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People, Processes, and Change

Technology's Impact on its Users

Pamela Kostur
The Rockley Group

While implementing a content management system is indeed a technology implementation, it has other drivers, related to people and processes. Implementing a CMS is never just about installing a system; it has tremendous impacts on its users, which must be assessed throughout the project life cycle, and on an ongoing basis once the CMS is up and running. This article explores the impact that CMS technology has on its users, and suggests ways to make the acceptance a technology more successful.

In the late 1700s, the German physicist and philosopher Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote:

There is no greater impediment to progress in the sciences than the desire to see it take place too quickly. [1]

What held true then appears to hold true today, as companies introduce more and more technology into the workplace, many times forgetting that technology has a significant impact on its users. Most technology implementations today are intended to help businesses "progress" in their line of work, to do more, to do it better and faster, and ultimately, to enhance their bottom line, either through reduced costs, or increased profits. Content management similarly makes promises such as faster time to market, reduced costs (content creation, maintenance, and production), and improved quality of content, and better use of "resources," both systems and people. These are all admirable goals for progress.

However, "progress" in business, like "progress in the sciences" can be greatly impeded by not taking users' needs into account and by not allowing users enough time to learn and become accustomed to new technology. Now, as many companies move ahead with content management implementations (whether restricted to a few departments or extending throughout the enterprise), many struggles come about as a result of technology, from the authors' and other implementers' (such as information architects and database managers) perspectives. This article explores technology's impact on its users, suggesting ways to slow down the "progress" by putting users' needs first.

A look at the issues

Implementing a technology solution such as a CMS is never a simple matter of buying the tools and installing them. It is not an easy process and there are many issues that must be addressed, most of which are not related to the technology. Rather, they are related to the people who will be designing, implementing, and using the system. Issues include:

  • Not identifying and communicating project goals to everyone who will be involved
  • Not identifying all needs, including training needs, for the technology up front
  • Not thoroughly testing the system before buying
  • Setting unrealistic deadlines

Identifying and communicating project goals

This is a change management function and is as critical as selecting the right technology. In fact, it should start even before the technology selection process even begins. In his article "Prepare for impact", Phillip Donetti states, "When it comes to implementing any large-scale project that has a major component of technology behind it, experience shows that its success is boosted by 70% if the change management process is comprehensively thought through and executed." [2] Activities to assist with change management include:

  • Build a cross-functional, collaborative leadership team. Projects that involve the creation, production, maintenance, storage, dissemination, and use of content require the input from many different players from many different areas throughout the organization. The people who create content (in different areas within the scope of your project) will certainly need to be represented as will the people who use it. And, HR and IT are critical as well; IT must install and maintain the system and HR must arrange for training on it. A broad stakeholder group that participates in the selection, design, and implementation of a content management system will be less likely to resist it and more likely to adopt any new or redefined processes.
  • Hold facilitated sessions where all players are present and learn each others' needs. All areas affected by a content management implementation need to understand what is required to get content into the system, what is required to maintain content once it's in the system, and what is required to get content out of the system to support its various uses. They also need to understand how a content management implementation will impact their areas so they know what resources to allocate to the initial design and roll out of the system, and how much time to allocate to training. You need to access the breadth of organizational change to be able to address it.
  • Prepare a change plan and a communication plan. Internal communication must start at the beginning of the project, when requirements are first identified. Communication must continue throughout, right up to the time the system goes live, and for awhile after so that users can give feedback. Consider creating a project site on your intranet that allows people throughout the organization to see status reports, project plans, and provide input. Also, it may be useful to contract with change management/communication consultants if your organization does not have this skill set in house.

Identifying the need for the technology

The purpose of a content management project is almost never just to install a new system for the sake of installing a new system! A CMS project almost always has other drivers, such as improving publishing processes, delivering dynamic content to users, or improving the structure of the internet/intranet or of other information products. And, those other drivers require involvement from the authors who create content, the reviewers who verify it, the editors who prepare it for publication, the users who read it. With your joint leadership team in place, you can define your content management requirements within the context of a business solution. Avoid developing "functionality checklists" and define what your real business reasons are for needing content management in the first place.

