8 Things You Need to Know about Developing an ECM Information Architecture
John Mancini

By: John Mancini on August 26th, 2009

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8 Things You Need to Know about Developing an ECM Information Architecture

Metadata  |  Taxonomy  |  Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

Information is our most important corporate asset, but the value of that information can only be realized if users can quickly find and use it. All too often, companies are handcuffed by numerous departmental or standalone content management systems, each with unique or incomplete information architectures. Getting to enterprise information architecture requires careful consideration during the design process, including:

  1. Requirements and not just technology should dictate the architecture.

    Solutions developed in a vacuum are far more likely to fail. Users must be involved in the definition process as much as possible. At the end of the effort, the desired result is that users can intuitively find what they need quickly and easily. The best solution is not always out of the box from the ECM vendor.

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  2. Start with what you know.

    Nearly a third of all companies have implemented Master Data Management (MDM) technology in order to gain control of their structured data sources. Unfortunately, few companies are utilizing that data to assist with the development of their ECM information architecture. In most cases, the ECM system will be integrated with other systems such as ERP, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and other core business systems. Take advantage of existing folder structures to understand how users currently categorize content and look for any industry standards that may exist. In most cases, one will find existing industry standards for elements such as metadata, thesauri, and taxonomies. Taking the time to map out data sources will provide considerable cost savings both during development and ongoing support of the information architecture.

  3. Don’t create something unwieldy.

    It’s important to have a comprehensive information architecture that provides a benefit to the company, but there can be a fine line between adding value and creating overhead. Users will gladly tag content if they know it will benefit them, but when tagging becomes a chore, the value is gone. The same can be said from a retrieval perspective. Even though an advanced search may help users narrow down their search results more quickly and effectively, many users still prefer the simplicity of a basic keyword search. Sometimes, less is indeed more.

  4. Inheritance is a good thing.

    So, how much is too much? The more that can be done for the user, the happier they will be and the better the data quality. There are a number of ways to default metadata values, including information based upon user profiles or folder locations. All efforts should be made to limit the impact of tagging on the user.

  5. Consider implementing a Thesaurus to improve search results.

    Every industry, company, and even discipline has its own language, including acronyms and core terminology. Authors often revert to common acronyms without spelling them out. This simple act can affect a user’s ability to find the documents they are looking for based on the terms they search by. With mergers or acquisitions, the acquiring company’s terminology will tend to become dominant, and the acquired company’s legacy terminology will slowly fade away, often causing the documents from the acquired company to become “invisible” via the search process. Using a thesaurus can greatly improve the user’s ability to find the information they need.

  6. Leave all options on the table.

    Typing a term into a search box is not always the best path for a user to get what they need. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that folders are not recommended or that they are outdated. In reality, there are situations where folders provide a very valid way for users to access information. Folders may offer an opportunity to default information, which improves information quality and end-user satisfaction. Multi-faceted taxonomies are not “out of the box” for most ECM vendors, but they do provide tremendous value for specific business applications. Strong information architecture should provide flexibility in how information is accessed.

  7. Data governance is critical.

    Developing information architecture is not the end of the process, but rather just the beginning. The information architecture will surely change over time. Understanding what will change and controlling the impact of those changes is critical to the architecture’s long term viability. Data governance should be a core component of any ECM governance plan. From an information architect's perspective, it is important to identify who is responsible for the various components of the architecture, including core data sources, metadata standards, and taxonomies.

  8. Think big and think portable.

    All too often, ECM deployments are departmental in nature. As a result, only the implementing department’s needs are taking into consideration at the time of the design. Other departments may rely on the information and should be a part of the information architecture design process. For example, the finance department may be implementing a solution, but the internal audit department may benefit simply by being a part of the discussion to ensure that their needs are met as well. Beyond the multiple departments, companies need to think about multiple systems. Many companies have more than one ECM system and, without consolidation, those systems should be aligned. Developing information architecture standards will drive improved access to information across all platforms by providing a more consistent user experience.


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About John Mancini

John Mancini is the President of Content Results, LLC and the Past President of AIIM. He is a well-known author, speaker, and advisor on information management, digital transformation and intelligent automation. John is a frequent keynote speaker and author of more than 30 eBooks on a variety of topics. He can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as jmancini77. Recent keynote topics include: The Stairway to Digital Transformation Navigating Disruptive Waters — 4 Things You Need to Know to Build Your Digital Transformation Strategy Getting Ahead of the Digital Transformation Curve Viewing Information Management Through a New Lens Digital Disruption: 6 Strategies to Avoid Being “Blockbustered” Specialties: Keynote speaker and writer on AI, RPA, intelligent Information Management, Intelligent Automation and Digital Transformation. Consensus-building with Boards to create strategic focus, action, and accountability. Extensive public speaking and public relations work Conversant and experienced in major technology issues and trends. Expert on inbound and content marketing, particularly in an association environment and on the Hubspot platform. John is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of William and Mary, and holds an M.A. in Public Policy from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.