One document management vendor to rule them all?

  • 18-May-2010

Most of our work here at the Real Story Group involves helping people to make the right technology choices, but as often as not this means making best use of your existing investments, rather than buying new software. 

Case in point: Today I chatted with the good people of Elkhart County, Indiana, about their experience of trying to consolidate all their document management needs to a single provider. In this particular instance the vendors in question were Laserfiche and Docuware, but the lessons here would be the same regardless of the systems used.

The long and the short of it was that the County was advised by outside consultants to standardize on a single software provider. This is a common enough piece of advice, but it is not one that I give out too often.  The reason being that if you have 10 systems running, consolidating them under one umbrella sounds like a smart idea, but when it gets down to it, the effort may just not be worth it. And that's exactly what Elkhart County found out.

After a year of trying to consolidate two systems together, they gave up. Zero progress had been made, and so they simply continued to use Laserfiche (happily I might add), their legacy document application.  The reasons for the failure were many and complex, but two or three key aspects are well worth anyone contemplating the same move to bear in mind:

  1. That consolidating systems requires an awful lot more skills than just document migration; you effectively have to reverse engineer everything.
  2. Consultants and SIs who can implement a new system simply don't know where to start when dealing with decommissioning legacy applications
  3. Finding people who understand the new system and the old ones equally well is near impossible
  4. Legacy systems almost always have had some degree of tweaking away from vanilla
  5. Legacy systems often integrate with and support other legacy applications and processes

Put these together and what seems like a simple task of "consolidation" becomes a very complex one -- oftentimes just not worth the effort.

Today it is most often Microsoft's SharePoint product set that is touted as the "one system to rule them all". In the past it used to be Documentum or FileNet. And over the years I have heard many a CTO declare that their organization will in the future consolidate all their disparate ECM needs under one vendor banner. Many have even gone as far as paying for new licenses up front. Many have found that this was a costly mistake to make.

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