Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
We are addressing the question of ‘what is the best approach to going paperless for HR Document Management.’ In Parts 1 through 3, we determined the goals of the project and the anticipated benefits.  Achieving a meaningful business impact requires more than a simple paper to digital conversion.  In Parts 4 through 8 we evaluate each of the alternative approaches. In Part 6 we evaluate the typical IT-driven approach, known as Enterprise Content Management (ECM).

Many organizations have adopted one or more content management applications. These are typically selected by the IT organization as an enterprise approach to managing corporate information. A few example systems are FileNet, Documentum, MS SharePoint, OpenText, Perceptive, and many more.

An ECM is typically deployed by your internal IT department, and generally tied into your corporate security model.  The challenge for the HR department arises in making the document access sufficiently granular to only authorize access to specific documents, and further, to derive the access rights based upon manager / employee relationships.  Reporting structure changes will be reflected in your HRIS system, but they will need to flow to the ECM security model.

There are so many unique documents in Human Resource files that it is often challenging to establish the rules and rights associated with each document category in an ECM platform.  Further, these changes will typically be controlled and require additional participation from IT. HR is rarely able to act in an autonomous manner when the underlying technology is an ECM.

Paper document images can be a challenge for an ECM.  They are generally treated as BLOBs (binary large objects), and the underlying ECM rarely knows much about the contents of the BLOBs.  Additionally, ECM’s are geared toward managing data, and are generally inefficient at storing and manipulating BLOBs.  In addition, encryption may not be an option, so there is an added security risk.

Lastly, security is generally controlled by IT, and frequently IT has ultimate administrative rights to data in the ECM.  As such, someone in IT often has the right to see any and all information in the ECM.  From an HR perspective, this is an exposure of PII that may not be acceptable.  Aside from the general issues of anyone having access to PII, consider scenarios that you are enabling from a HR perspective, opening access to senior executives’ employee and benefits documents by making it visible to an IT administrator.

The ECM security and interface will control accessibility.  These systems are built for enterprise corporate use, so finding and retrieving documents will be routine.  Access becomes a bit more challenging when it involves third parties such as lawyers and regulators or auditors.  The last thing an HR department wants to do is be in a position where they need to retrieve documents from the ECM and email them to third parties.

Similar to the document attachment model, if managers, employees, and outside parties can be allowed to self-serve, then an ECM can be an efficient solution.  If you end up having to lock things down so that HR staff are the only ones that can retrieve or upload documents, then there really is not much of an efficiency gain for HR.

Once the system is built and configured, the tasks that require finding documents and working across employees to find similar documents can be quite easy in an ECM.  These are typical database-style activities, which is where an ECM will perform well. However, a lot depends on the consistency of the document naming convention and the design and implementation of the system by your IT department. A typical complaint is that the IT department did not understand all of the requirements of the HR department, and the system delivered is simply not usable, or too inflexible to support without ongoing IT involvement.

Cost and Complexity to Implement
This is really the major downside to an ECM approach. Enterprise systems are very costly to acquire, implement, and maintain. Generally, HR will only be one of several corporate functions being served by the ECM, so the cost will be spread across departments. However, creating the specific HR application will be a costly, resource intensive, and complex task. ECMs are general purpose tools, so it takes a lot of work to create a special purpose solution for the unique needs of the HR department. The result is that HR will rarely get what they want and need for the amount the corporation is willing to invest.

Many ECM vendors talk a good game about their HR solutions, but the reality is that it is frequently an underserved backwater of their larger offering. The result is that it will require investment to build what HR really needs. It is possible to create an excellent outcome, it just takes additional time, money and resources. HR will be at the mercy of the IT organization for ongoing updates and support, and rarely will HR be at the top of the list of priorities.