Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

Enterprise Content Management is the systematic collection and organization of information that is to be used by a designated audience – business executives, customers, etc. Neither a single technology nor a methodology nor a process, it is a dynamic combination of strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information supporting key organizational processes through its entire lifecycle.

  • Capture boils down to entering content into the system.
  • Manage is what you do next to it, so it can be found and used by whomever it is intended for.
  • Storing it means finding it an appropriate home in your infrastructure, be it a formal content management system or other information solution.
  • Preserve refers to long-term care – archiving, if you will – the practice of protecting it so it can be utilized however far into the future the organization needs it to be available.
  • And delivery is all about putting the information in the right people’s hands right when they need it to be there.[1]

A primary goal of ECM is to eliminate ad hoc processes that can expose an organization to regulatory compliance risks and other potential problems. Full-function ECM systems include features such as document and records management, content taxonomies, auditing capabilities, check-in/check-out, and other workflow controls and security mechanisms. An effective ECM can streamline access, eliminate bottlenecks, optimize security, maintain the integrity and minimize overhead. The first step is to document all the types of content that the organization deals with, the business processes it is a part of, and who handles it. ECM software tools can be used to identify duplicate and near-duplicate content, allowing the organization to keep a few copies of a particular piece of content instead of hundreds. ECM has become increasingly important and complex in recent years for a number of reasons. Financial fraud and data breaches, and regulations designed to prevent them, have made effective information governance essential not only for compliance reasons but also to help protect the organization's reputation. Enterprises also need to manage content effectively for integration with business intelligence/business analytics (BI/BA) applications that help them to use the available information to guide business decisions.[2]

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Basics[3]

The enormous number of terms associated with ECM - document management, BPM, case management, imaging, records management, full-text indexing – is bewildering. If you are asking these questions, you are not alone. So here are some basics.

  • Enterprise content management is an umbrella term for the technology, strategy, and method used to capture, manage, access, integrate measure, and store information.
  • The value of enterprise content management software should go way beyond simple scan, store and retrieve solutions. The ideal enterprise content management system encompasses the ECM building blocks mentioned above.
  • Sometimes the term transactional content management is used – but it’s only a part of ECM. ECM is an umbrella term, and these days transactional content management, often associated with business processes that use content to help drive actions and decisions, is just another term under that umbrella.
  • Think of enterprise content management more like your enterprise content strategy. Remember, ECM has evolved into a term more associated with business processes and content strategies than an enterprise content management system.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
source: Gartner

History of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)[4]

The technologies that comprise ECM as of 2016 descend from the electronic document management systems (EDMS) of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The original EDMS products were stand-alone products, providing functionality in one of four areas: imaging, workflow, document management, or ERM. The typical early EDMS adopter deployed a small-scale imaging and workflow system, possibly to just a single department, in order to improve a paper-intensive process and to migrate towards the mythical paperless office. The first stand-alone EDMS technologies aimed to save time or improve information access by reducing paper handling and paper storage, thereby reducing document loss and providing faster access to information. EDMS could provide online access to information formerly available only on paper, microfilm, or microfiche. By improving control over documents and document-oriented processes, EDMS streamlined time-consuming business practices. The audit trail generated by EDMS enhanced document security and provided metrics to help measure productivity and identify efficiencies. Through the late 1990s, the EDMS industry continued to grow steadily. As more organizations achieved "pockets" of productivity with these technologies, it became clear that the various EDMS product categories were complementary. Organizations increasingly wanted to leverage multiple EDMS products. Consider, for example, a customer-service department—where imaging, document management, and workflow could combine to allow agents to better resolve customer inquiries. Likewise, an accounting department might access supplier invoices from an ERM system, purchase orders from an imaging system, and contracts from a document management system as part of an approval workflow. As organizations established an Internet presence, they wanted to present information via the Web, which required managing Web content. Organizations that had automated individual departments now began to envision wider benefits from broader deployment. Many documents are across multiple departments affecting multiple processes. The movement toward integrated EDM systems merely reflected a common trend in the software industry: the ongoing integration of point systems into more comprehensive systems. For example, until the early 1990s, word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software products were standalone products. Thereafter, the market shifted toward integration. Early leaders already offered multiple stand-alone EDMS technologies. The first phase was to offer multiple systems as a single, packaged "suite", with little or no functional integration. Throughout the 1990s, integration increased. Beginning in approximately 2001, the industry began to use the term enterprise content management to refer to these integrated systems. In 2006, Microsoft (with its SharePoint product family) and Oracle Corporation (with Oracle Content Management) also entered the entry-level "value" market segment of ECM. Open-source ECM products are also available. Government standards, including HIPAA, SAS 70, BS 7799, and ISO/IEC 27001, influence the development and deployment of ECM. Standards compliance may make outsourcing to certified service providers a viable alternative to an internal ECM deployment. As of 2016 organizations can deploy a single, flexible ECM system to manage information in all functional departments, including customer service, accounting, human resources, etc.

Types of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)[5]

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) can broadly be classified into three types: Web Content Management, Collaborative Content Management and Transactional Content Management.

  • Web Content Management: An Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Strategy and application which helps organizations which maintain content-rich websites for brand communications and consistency. Such a system will help managers maintain a consistent user interface and the ability to create and publish content online.
  • Transactional Content Management: Transactional Content Management is well suited for organizations that need to manage information originating through physical documents. In most cases the amount of physical documentation is substantial.

