How to Be Successful with Electronic Document Management (EDM)

All organizations seek knowledge. Knowledge is the information gathered and stored by its people. Quality knowledge is not possible without access to all sources of knowledge held by an organization.

All companies face the challenge of ‘knowing’ what information it holds and of being able to access that same information instantly. Organizationally, a company holds this knowledge information in three forms:

  • Paper – Traditional Information
  • Electronic – Modern Information
  • Tacit – Employee Knowledge

A successful electronic document management (EDM) solution must handle the management of these three information types and provide mechanisms for relevant delivery to all staff.

Whether today or tomorrow, it is clear that a company must use a document management system to remain competitive. Paper is the largest ‘database’ within a company  and the most difficult to access and an EDM solution is necessary to manage and access information held in paper form.

What are the typical comments about EDM?

  1. It is slow (perceived or realistic)
  2. Putting documents into EDM is cumbersome
  3. There is duplication of work
  4. It is not available when I need it
  5. I cannot find things when I need it

There are several components required for a successful installation of an EDM:


EDM is an enterprise-wide application. How can you say you have EDM if it is only installed in one or two parts of an organization on a small percentage of desktops? An agreement to install EDM company-wide requires ‘ownership’ of the project at the highest levels. A president or EVP has to say, “Let’s do this!” This same senior executive then has to declare ownership and direct the project through to its conclusion.


The Executive owner will not have time to be the day to day leader of the project. This requires someone senior and knowledgeable and reporting directly to the Executive owner. This is a full time position; don’t kid yourselves that an already busy executive or manager can handle this as well as his/her other duties and responsibilities.

Adoption of EDM system will never get off the ground if it does not have executive support. Enlist the support of a key executive who understands the advantages of the system, and champion it not only to staff members, but also to other members an executive team. Executive buy-in will be essential in many ways. Not only will this encourage buy-in, but it will also encourage a smoother implementation by having executive support for gathering inter-departmental information. The executive should be able to lead a multi-departmental committee, which will be charged with gathering all of the appropriate information from each department or business unit. Having a committee made up of all stakeholder business units will serve the purpose of making sure the needs of each department is considered in the implementation—which will also lessen the likelihood that the system will be ignored.

Change in Culture

Most people do not like change. The first and major change is to make everyone realize that everything ‘at work’ is the property of the company, not the individual employee. There has to be a change in culture.

The change in culture takes time and has to be ‘sold’. You have to explain to each and every employee what you are doing and why you are doing it and what the benefits are to the employees. You must not keep it in secret and not try to ‘force’ it onto our workforce.

A culture change takes time and not every employee will be won over and not every employee will be cooperative. You must be prepared for this; and be happy with a 90%-95% acceptance.

However, you can lessen the pain of this cultural change by making the actual implementation and operation of EDM as non-intrusive and as easy as possible to use. A successful EDM implementation should bring significant productivity gains; not productivity losses. Employees are not stupid; if they find their normal work taking more time rather than less time after the EDM implementation you are in trouble.

Other reasons for non-use may be resistance to changes in business processes, perceived inefficiencies, or the simple occurrence of the “we’ve always done it this way” syndrome. All these issues can be easily overcome with open dialogue and transparency.

Get Employee Buy-In

Getting employees to buy into using our EDM system does not begin and end with writing a policy and sending out a memo. It starts with getting key staff members from each stakeholder area involved in the process. The creation, routing, and approval of documents involve key processes that these people know best, and the EDM system will impose some changes in those processes. There is bound to be resistance and possibly some resentment, especially if changes are made without their input. Seeking input from employees ultimately serves two purposes: (1) it lessens the likelihood of resistance and resentment, while (2) allowing management to get valuable insight into the processes that they are going to or need to change.

The process of seeking input from employees involved in document creation will also help to improve business processes involved in content creation—these processes are seldom improved with top-down renovation alone. In addition, the gathering input will give management an opportunity to find out what key objections are likely to occur before they become a problem.

