No one should ever do a scanning project,” enterprise content management consultant Laurence Hart wrote recently in CMSwire.

This was surprising to read, because as both a consultant and in his former position at AIIM, Hart often supported converting paper-based data to electronic data. And one of the common ways to do that conversion—as opposed, to, say, manually re-entering the data, which is time-consuming and is more likely to introduce errors—is by scanning the documents. (Performing optical character recognition so the document is full-text searchable, rather than simply creating an image of the document, is even better.)

“While we’re at it, don’t ever do a cloud project,” Hart adds. “Or a mobile project. Collaboration project? Drop it off in the circular filing cabinet. SharePoint projects are the absolute worst. I haven’t done a lot of these projects, and when I am offered them I typically turn them down.”

So why was Hart suddenly against the notion of these projects?

He wasn’t really. What Hart was against is something for which IT managers are frequently criticized: Looking at a project only in the context of the technology it uses, rather than the business problem it solves or the business benefit it offers. Looking at the project in technological terms, rather than in business terms, doesn’t always end up helping the business—if you can get it approved at all.

“The goal was to make the system more efficient,” Hart describes of one such “scanning project” in an educational organization. “This would give the organization the bandwidth to offer more classes and would reduce the chance of mistakes by removing people from some of the steps. The project helped the organization execute on its mission—not simply remove paper. Sure, scanners were involved but those scanners were merely tools to accommodate situations where information could not be collected digitally.”

So what’s the problem with calling a new project a “scanning project” or a “mobile project” or whatever the new technology is that underlies the project? Because focusing on the technology, without changing the underlying business processes or workflow, is unlikely to achieve the desired results, writes Jeff Ross, the online community strategist manager for Humana Inc.

“Someone says: ‘we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough together,’” Ross writes. “What will IT’s solution to that be? They’ll purchase another tool and install it, or they’ll spend mass quantities of time and resources developing another tool or contracting with a big name vendor to consult about the tools and processes they need. Then the next year when the same complaint arises again that ‘we don’t collaborate or communicate well enough,’ they do the same thing again, and again, and again, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The people and collaboration and culture problem never gets solved because IT tackled it with a technology solution.”

In Ross’ case, he’s writing about enterprise social networks, but the principle is the same: Focus on the business problem to be solved, not the technology.

It’s often a convenient shorthand to refer to the “streamline workflow by digitizing existing documents to gain access to the data located on them through an enterprise content management system” as “the scanning project.” But it’s important to ensure that the purpose of the project is bigger than simply implementing a new technology, Hart warns.

“Substituting out one technology for another is not the recipe for a successful project,” Hart writes. “It is often smoke and mirrors, designed to look like progress is being made to the powers-that-be that read a cool article on a website.”

True, starting out by identifying “What is the business problem we’re trying to solve?” and then determining what technology—if any—should be applied to solve the problem might take longer at first. But in the long run, it’ll save time and money over simply throwing technology at it.

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