Image by: Nuthawut Somsuk, ©2019 Getty Images

Document management systems have become very complex, especially when implementing a new system across many departments. Each of those departments often has a different business focus— all the while installing multiple technologies at the same time (including paper/electronic document management, workflow, and records management). Additionally, each department may have their own unique back-office system, such as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) or human resource information system (HRIS) system. They also maintains their own schedule with potential blackout periods that will need to be considered as well.

Because of these diverse technologies and departmental needs, the implementation plan must address each department not only as a unique entity but with a unique schedule. We have come to recognize that the “big bang” approach does not work.

Instead, a phased implementation will improve your ability to successfully implement a new system throughout the company. By phased, we mean that the initial implementation is only rolled out to specific departments. The particular departments selected for this initial phase may be determined by several factors, including:
  • Departmental Needs for a Document Management System: Each department should be reviewed by the key stakeholders to be prioritized for the initial implementation. Inside knowledge of the department and personnel may be significant factors in this decision.
  • Paper vs. Electronic Documents: Paper or electronic can be big factors in prioritizing a department for the implementation of a document management system. A department may be drowning in paper and, because of that, may be missing deadlines or having problems getting their work done. This type of need should be considered when making your priority list.
  • Department’s Ability or Capability to Incorporate the New Document Management System: Some departments—or personnel—may be tech-savvy and eager to be the first department to implement the new system, while other departments may be very resistant to change or might not believe the technology will improve their work and functions.
  • Return on Investment or “Bang for the Buck”: Prioritizing the solution implementation can also consider which department provides the most bang for the buck. In other words, can a document management system improve productivity and save money? In accounts payable (AP), for example, you may be missing quick-pay discounts because the current system for payments is too slow. Customers can also add to the overall workload by asking when they are getting paid and, in some cases, demand a discount due to the length of time for payment.
  • Connections with Back-Office Systems: If the AP process is currently broken, one of the reasons may be the fact that invoice data has to be manually entered into the accounting system for such entries as vendor name, vendor number, amount, etc. This slows the overall process and may be a source of data entry errors. Instead, a document management system with an AP function can scan the invoices and automatically enter the data and invoice image into the accounting system faster and with more accuracy than the old method.
To account for how each department works differently when it comes to paper and electronic documents, workflows, connections, and so on, each will have a different iteration of the document management system. Historically, implementing six different departments from one set of requirements has not worked.

What these companies and vendors do not realize is that it's very time-consuming to develop the necessary build requirements, wait three months for the contract to be completed, delay for another month while startup meetings are scheduled, and then finally start programming the system. When users are presented with the new document management system, it may only work marginally, be already out of date, or users will start submitting issue tickets and change requests.

The growing volume of issue tickets and change requests slows down the acceptance of the new system and may cause users to abandon it—only to return to using their file share, “C” drive, email attachments, etc. At this point, the document management system would be considered a failure, and rebuilding the system and the user’s trust may be impossible.

Instead, the answer is to select one or two departments to implement the new system first as follows:
  • Select the first department to be implemented
  • Work directly with users to show them the system's user interface (UI)
  • Talk to them about their detailed requirements
  • Map out their workflows on a whiteboard so users can participate and approve them
  • Build the system based on those real-time requirements
  • Iterate the process
Users will appreciate being part of the process and will be more invested in making the document management system work.

By implementing a system in an agile fashion—working one department at a time—the overall success rate of the document management system will be much higher, users will be more inclined to actually use the system, and the overall time to implement the solution may be shorter than a traditional "big bang" approach.

In addition, if your information technology (IT) department is part of the implementation process, they will have a much better understanding of how each department operates, will be better positioned to make technical recommendations, and will more easily understand what a change/enhancement request involves and if that is the best course of action for that department.

Bud Porter-Roth has over 20 years of experience as an enterprise content management (ECM) consultant, with a focus on cloud collaboration, electronic document management, records management, and paper document projects. He is also the author of Request for Proposal: A Guide for Effective RFP Development. Follow him on Twitter @BudPR or contact him at