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Six (Sigma) Reasons to Embrace Enterprise Content Management

Emma C. Hamer
eHamer Associates Ltd., Career and Performance Consultants

Six Sigma is the formal discipline used to rethink and, if necessary, redesign business operations from a customer-centric position to improve business performance and maximize customer satisfaction. Customer-centric Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is all about customer-facing content, regardless of how the content reaches the customer, be it in print, on the Web, via interactive customer support systems, or over the telephone, where "customer" designates both internal and external recipients of content. The commonality between the two fields of practice is, of course, the customer. Often, however, the perception of Content Management is limited in the corporate consciousness to "managing Web content." Six Sigma provides us with plenty of reasons to seriously consider ECM from a much broader perspective. ECM is no longer primarily a tool to manage Web content or technical documentation, but a key business strategy to enhance and improve the customer experience. This article explores six reasons to implement ECM as a strategic business initiative.


In today's world of cutthroat global competition, where increasingly savvy customers have an abundance of high quality products to choose from, corporations are struggling to find, develop, and retain their customers. Customer loyalty is a thing of days gone by; now loyalty must be earned one customer at a time. The one area where companies can distinguish themselves from their competition is in how they organize and execute their customer service. When CEO Bob Galvin and engineer Bill Smith began implementing Six Sigma at Motorola in the mid-80s, they were in effect implementing a suite of management tools and quality improvement strategies, hoping for an effect greater than the sum of the parts. They were successful beyond their wildest expectations, as are many organizations that have subsequently adopted the concepts, methodologies and tools of Six Sigma.

Origin of the term Six Sigma

The term Six Sigma (symbolized as 6s) originates from a statistical tool, where s stands for standard deviation, and comes from the notion that that if you have six standard deviations between the mean of a process and the nearest specification limit, you will make practically no items that exceed the specifications. The generally accepted definition of a Six Sigma process is one that produces no more than 3.4 defective parts per million opportunities (DPMO). For example, when applied to a pizza delivery business, this translates into "no more than 3.4 times out of 1 million deliveries is the pizza cold on arrival," or -if we look at a different process within the pizza business-take more than 30 minutes between order and delivery. The external goal: as close to 100% customer satisfaction as is humanly possible (no more than 3.4 unhappy pizza customers per 1,000,000 deliveries). The entire business process is then geared towards satisfying this goal. In practice, organizations that reach 4 or 5 sigma level, which corresponds roughly to 6,200 and 230 DPMO respectively, are considered extremely successful but not yet World Class.

Six Sigma Objective

The objective of Six Sigma, as understood today, is to deliver the highest possible business performance to the customer (end-user), with maximum reliability and value to the customer (end-user). Other performance improvement methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing and Total Quality Management focus on the internal processes, while in my opinion, Six Sigma adds the dimension of putting the customer first. A key methodology in Six Sigma is DMAIC - Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (Verify). Of course, several business processes (in the pizza delivery example) may affect overall customer satisfaction, so each business process must be defined, measured, analyzed, etc., and the organization must determine (weigh) how much each process contributes to overall customer satisfaction, which should be measured constantly. Continuing with our pizza example, questions that can be asked are:

  • Is the process to get the pizza to the customer hot and crispy more important than to get it there on time?
  • Would a customer still be satisfied if the pizza arrived 3 minutes late, but was hot and crispy as per the guarantee?
  • Or is getting it there on time-regardless of the temperature and freshness-the most important process?

Impact on Customer Satisfaction

Let's take a look at information-rich enterprises, with more complex products or services, and multiple channels of delivering service and information to their customers, who all have multiple and diverse needs for information about the products and services. Some examples that come to mind are a utility company, a civic authority, an insurance company, or a regional health authority.

The business processes around the production of gas and electricity, the distribution to residential and commercial customers, metering, billing, network maintenance, etc. probably qualify as "complex." The business processes involved in running a municipality, with products and services ranging from garbage collection to administering business tax incentives to issuing building permits, certainly do!

