There is no dearth for reading material on the impact of Culture on an ECM program. However, most of these originate from developed Western nations where the social culture is generally homogeneous while possibly being punctured by organizational culture set by different management styles.
When I first ventured into ECM projects in the GCC, I was driven by the theory of project management from the “West”, borrowing plenty from the PMP and Prince2 schools of thought. However, it didn’t take me long to realise that it was the kaleidoscopic working culture of this region that forced me to deviate from those schools of thought. And this was to occur as a natural phenomenon than as planned exercise.
Hence, ECM was to me more of an Enterprise Culture Management than Enterprise Content Management. When your audit trails and version controls are standard functionalities, why is it that every project became almost different from the other in spite of having similar objectives? But, obviously, as more ECM solutions basically provided the same features in different forms, it had to be the organization’s culture.
It took me a little longer and some hard hits to realize that in the GCC, even organizational culture does not exist in conventional form. This is best understood from the fact that you are very likely to see an organization with an Emarati (UAE) CEO, a Lebanese Head of Department, an Indian Manager and a Philipino User frustratingly advised by an English Consultant in an ECM project. I guess this does not deserve any further explanation!
As such, an ECM project faces the challenge of cultural variety more than that of a Financial application. This is because while a Financial Application is primarily driven by the principles of accounting, an ECM implementation holds no such principles. It is a shape-shifter and can be seen looking completely different from one company to another irrespective of both having the same technology stack.
The same can be said of the cultural layers that gets formed within an organization here in the GCC and so to be able to manage and deliver a competent ECM project, one must manage 3 levels of culture:
A culture may claim to be set from the top. But, your chances are slim to have this culture percolate down the food chain. Imagine an Egyptian CEO managing a German Head of Department. The chances are that both will adopt diplomacy to communicate with each other, but, both are likely to establish their own cultural cliques within the organization. Hence, content that primarily revolves under the direct control of the CEO is more likely to be influenced by the CEO’s culture and work habits.
At the departmental level, the higher up culture of the CEO erodes to be taken over by the English Head of Department’s culture and work habits. The governing of your content is likely to be different from that of the CEO’s. The Head of Department is highly likely to try to reproduce the structured manner of Germany against the pragmatic survival nature of Egypt.
At the lowest level, lies possibly an Indian staff member who in his eager-to-please-management nature and earn more for his family shall manipulate the content management to simply get the job done. To him, the ends justify the means.
When faced with such differences in approach, content management is sure to face the brunt of it. Caught between keeping the power and getting the job done, your workflow are sure to inherit many approval loops or detours. Be advised not to fall for the “we have management support” comfort zone when dealing with ECM projects and instead manage your cultural journey to understand and absorb the cultural deviations at all levels described above.
Finally, it is important to have your program led by someone with exposure and experience to this cultural diversity, with an ability to work through the cultural clashes and finally, with a good understanding of the unwritten but necessary rules of an ECM solution.
Originally published in The Information Manager
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