I happen to believe that the driver behind any content management implementation has to be the content. Amy Gahran, writing in CMSWatch, advocates driving a content management system implementation from a content strategy. She claims that the first step is to clarify content goals, thus "[marking] the beginning of your content strategy. Decide which groups you most need to reach, through which channels. Decide which basic types of content you need to supply in order to attract and satisfy your target audience(s) as well as further your core business goals - in that order. Determine how much content you should publish (based on your audience's needs and constraints), how often, and how it should be delivered. Start to consider whether you really need a CMS - and if so, which parts of your content production and publishing processes make the most sense to automate." [3] Wise advice, indeed. A content management system should always be based on what you want to do with your content.

Testing before buying

In their respective articles in this issue of "The Rockley Report", both Tony Byrne and James Robertson advocate testing of systems, with users performing the functions the CMS is intended to handle. In our interview with Tony Byrne, he stresses that " of the most common (and little understood) mistakes is a failure to actually test systems thoroughly to allow all parties to get comfortable with them-warts and all ... Some vendors will resist this tooth and nail. You need to hold your ground." [4] Likewise, James Robertson states that "the usability (ease of use) of a CMS can only be assessed by examining the system in operation." [5] However, you can only do this kind of testing if you have clearly identified the requirements for your CMS up front, a point also emphasized by Robertson. You have to know what you're testing-and what constitutes success-in order to truly evaluate how the technology perform.

Anne Pellicciotto, writing in E-Doc Magazine, also champions exposing users to "bits and pieces of the system, as they are being developed." She writes, "According to the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), devised by Fred Davis at University of Maryland's Smith School of Business, perceived usefulness and ease of use determine an individual's level of acceptance and use of new technology." She further suggests that a "hands-on approach should be extended to acceptance and rollout phases, to generate additional good will, and good data upon which to base system adjustments." [6]

Setting realistic deadlines

In our experience at The Rockley Group, one of the biggest issues with a technology implementation is setting unrealistic deadlines. We've seen organizations ask project teams to implement a content management system that includes new authoring tools, new structured authoring methods, content reuse, metadata, conversion of thousands of pages legacy content, as well as a new interface for displaying the content...all within a few months. When unrealistic deadlines are set, then all the collaborative work required to identify needs, analyze content, communicate project goals, provide training, conduct usability assessments, etc. suffers. We've also seen that faced with tight and often unrealistic deadlines, organizations usually eliminate usability assessments, which are key to the design, structure, and ultimate acceptance of the system.

So, how long should you allow for a content management implementation, or any large scale technology implementation for that matter? It depends. You have to plan for all phases of the project, including training and usability, then sent your deadlines. To start out with a deadline before you have assessed the scope of the work almost guarantees that you will have problems (both technical and user acceptance) once your system goes live. However, if you do have a tight deadline, then define the scope of your project to accommodate the deadline, but keep all critical phases of the project, such as analysis, design, training, and usability in the plan.


I like the way Bryant Duhon, editor of AIIM E-Doc Magazine, sums it up:

ECM is not easy and it's not limited to the technology. However, the technologies do work and they are constantly improving. It's up to you to ensure that these critical technologies are appropriately matched to your company. ECM technologies, properly implemented, improve access to your content, enable the reuse of content, and can provide faster time to market. Just remember that technology is only part of the solution. [7]

It's dangerous to discount the impact that ECM technology, or any technology for that matter will have on its users. Be aware that the system is only as effective as the people who use it perceive it to be. Take measures to lessen the negative impact and focus on making the introduction of new technologies a positive experience, for everyone involved.


1. Lichtenberg, G.C. "Notebook K," aph. 72, Aphorisms (written 1765-1799), trans. by R.J. Hollingdale, 1990.

2. Donetti, Philip. "Prepare for impact."

3. Gahran, Amy. "Match Your CM System to Your Content Strategy."

4. Byrne, Tony. "Tony Byrne Talks Technology." The Rockley Report, Volume 1, Issue 3, September 2004.

5. Robertson, James. "Best Practices for Selecting a CMS." The Rockley Report, Volume 1, Issue 3, September 2004.

6. Pellicciotto, Anne. "Collaborative Technologies Require Collaborative Mentalities-And a Collaborative Project Approach."

7. Duhon, Bryant. "Enterprise Content Management: What is it? Why should you care?"

Copyright 2004, The Rockley Group, Inc.