Going Green With ECM – Smart – But Don’t be Stupid About It

ECM service providers are always at the ready to ride the coattails of the latest business trend. Do you recall the rush to Knowledge Management circa 1998? Suddenly every ECM vendor was a KM solution provider. For some it was a good move. For others not so much. Perhaps even more important was the damage it did to the reputation of KM overall, a blow that the KM industry almost didn’t recover from.

Well the same thing is beginning to happen with the green movement. Going green is a global focus, from the home to the office. Its good for the economy and good for the ecology. So of course, the ECM industry is busy positioning itself on the green band wagon (see earlier posts). Not a bad idea. It has legitimacy. But will it be leveraged responsibly?

Recently the State of Massachusetts, where I live, announced two changes to its Department of Motor Vehicles, aimed at going green and cutting the state budget. Good for you, and thank you Governor Patrick, was my initial reaction. But as I listened to the details of these program changes my opinion began to somewhat change.

First, motor vehicle registrations will no longer be printed on card stock. In the future State of MA registrations will be printed on less costly paper. OK, not a bad idea – but does it fall short? Ill come back to that. But before I do, the second change.

Currently, we licensed drivers in the state receive a notice in the mail (post mail that is) when our drivers license needs to be renewed. Well, in the interest of going green and saving money, the state has eliminated the service. As a result, the state will greatly reduce its consumption of paper (the green angle), and additionally save significant costs associated with the print production and mailing process. Well as a politically correct citizen of the state I say great. But wait, at what cost? We citizens are losing a much relied upon service. While the benefits achieved are commendable, the lose of service to the citizen is most unfortunate. More importantly, the lose is not necessary.

What the state is doing is a classic case of not looking at a business process holistically, failing to push the innovative process, and failing to leverage ECM technology – technology they already have. The same technology/application used to produce the paper notifications, could be tweaked to send an online notification, with a direct link to the state’s website where you can renew online no less. I understand that this would require that the state maintain a database of e-mail addresses of its citizens, but I for one would be happy to assist in this (i.e. fill out an online form, or provide my e-mail address the next time I interact with the state). The addition of a single database field (e-mail address) to existing databases is not a big issue. The end result – cost saving, a greener government, and virtually no lose of service to the citizen – one might argue an increased level of service. Everyone wins.

The state is not challenging process owners or IT enough. They are willing to make changes that show benefit at one level, without pushing harder to see if the benefits can be achieved with no lose of service to the citizen. They are not thinking strategically. Ah – there is the strategy word again. I have blogged about the evils of technology deployment without adequate strategy development before. Well, in this case, maybe this isn’t the issue. I have heard rumors (I repeat I believe it is only a rumor), that the state did think strategically. By not providing notifications, not only are they going green and saving money, rumor has it they are also banking on increasing revenue. Without reminders, there is the potential that a greater percentage of licensed drivers will forget when they need to renew their license, which will lead to an increase in penalties – i.e. increased fees. Now again, I state this is only a rumor, and I hope as a citizen that this is a case of lack of strategy versus a deviant strategy.

Now back to the car registrations. Why stop with the move from card stock to cheaper paper stock? Couldn’t registrations be maintained online, accessible via a barcode on the registration stickers we place on our license plates? When you are pulled over by the Boston Police today (don’t ask me how I know), they can review the status of your license online. Why not do the same with registration?

The bottom line of this rant is this – ECM holds great potential in assisting business and government in going green and cost reduction. But to maximize the return on investment, you need to think holistically, strategically and innovatively. Stopping at the first good idea you have can easily leave much opportunity on the table.

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