Project Plan

Without a clearly developed project plan you will never know when you are going wrong.  This plan must be flexible; it is supposed to change as you progress and learn and react to feedback from employees. Without a plan there is no clear path of what you are changing or measurement of these changes. Without a detailed project plan you will not be able to quantify and qualify our success and/or failures.

Understanding Current Processes

Every department is a snowflake in that it is unique. This frequently comes up in the form “our department is unique in the way we work.” In a literal sense, this is of course true – every process has tweaks and details that are unique. However, underlying this uniqueness there are structures, typical patterns and categories that, when understood, make it easier to get to the final “tweaking point” needed to round out a good installation. Implementing EDM will serve as a starting point to reexamine our past practices that may have grown organically and been reactive and to make them more efficient.

To be successful in implementation you need to understand:

  • How you currently work
  • How you want to work
  • What standards and procedures you currently have
  • How those standards and procedures will need to change (e.g., email policy)
  • What information you currently have (or think you have)
  • What information you plan to have after a successful implementation
  • What you plan to ‘convert’ and how you plan to ‘convert’ existing information
  • How many people need training and the types of training required

An EDM system is more than just storing paper electronically. It is about improving process and you cannot do this unless you understand these processes. You must find documents and follow it through the organization. Storing is the first step but you must also make sure that information gets transmitted to the right people.

All of the above require someone (suitably qualified) working full time to investigate, document, present and eventually, gain agreement on.

Start Small

Don’t try to eliminate all paper in one fell swoop. You must pick processes or groups of processes and digitize them one by one. Map a process; implement the system and then move on to the next process. This will help us focus on adoption in smaller bits. It will also allow you to perform a ‘lesson’s learned’. This is a tedious process but necessary to gain buy in and understand how to move forward.

Remain consistent

People do not like to change. When implemented, EDM will take longer to electronically file a document than it does to print it and file it on a network drive. That is true because you are capturing more information but this extra work on the front end will help save time later in retrieving documents and will speed up key processes. You must explain the benefits clearly and keep on top of people to make sure they follow the new procedure. Starting small will help you do this. Keeping procedure to a minimum upfront will allow staff to adopt the system.


You will not be successful unless you train your employees; it is major part of changing the culture and of the selling process.

In the process of “hand crafting” ways to keep track of documents in the past, users will inevitably have created procedures for naming and storing documents that may have been useful to specific individual users or jobs, but are either not necessary, inefficient, or even counterproductive in the context of an EDM system. In addition, most employees do not get the most power out of the program’s capabilities. As with any other program, adequate training can multiply the effectiveness of a document management system many times.


Follow-up is as important as the initial training. One of the problems with a rollout is that after the initial training, employees got “up to speed” and were able to do their basic work. However, very rapidly, the minimum they need to know to get their work done becomes the maximum they actually do know. And over time, that knowledge tends to shrink due to natural entropy (the tendency of any system or body of knowledge to deteriorate without outside input). Most employees do not explore further, increase their knowledge or find better ways to do things. There are two kinds of follow-up that I recommend.

First, after the initial rollout and training, circulate items from a “Tips and Tricks” list via email about two or three times a week for a month or two. This has two functions:

  • First, it reminds staffs of things they may have heard during training but forgotten. It tends to both reinforce training and expand their knowledge at an early stage (it is much more difficult later on).
  • Second, it encourages them to believe that people are paying attention, willing to address issues, etc. It encourages users to ask more questions and helps fight passivity.

The second is to sponsor “brown bag lunches” on an ongoing basis, perhaps every three or six months, where particular topic or topics are explored. Again, this serves to reinforce and expand knowledge, and because one person’s question will have actually occurred to several people, you get a reinforcement effect that tends to expand staffs’ knowledge and help keep all  users on the same page.

An EDM is not going to automatically take your operation to the next level but if you use the tool correctly you will see strong incremental improvements that will cut cost and speed decision making.

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