In one of my previous articles, I recognized that electronic document management (EDM) is definitely not a sexy solution for companies. No way can it compare with a fancy enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution or a customer relationship management (CRM) one. Eventually after a long talk, people may recognize that EDM may be of interest, but we are a long way from really understanding it.

In my PhD thesis, I conducted research, using my own methods as well as results published by other authors, on the possible arguments to avoid, or, at least, to postpone, when making the decision to implement an EDM solution, and the results are nothing less than fascinating. Recent data shows that, at a corporate level, the barriers are commonly associated to “lack of time” (45%), “lack of human resources” (36%), “lack of senior management support” (20%) and “lack of budget” (28%). Nevertheless, at the individual level within those corporations, we see a self-censorship concerning the EDM implementation or need based on the following reasons: “It is not my job,” “present system still works,” “no budget,” “I don’t want to make waves” and “I wouldn’t know where to begin.” Although, two of these arguments are clearly connected to financial constraints—“lack of budget” and “I do not want to make waves”—they could be easily avoided if the corporate culture was different.

To start with, individuals belong to departments that have a budget, and clearly, the implementation of a solution that should serve the whole corporation would not fit into a department’s budget. EDM should be looked at as a corporate matter, not as a departmental one. On the other hand, if top management assumes the rigid attitude of not investing because of the financial context, then people will not advise any kind of investment, even if that investment, as in the case of EDM, will bring savings and a fast return on investment (ROI)—hence, “I do not want to make waves.” Another interesting argument is the “I do not know where to start,” which is directly related to the inability that many people have to visualize every step of a very long staircase, eventually, due to a lack of habit in analysis and project management.

In another perspective, in what we call traditional resilience, this may be distributed in the below levels:
  • Lack of consensus at the problem identification
  • Lack of consensus on direction towards a possible solution
  • Lack of consensus that a solution is, in fact, the recommended one for the problem
  • Worries that the solution may bring unwanted secondary effects
  • Lack of a clear path around the obstacles that are blocking the solution
  • Lack of follow-up after an agreement to go on with the solution
If we address the nine most-used arguments to avoid the EDM solution, then research has revealed the following:

1. If we need it, we usually find it.
“In cases where it is really necessary to find a document, it is possible to send an email to staff, and usually, we find what is needed after some time.”

2. No one is going to sue us.
“Who is going to sue us? I am sure that in any case, we will be able to defend ourselves. We are not expecting any problems.”

3. We have to pick our battles.
“Even if it is true that at an organization, we spend $20 to file a document and $120 to find a misfiled document or even $220 to recreate a document, that is small change to us.”

4. It is necessary that employees keep themselves busy.
“We understand that employees spend, on average, 90 minutes to manage their emails. This is why we pay them.”

5. It is easier if employees meet personally.
“If our staff needs to meet because of a project, we believe it will be more productive to send everyone a draft of the project, and then, each one will travel from wherever he/she is to headquarters to meet his/her fellow colleagues for some days. After all, everybody enjoys going to a hotel and a nice meal.”

6. Our company is not located on a flood bed.
“Of course, we feel terrible when we watch floods on TV with all those documents floating down the river, but we are not in an area prone to accidents.”

7. Information security is not on our priority list.
“Although we close our doors at evening, lock all human resources (HR) archives and use passwords in our computers, we must be flexible, and if our staff want to take documentation home, either on paper or digital file formats, that is fine. We trust them.”

8. Change is expensive.
“When I need an invoice to be approved, I simply put it in the in-basket of the department responsible for that invoice. A couple of days later, someone will pick it up and will sign it. We then archive it, and every few years, we move old documents to a warehouse outside the office. Why should we spend money on something so simple?”

9. Information management is quite complicated.
“Finance management is of the essence for us, and we did buy the best tool in the market. HR management is very important, and we invested a lot on dedicated software, but information management is not critical, and anyway, it looks complicated to manage.”

There are other reasons, which we will discuss in the next article, but the ones listed above would be enough for an entire book. What has brought companies to the present is definitely not what will take them into the future. There is a huge lack of knowledge in the very sensitive field of EDM as a leading role in its own right but also as a supporting role for all the other, eventually sexier, tools.

Joao Penha-Lopes specializes in document management since 1998. He holds two postgraduate degrees in document management from the University Lusofona (Lisbon) and a PhD from Universidad de Alcala de Henares (Madrid) in 2013, with a thesis studying the economic benefits of electronic document management (EDM). He is an ARMA collaborator for publications and professionally acts as an advisor on critical information flows mostly for private corporations. Follow him on Twitter @JoaoPL1000.

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