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Surprise! No More Solution Customizations

Things are not always what they seem, as the earliest of Roman writers pointed out, and the same is true today in our content management-driven world. As every enterprise seeks its own digital transformation strategy, ironically, there is a tendency to revert back to accepted truths or how things have always been done.

One of the first comments I hear from customers in solution discussions goes something along the lines of this: “Our company works in unique ways and we have an accumulation of different technologies, so we will have to heavily customize any content management solution.”

What I notice, however, is what else the ancients knew: “The first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” (Source: Phaedrus, c. 15 BC – c. 50 AD).

While customers start out thinking they want to customize a solution, they sometimes take a surprisingly different approach in the end.

Here are three considerations for anyone assuming content management solution customization is the only way to succeed.

1 – Technology has caught up

More rapid software development approaches have shortened product update cycles throughout the technology industry. More capabilities are delivered more often through existing solutions. It used to be acceptable to evaluate content management solutions once every 18 months. Today, a solution you reviewed just 6 months ago may have already packed in far more capabilities.

In Documentum Capital Projects Express, for example, common user requirements (like the ability to provide graphical annotations during a review task, or to automate workflow recipients from a pre-defined distribution matrix) are already built in. It’s highly possible these types of ongoing updates can save you custom development work, while still meeting your business or technical requirements — and overcoming user concerns.

2 – Work is Work, and Humans are Humans

Certainly every company culture is different. But there is simply no getting away from project milestones, deadlines, and approvals. If anything, project collaboration has become more rapid and commonplace amidst mobile and social technology uptake.


As vendors like OpenText accumulate decades of refinements into their solutions, it becomes far more unusual to uncover process phases that the world has never seen before. This is evident in a very common reaction I hear from customers: “I thought we were the only ones who did that.” They are often quite relieved to know an existing solution can, for example, readily handle five different plant design reviewers working on a document globally – including employees and three different contractors with varied security requirements.

Another common myth is that their organization is the most unorthodox because different teams don’t talk to each other. For better or worse, humans are humans, and this is why automation and standardized tools are so valuable. Transparency and accountability through a content management system helps documents moving forward, despite potentially segregated roles like Field Inspection Engineer and Project Manager.

Similarly for companies amidst M&A or reorganizing, requirements gathering across the newly added teams can uncover “hidden” project commonalities that can be addressed without heavy customization. In Toshiba’s case, for example, embracing standardization across newly organized divisions helped them meet requirements for faster project roll-outs.

3 – Disruption is the perfect time to let go of bad habits

If you are still facing monumental customization requirements and complex integrations, consider if you want that to be the case for the foreseeable future. Most executive leadership teams now understand the urgency around digital transformation. The ability to automate, standardize, and digitize workflows might be more important than the reasons your company is holding on to so many customizations. Most importantly, the strategic agility and speed you gain while meeting the bulk of your technical requirements could outweigh the expense and time involved in custom development work.

A recent case in point:
A Fortune 500 power generator and distributor in the US implemented a Documentum Asset Operations solution, primarily to manage their controlled documents in the Nuclear Power division. They now have a series of new capital projects to start this year. As their experience is typically to build custom solutions, they originally overlooked the cloud-based Documentum Capital Projects Express solution as an option for their project document control system.

However, while they were evaluating Supplier Exchange, based on another customer’s recommendation, they also reviewed the Documentum Capital Projects Express (SaaS) solution and realized it was the perfect force factor to break their company’s excessive customization habit. Long custom development times had slowed their application roll-outs and impacted projects repeatedly. Rather than allowing inefficiencies to flourish, this customer is instead looking at the latest, cloud based content management solutions for a sound reason to simplify requirements.

This is a significant culture change for the company, and I think it represents a challenge most larger organizations have when looking at SaaS based solutions rather than traditional enterprise software. The balance of lower cost and more price flexibility (due to subscription pricing) from cloud is only possible if companies accept that they cannot customize solutions. They can still gain additional functionality, but will need to wait for it from the cloud solution ‘roadmap’ rather than trying to build it at their own pace and schedule.

Are these considerations for your organization?

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Martin Richards

Martin Richards is a Senior Director for Energy Industry Solutions at OpenText. For over twenty years, he has worked with ECM technology, delivering professional services and solutions for the energy and engineering industry.

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