Going international with subsidiaries in various countries creates the need for integrated information and synchronized processes – a mission to be tackled by your ECM system. With different cultures, individual ways of working and unique processes, finding the optimal solution for your internationally operating company can be a complex task. So, what should you keep in mind regarding the design and use of ECM systems in an international context?
Expanding your ECM system to international scale
Mostly, starting from scratch and directly going internationally is not part of a company’s business model – the vision is developed step by step and heavily influenced by ever-changing requirements of the market. The decision to go international draws a lot of issues to the foreground: How can you ensure communication and collaboration company-wide across subsidiaries and different cultures? Several challenges arise in this progress in relation to your ECM system, which we will focus on in this blog article.
Software infrastructure as the ECM’s basis
Several locations, decentralized activities and departments – a challenge that already plays a big role in any nationally operating company. This challenge is enlarged in international context, as the exchange of sales or customs documents or even contracts over large distances can bring latencies and delays to daily processes. Some processes are even additionally complicated through different time zones.
Therefore, the ultimate goal is not only to connect the locations on a technical level but achieve collaboration and accentuate communication between all subsidiaries. Central operation and cross-location access are key parts of the design of any international ECM system.
To achieve this, the initial decision of the infrastructure deals with the type of provision: On-prem or cloud? Advantages of the cloud are for instance that it is possible to use existing infrastructure without completely installing new systems, automatic updates and standardized, ready-to-use software with shorter implementation times. In contrast to that, on-prem solutions offer higher individuality with company-adapted solutions. Additionally, a hybrid solution is possible, which combines the advantages of cloud as well as on-prem systems. The decision between native or hybrid provision can for instance be based on a step by step transition to cloud services, where processes and documents are transferred to the cloud over a longer time frame. Or legal issues of some document types might call for a hybrid approach, where some processes can be brought to the cloud to enhance transparency and ease of use, whereas others stay on the on-prem system to take advantage of the security options.
You see – this decision is coined by the individual preferences as well as circumstances of the internationally operating company. What is important in this step is to evaluate the possibilities in your specific environment. Moreover, other issues like bandwidth, integration possibilities with third applications or time zones can further influence your infrastructure decision.
The core of every international ECM system: Cultural differences
Other countries, other customs – This is applicable to everything, including your ECM system. Not only the different languages, but also special features in the way of working or other rules and norms coin the use of ECM systems around the world. Many regions have differing requirements on the appearance and presentation of information or even on the structure of the software. This means, what works great for users of one region might not work for another subsidiaries’ end users. And as is known, what influences the success of a software is not only the technical details, but also the user adoption as well as organizational structure. So, the goal for an international ECM system includes central specifications, which can be understood anywhere and support the existing structures. These features must be used effectively by end users and enhance the underlying processes – so the users see sense in and enjoy the system!
Legal issues in the operation of an international ECM system
As well as user perceptions, legal issues differ in an international context. Some countries might face more strict document laws, whereas others take another direction. For instance, the storage location of documents is defined and laws direct how to deal with the respective documents. Different retention periods must be kept in mind – or better, in the system. How long do you have to keep documents for corresponding checks? But also, how long may you keep the documents at all? The ECM system supports the setting of individual archiving periods. Furthermore, access can be set worldwide according to the country-specific security requirements.
Clear definitions are therefore the central point of any ECM system, on a technical as well as logical basis.
Service level & support
Another challenge that arises as challenge of an international ECM system is the question of required service level and support. Does your company want to train its own employees to handle, operate and update the software? In an international context, this can quickly lead to problems in the different locations and requires an immense administrative burden.
Another option to focus your resources on your core operations is to establish SLA contracts with a service provider. The service provider should have experiences for international operations and offer technical and/or functional administration, based on your requirements. This brings the advantages of economies of scale and gives you the opportunity to flexibly outsource your ECM system including maintenance and support.