These types of enterprises can also be greatly impacted by dissatisfied customers. While it may not be easy to change a gas and electric provider after an unsatisfactory experience, people can and do withhold payment, or pressure their government to lower utility rates, or turn to alternative service providers whenever they can. If citizens are unhappy enough with the services City Hall provides, they will move away, removing themselves from the tax base. In short, even organizations that enjoy a virtual monopoly status are increasingly aware of and concerned about customer satisfaction. And they are looking for ways to improve. Six Sigma methodologies can help identify the processes that have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction, and my contention is that these are the communication processes with the customer.

Communication is about the delivery of information - critical processes that cannot tolerate mistakes, and where a lack of communication, or incorrect information negatively impacts customer satisfaction. From a business performance improvement perspective, this is where I discovered the principles of content management, specifically Enterprise Content Management.

Enterprise Content Management is the Tool

If improved communication, more effective communication, and most importantly, delivering information how, when and where the customer needs it is the goal, then ECM is the tool. Like Six Sigma's DMAIC, an ECM project follows an equally structured model: Business Requirements Analysis, Content Analysis, Life Cycle Analysis, Information Design, and Implementation.

Let's look at some of the business reasons that demonstrate how ECM fits in with a Six Sigma-style business performance improvement project:

Reason #1 - Information reaches the customer faster

Creating content takes time, and more so if content is created and stored in multiple places by multiple departments. In the process of implementing an ECM system, all the processes to create, store, retrieve, review, update, and distribute content are reviewed, analyzed, and where necessary, streamlined to accommodate reuse and repurposing of content objects or "chunks." Information documents (or screens) in the traditional sense no longer exist - information is assembled from these content objects as and when needed, in the format best suited to meeting the customer's information need. An immediate and lasting consequence is that the time to update or revise information is dramatically reduced, since only the content objects affected by any change are revised. Instead of reviewing the entire document, only the revised information is checked for accuracy, and updated content immediately replaces the previous version of that information. If the delivery of information is through the company's Web site, a customer has instant access to new information. Combined with distributed printing, or print-on-demand, even print documents can be made available to customers in much shorter production times.

Reason #2 - Improved use of resources to create customer information

By reducing the number of repetitive steps and tasks to maintain and update documents, writers, designers, illustrators, and other staff resources are freed up to actually create new content and develop new methods and vehicles to deliver the content to the customers. Besides providing a challenging and satisfying work environment, staff can concentrate more on innovation and on fine-tuning how information reaches the customer to maximum effect. The long-term results are that the customer is going to experience a company that goes out of its way to provide her with the right information, at the right time, in the right format. The customer will come to believe the company understands her needs, and actually wants to satisfy those needs.

Reason #3a - Reducing the cost of producing and delivering information

The traditional methods of getting information to the customer often involve large-scale printing runs, because it's more economical to print 10,000 copies of an instruction sheet than 1,000. The risk, both financial and operational, is that one of two options apply when there is an update to the information sheet: a) the remaining supply, with outdated information, is thrown out, and a new print run is completed for the next 10,000 copies of the updated sheet, or b) the company continues to hand out the outdated sheet, with an errata message on a sticker or on the Web page.

Savings of up to 80% of traditional production costs can be realized by reducing the time involved in creating new information products. Why? Because these new information products are made up of large portions of existing content that do not need to be reviewed. While the company is the main beneficiary of these reductions in production costs, over the longer term, substantial savings may be passed on to the end-user customer. Alternately, the company could maintain budget levels for production, but spend the funds differently, for instance towards new delivery methods, higher personalization of information, and possibly offering much more localized content. Which brings us to the second part of Reason #3:

Reason #3b - Reducing the cost of translating information

In many cases, the cost of translating customer-focused information is so prohibitively expensive that companies provide translations only if they are required to do so by law, or by a regulator, such as the FDA. Even if there is no requirement to do so, service to international customers can be greatly improved if product information can be presented in multiple languages. For example, a health care provider in California serves its customers much better when information is also provided in Spanish - even if there were no legal or regulatory requirement to do so. Likewise, offering information in Mandarin and Cantonese makes perfect business sense in British Columbia, because the population of Vancouver and many surrounding communities approach 35% of Chinese-speaking citizens.

