Planning Your EDMS: Why You Should Conduct a Needs Assessment Before Considering a Document Management Solution

​Using a systematic process for determining and addressing your Document Management and Enterprise Content Management needs

There Are So Many Options in Document Management

As any web search can reveal, there are many document management systems available, with different approaches and combinations of features. The product category of document management is very broad, ranging from personal document management such as receipt scanning desktop applications to enterprise content management systems that provide complete workflow management across multiple services and vendor platforms.

There Are So Many Options in Document Management

There are also a variety of specializations, such as optical character recognition, records management, and business process management, and large variations in delivery models, such as proprietary software-as-a-service products or open-source self-hosted applications.

Aside from budgetary and operational considerations, a document management solution that does not meet the day-to-day needs of its users may ultimately fail in its adoption.

That’s why it’s important to consider your requirements before beginning to investigate the product offerings available for managing documents and enterprise content.

Determining your requirements is usually done through a Needs Assessment, a systematic process for determining and addressing needs by examining the gaps between the current condition and the preferred end condition.

In most cases, you will find more requirements, or wants, than you can reasonably fulfill, at least as part of your initial solution. Understanding the full extent of your needs as well as understanding your users and other stakeholders are keys to determining which needs should be prioritized.

Our Needs Assessment Framework for Document Management or Enterprise Content Management Systems

When it comes to document management and enterprise content management needs, the following steps can be taken to complete an assessment:

    Gather your users and other stakeholders
  1. Gather your users and other stakeholders

    For a document management solution, there may be both internal and external users, and this could include stakeholders such as governmental agencies or licensing bodies.

    While traditionally this could mean gathering stakeholders around a whiteboard, an asynchronous process can work well, with videoconferencing and a shared collaborative document.

  2. Study your current workflow and your desired workflow, and the gaps that may exist between those two states

    Document management includes the capture, storage, classification, transformation, and retrieval of documents, which may follow several workflows as the data is imported into the system, processed, and possibly exported as electronic files or hardcopy reproduction.

    It’s essential to keep track of each step of the existing workflows, to ensure that no functionality is lost if workflows are being replaced by new processes and/or software.

  3. Review existing software and processes, and assess the resources available
  4. Review your existing software and processes, and how they may be utilized to fill the identified gaps, particularly the highest-priority gaps

    Document management usually involves a mix of process and software for its workflows. In the case of enterprise content management, these workflows would increase in complexity with the scope of management.

  5. Assess the resources available to create or acquire new software and processes, whether those are financial resources or people resources, and consider any time constraints or opportunity costs associated with filling the gaps while still meeting your needs that are already being met by the current workflow

    Document management may include various components including hardware such as scan-to-email printers, vendor software, manual process, and custom applications. Every resource required to build or set up, maintain, and utilize these components should be considered.

  6. Prioritize the currently-met needs and the gaps based on importance and impact
  7. Prioritize the currently-met needs and the gaps (i.e., your combined workflow needs) based on importance and impact, possibly by scoring each need based on the following criteria:
    1. Critical (or “show stopper”), where the solution cannot be considered complete without meeting this need: 10 points
    2. Required, so the need will either have to be met by the solution or met another way: 7 points
    3. Useful, so if this need is not met, it can be excluded with some non-crucial loss of effectiveness: 5 points
    4. Helpful, where a need would be nice to have, but wouldn’t have a major effect on the outcome: 2 points
    5. Indifferent, where a need has been evaluated to not be needed at all: 0 points

    A view of our Needs Assessment Worksheet, with some needs being prioritized.

  8. Consider removing needs that are indifferent or only ranked to be helpful, as well as any non-critical needs (i.e., not “show stoppers”) that may not be achievable with the resources available

    In Document Management and especially in Enterprise Content Management, the sheer number of possible features usually leads to an overabundance of potential needs, i.e, a long list of document management features that look to provide value, and likely more needs than can be met within the scope of the needs assessment.

    For instance, document collection can include any number of document import functionality through various integrations; while being able to import documents from every tool the organization has considered using, ensuring that the solution provides an import that has not yet been confirmed as part of a future workflow may take away time and attention from more essential needs during the assessment, not to mention resources during the solutioning phase.

  9. Build a list of solutions to meet your needs
  10. Build a list of solutions, such as vendor products and/or internal application development, as well as process improvements; try to be realistic about whether your current resources are adequate to implement each possible solution, i.e., that you can afford the licensing, development, deployment, and adoption costs in time, money, and people resources

    If possible, you should consider various delivery models, including off-the-shelf solutions, custom development by internal teams or external service providers, as well as determining if there are manual processes or workarounds to meet some gaps, at least in the near term.

  11. Score each solution against your prioritized needs, based on how well the solution meets each need:
    1. Meets your requirements: 5
    2. Partially meets your requirements: 2
    3. Does not meet your requirements: 0

    A view of our Needs Assessment Worksheet, with solutions being scored against needs.

    While the highest total may be the closest match to your needs, other high-scoring solutions should still be considered, as each will require a different mix of resources to implement, and your other strategic priorities and their costs should be weighed against the top-scoring solutions

Try Our Needs Assessment Worksheet Template

If you are considering a Needs Assessment, you can view and make a copy of our Needs Assessment Worksheet Template.

What Happens After a Needs Assessment Has Been Completed

What Happens After a Needs Assessment Has Been Completed?

Once the assessment has been completed, there should be a shortlist of solutions, which could include vendor software, internal projects, new processes, professional services, or a combination of many of these items.

The next step is to document the findings regarding this shortlist of solutions, along with a description of each solution, in order to begin conversations with any vendors or internal and external resources that may be required for one or more of these solutions.

Once conversations have been conducted, the stakeholders should be involved in the final decision-making process before the winning solution has been selected.


With so many available options for solutioning a document management or enterprise content management system, it’s essential to spend time analyzing and assessing your needs before beginning conversations around a specific solution.