The Recession Casts a Long Shadow Over AIIM 2009


I spent Tuesday and Wednesday this week at the AIIM content management conference in Philadelphia and it was all recession talk, all the time. Not surprisingly, just about everyone was acutely concerned about ROI. It was on the lips of every vendor I talked to. It dominated the Keynote talks and CIO panel discussions. It slipped into the break out presentations I attended.

Suddenly vendors need to solve concrete business problems and show real value. ROI can't take years. Projects have to show some value in months, and even the biggest vendors recognize that they can't sell a huge monolithic system right now. You have to get a small piece and work your way forward. The question is: Why did we have to wait for a recession for these ideas to dominate the content management discussion?

Who cares about ROI?

As it turned out everybody cares about ROI. Yes, there's a recession out there, but there are projects happening. People are just being more prudent--starting off a little smaller and using that project, if successful, as a springboard to expand into other areas. There has to be a real business problem, and you have to sell the problem and the solution to the executive committee. This is no easy task when every company is clearly squeezing every penny.

It comes down to what author David Meerman Scott calls telling a story. He says everyone likes stories. Nobody likes a list of features (something I saw many vendors doing in presentations as I wandered the conference floor). I kept hearing Scott's marketing mantra in my head: "Nobody cares about your products but you." This is so true, and never was that truer than right now. You want to hear a story that speaks to your problem and you want to see a happy ending where the business problem was solved.

Starting small and proving concepts

That means companies are starting small, finding a winnable fight and then taking that win and trying to parlay that into a larger project. One executive said that it helps to find a champion and let that champion fight that fight with you.

One great example of this was Molly Wenzler who is Director of Electronic Media at Meadwestvaco, a manufacturing company with roots back to 1846. Today, the company has a worldwide presence in over 100 countries and it had a serious problem with the company website. To illustrate the problem, she gathered company executives in a meeting and put up posters of all the different looks the site had across the world. This illustrated clearly for executives the inconsistency across global properties, and that the website needed, dare I say it, to be managed centrally. Then she did something really smart.

She sat the executives down at a computer, had them open a browser and asked them to search for information on the company's best selling product. When they couldn't find it, they knew they had a problem. She had won approval for phase one of the project. She let the state of the website tell a clear and compelling story, presented a solution (web content management) and she was on her way.

Show me the money

At a panel on Wednesday on the same subject, one executive wondered out loud how much you could trust ROI projections since the object of the game is to always present ROI in the most positive light. To him, it came down to trusting his staff and recognizing they had a need to fill. Of course money matters, now more than ever, but Wednesday's panel pointed out that there are other ways to measure success including how well it solves the business problem and how well it's adopted. Do people actually use it and like it? It's not always a tangible financial measurement.

Tough times call for tough measures and customers are taking a sensible, measured approach to their purchases. But I'm still wondering, why does value, ROI and common sense only come into play in tough economic times. They may be values we would like to continue long after the recession is over. The vendors might not like the idea, but why buy something until you're sure it will bring a happy ending to your business story? - Ron