By anticipating the huge savings of translating only those information chunks that change, a company may decide to maintain the production budget as before, but now allocate the anticipated and realized savings towards more languages, more frequent updates, or more personalized information.

Reason #4 - Increased consistency of customer information

One of the more common irritants to customers is when information in one place is different from information in another place. Issues include inconsistent terminology, inaccurate (outdated) information, too much information hiding that snippet of information the customer actually needs, insufficient information to make a decision, or three versions of the information in five different places, each version just slightly different than the next, but enough to completely confuse the customer. There really is only one way to avoid these issues with 100% accuracy, and that is to draw the information from one single source: a database or content management system.

Reason #5 - Review and redesign of customer-critical processes

One of the key effects of Six Sigma projects is the tightly-focused, radical, and sometimes ruthless review of the customer-critical processes. This review and redesign process involves cutting red tape and removing bureaucratic procedures, endless authorization steps, and historical but obsolete steps.

Literally anything that gets in the way of a good customer experience is reviewed, redesigned, adapted, or made obsolete. If we accept that delivering information to the customer is a critical aspect of customer satisfaction, then the review and redesign of content creation and production processes from a customer-centric perspective is consistent with Six Sigma principles.

The phases of Content Analysis and Lifecycle Analysis in an ECM project are guaranteed to bring process-related issues that require review and redesign to the fore, paving the way for other processes to change and adapt.

In companies where there may not be sufficient support for a full-blown Six Sigma project, which could take a number of years to complete, a more modest, but no less effective approach to increasing customer satisfaction might be to generate and build executive support for ECM.

Reason #6 - Improved overall quality of customer communication

Being able to access information that is accurate, consistent and useful is a critical component in the customer experience. Knowing that she can completely rely on the information to be helpful, correct, easy to find, easy to use, and "exactly what I need" enhances the customer's sense of competency. In particular for technical products, too often the customer is - unintentionally, to be sure - made to feel inadequate, incompetent, or confused. The more competent the customer feels, the more she feels the product (or service) was tailored with her needs in mind. The more the customer experiences this type of "good fit", the less likely she will be to try a competitor's product (or service).

The more consistent the company is wherever it delivers information to the customer, the more successful the company will be in providing a unique, personalized experience to the customer. The positive experience of making the customer feel that "she is your only customer" translates into a relationship with mutual benefit. The customer feels valued, validated and appreciated. In return, the company gets not only a loyal customer but also an advocate and enthusiastic promoter who will actively recommend the company's products and services to others.


While the terminology, methodologies, and processes are different when comparing Six Sigma to Enterprise Content Management, the principles and concepts are the same:

  • focusing on the customer (end-user)
  • reducing waste and inefficiencies
  • saving costs, time, and resources
  • improving quality

Given that many executive teams are at the very least already vaguely familiar with the concepts of Six Sigma, introducing the idea of a Unified Content Strategy, and gathering support and a budget to prepare for and implement an ECM system may be less daunting when presented to management using Six Sigma concepts and terms.

Implementing an ECM System is a-relatively speaking-low-cost, quick return method of realizing one of Six Sigma's explicit goals: to deliver the highest possible business performance to the customer (end-user), with maximum reliability and value to the customer (end-user).


[1] Pande, Pete and Holpp, Larry. 2002. What is Six Sigma?New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

[2] Rockley, Ann, Pamela Kostur and Steve Manning. 2003. Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders.

[3] Wikipedia

Copyright 2006, The Rockley Group, Inc.