need for ECM technology, the enterprise has not caught on.

At this level, IT folks are more interested in the technology itself. They start to evangelize a tech solution but don’t understand the cost benefits to gain from a business process perspective. Individual departments try to utilize technology for their specific benefit without regard for standards or what might be best for the enterprise. This is detrimental because departments will start to have their own technologies and processes which will create deeper divides between them, rather than enterprise-wide strategies and methodologies.

Our Advice if You’re Stuck Here

Help IT see the business value of these technologies and how cost justification is a “no-brainer.” Someone in the organization has to be the leader in calling out that there must be a better way – a way to converge all the needs, ideas, approaches and technologies. Standardization across the organization is powerful!

ECM Content Maturity Level 3 – Defined 

If your organization is here, you at least have a good chance against your competition. Your ECM foundation is setting you up for success, but there is still room for growth. Getting here requires the organization to establish and enforce enterprise standards for content storage and processing.

  • Your organization receives documents from many places – email, snail mail, fax, forms, electronic documents
  • Your organization rationalizes existing tools and asks questions like What does ECM mean to us? What will be our process for adding metadata to content?
  • Individuals do not follow passive directions
  • There is a proactive approach that creates the ability to analyze business processes
  • Well-characterized processes understood by everyone
  • Clearly-developed scope of standards, process descriptions and procedures
  • Consolidated systems and processes
  • Able to manage, find and search for documents
  • Visibility into processes

Believe it or not, it’s not until your organization reaches this level of maturity, that the foundation and groundwork for your ECM system really start to be put in place.

At this point, processes are only qualitatively predictable. There are no statistical or quantitative techniques to measure and track process or employee performance. This kind of information is critical to optimizing processes.

Our Advice if You’re Stuck Here

Maturing past the “Level 3 – Defined” state requires the organization to focus on gathering and reporting metrics associated to the documents and business processes (i.e. how long it takes to complete specific processes, work output, number of documents, etc.). While measurement can be intimidating, it is the path to “Level 4 – Quantitatively Managed.”

ECM Content Maturity Level 4 – Quantitatively Managed 

As the metrics collection and reporting capability reach maturity, management teams can manipulate business processes and change the way they collect documents. This positions the organization to further implement sub-processes and streamline document collection methodologies for greater productivity gains.

  • Your organization has standards that extend across the organization rather than within departments
  • By maturing through levels one through three, your executives and upper management realize the importance and cost benefits of an ECM strategy
  • Your customer experiences are fairly consistent
  • There are not a lot of dropped requests
  • Content is easily accessible
  • Standards for collecting content, assigning metadata to it, etc.
  • Automated workflows
  • Content with a well-defined taxonomy
  • Greater predictability of outcomes
  • Confidence that employees across the enterprise execute processes correctly and similarly

Even though you have insight into process performance, you do not have the capacity to identify the causes and make appropriate changes.

There are also no specific tools for process simulation implemented. And with no insight into anomalies, bottlenecks will continue to form.

Our Advice if You’re Stuck Here

Begin to evaluate your ECM system based on system metrics and tweak it so it aligns with key business drivers. This may include integrating into line of business applications, extending applications with plug-ins, or maybe adding new technologies.

ECM Content Maturity Level 5 – Optimizing 

Good for you if your content management system is this mature! Is this Nirvana? Well, life is good, but you never stop trying to improve. At this level, the enterprise actively uses process simulation to predict the impact of changes on current procedures. The organization is becoming more and more proactive and less reactive. It took a lot of work to get here, so take advantage of it!

  • Your organization has reproducible and predictable methods/processes that provide input on how to improve
  • You use collected metrics for simulation, bottleneck prediction and resolution, and to answer the question, “What if?”
  • Proactive strategies
  • Automated processes
  • Ability to measure efficiency and modify processes for greater gains
The danger of reaching “Level 5 – Optimizing” is the potential for complacency. New technologies will always provide new opportunities to do things differently.

Where to Go from Here 

As technology becomes more sophisticated, opportunities for growth and maturation will too. Cognitive capture and predictive analytics will most definitely be aspects of a mature content management system.

Hopefully by reading these descriptions, you have a good idea as to what maturity level your organization has. It is important to note that even if you are at “Level 1 – Initial,” that is okay! The maturity levels build upon each other, so it is crucial that every organization moves through each one. Your processes will not be successful in “Level 4 – Managed” if you did not establish a solid foundation in “Level 2-Repeatable” and “Level 3 – Defined.”

What is also great about not being at your ideal maturity level is that there is tremendous room for growth. If your organization wants to advance maturity levels, improve upon the current one, or simply have a conversation about where it is, here are some options:


About the author: When not at work or working out, Jim can be found peak bagging in New Hampshire.