Six strategies for low-cost content management

Enterprise data is creating an information overload in many organizations

Some content is priceless, but the systems that manage them can wind up a little too pricey.

According to research firm Gartner, the market for enterprise content management (ECM) was worth US$2.9 billion in 2007 and will grow 12.9 percent through 2011. Although Gartner says software licensing for basic content services can cost less than US$100 per user for large volume deals, requirements for extra functions will increase the initial software costs if content management components are not included.

How do you set aside enough money to solve the initial ECM pain points and create a strategy for the future? We asked the experts for some ideas.

1. Open source may do the job.

Alongside well-established firms such as IBM and EMC, independent developers have created alternatives such as Drupal, Plone and Joomla. These can be readily adapted for Web-based ECM and even advanced projects with minimal up-front costs.

"If you have a business case (for proprietary software) that makes more sense you should do that, but if you don't consider an open source solution you're hurting yourself," says Harold Jarche, a content management and collaboration technology consultant based in Sackville, N.S. "The thing with open source is you have options on who's doing your service, whereas with proprietary, the development and the services are one in the same. That's at odds with the clients' best interests."

Jarche says the degree of open source use may depend on the amount of in-house IT expertise and the amount you're willing to spend on consulting. He suggests companies should also research the ease of using the open source system they choose. "It's not the functions so much as the strength of the community -- is it on version 1.0 or 7.0?" he asks. "How many installations have there been? Who's providing support services?"

The International Association for Open Source Content Management, is one resource to connect developers and users through events and electronic backgrounders.

2. Budget outside the box.

At the Canada Council for the Arts, an enterprise content management project was launched back in 1999 to deal with Y2K issues. At that time it made sense to cost it out in a separate budget that took in training and communications as well as software costs, says Michelle Chawla, the organization's corporate secretary. The project ended up allowing all staff, not just the records group, to file their own documents -- such as the nearly 17,000 grant applications it receives each year -- and access them independently.

"Certain things were easy to budget, such as licences," she says. "Where we needed flexibility was in terms of the unknown -- what would it mean to decentralize records management throughout the whole organization -- we weren't sure of the implications on workloads, or the nature of how software would change."

Some companies may fund ECM projects based on specific departments who benefit from the technology rather than the IT department, but that doesn't always work, says Alp Hug, senior vice-president at Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text Corp. "If there's an enterprise-wide project going in place and the first phase is in contract management for the finance department, I don't know that (taking the money out of finance) balloons or reduces the cost of the project, necessarily," he says.

"I would definitely phase the number of implementations and then cost average it across the organization. Commit to a larger deployment up front and purchasing over the long term." Now as it prepares for a major upgrade, the Canada Council is allocating the ECM costs out of the IT budget, an investment that will likely be spread over several years, Chawla says.

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