Why consider an ECM solution[6]

  • Sharing and collaboration on a common platform
  • Greater customer and organizational responsiveness
  • Faster and better decision-making processes
  • Improved efficiencies from reusable content (such as templates)
  • Reduced risk and improved compliance through standardization
  • Stronger market positions relative to competitors who still employ manual processes and paper documents
  • Lower storage costs and better use of physical space

5 Elements of an ECM Solution[7]

  1. Capture documents digitally: Traditional methods of capturing documents require a great deal of effort and expense. Capturing documents in a digital repository eliminates many of the obstacles created by paper: labor-intensive duplication, slow distribution, misplaced originals, and the inconvenience of retrieving files from offsite storage. Managing an organization’s content begins with the capture and importing of information into a secure digital repository. This can be any kind of document that is created, captured, stored, shared, or archived, including:
    • Invoices from vendors
    • Resumes from job applicants
    • Contracts
    • Correspondence
    • Research reports
      A few methods of capturing these documents include:
    • Using electronic forms to make documents digital from the point of creation
    • Scanning paper documents to be filed in a digital repository
    • Managing “already digital” content, including Microsoft Office documents, PDFs, photos, and video
    • Automatically filing and categorizing documents from servers, MFPs, and other shared locations
  2. Store documents in a digital repository: With robust ECM systems, organizations can easily store any business-critical document in a digital repository, allowing users to:
    • View or make edits (based on access rights) to any document in the repository
    • View document metadata
    • Organize documents within a flexible folder structure
  3. Retrieve documents, regardless of device or location: The benefits of enterprise content management go beyond simply keeping track of where documents are located. A content management system also reduces the time, cost, and complexity associated with managing documents throughout their life cycle, helping ensure compliance with organizational record retention policies. In fact, a recent Nucleus Research study showed content management systems returning $6.12 for every dollar invested. Enterprise content management software helps eliminate time spent searching for information, enabling employees to answer information requests from clients, citizens, and auditors immediately. More than that, staff have instant access to the information required to make better decisions about issues impacting your organization’s bottom line. Once an organization’s records have been securely stored, you can:
    • Find any document using a full-text search
    • Identify specific words or phrases within document text, metadata, annotations, and entry names
    • Use preset search options to search by document creation date, the names of users who checked out documents, and other metadata
  4. Automate document-driven processes: For example, purchase orders must be signed, records must be archived, and employee vacation requests must be either approved or denied. Automation moves these documents through the necessary steps of review and approval, in the order specified. The end result is processes that are more cost-efficient, streamlined, and error-free. Automation helps organizations eliminate manual tasks—including photocopying, hand delivery, and repetitive dragging and dropping—to achieve greater results with fewer resources. Some ECM systems have digital automation features that can:
    • Automatically route documents to the right people at the right time
    • Alert staff members when documents require their attention
    • Recognize errors before any extraneous work can be done
  5. ecure documents and reduce organizational risk: With strengthening compliance restrictions in a wide range of industries, organizations are increasingly using ECM systems to optimize records management practices and protect against risk. An enterprise content management system must provide customizable security settings to allow organizations to protect information from unauthorized access or modification.
    • Restrict access to folders, documents, fields, annotations, and other granular document properties as needed
    • Monitor system login and logout, document creation and destruction, password changes, and more
    • Protect sensitive metadata by controlling information access down to individual folders, templates, and fields

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Benefits[8]

  • More efficient and cost-effective document management and control to drive enterprise adoption
  • Ensured integrated compliance with government and industry regulations
  • Security functions that filter sensitive data masked with redaction features, facilitating document sharing without compromising individual identities or other sensitive data
  • Reduced costs through decreased storage space, supply resources, and postal requirements
  • Reduced IT resources via SaaS solutions

Challenges in Implementing an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) System[9]

  • Vision & Ownership: Any successful ECM implementation is driven by a very early realization of developing an effective strategy and business case. A clear articulation and even clearer communication of this ECM vision across the enterprise is usually the fundamental difference between the success and failure of this initiative. Every department and key stakeholders within each department need to be onboard on this initiative right from the start. ECM implementation is often considered an IT initiative, because of its heavy focus on technology enablement, and the level of ownership from business is usually low. The real challenge is to make everyone part of this vision and have the business drive it with the help of IT rather than IT driving it for Business.
  • Identifying the Right Team: The second and probably most important challenge in implementing an ECM is to identify the right team. Usually, an ECM team comprises SMEs (subject matter experts) from every department, IT, and optionally a third-party vendor which specializes in ECM implementations and has enough experience in doing an end-to-end implementation. ECM is a fairly complex domain and requires very specific knowledge of tools and processes to implement it. Expecting your IT to take it through without the help of a vendor can result in a lack of direction and this is why many ECM implementations fail to achieve their promises.
  • Selecting the Right ECM Framework: Selecting the right framework for ECM implementation is another challenge that needs to be addressed with care. Industry-leading tools like Microsoft SharePoint, Documentum, FileNet, and Alfresco all provide the necessary framework for mapping business requirements to technical solutions. Usually, it is advisable to use the same set of tools with which users are already familiar. For example, if SharePoint is already being used for basic collaboration within the enterprise then it makes more sense to leverage this ROI and Design your ECM implementation over SharePoint.
  • Understanding Business Diversity: Every business is unique in the way it operates. Understanding the diversity in your business and its implication is absolutely vital to the success of ECM implementation. This is where the identification of the right stakeholders from every department plays a vital part. With the help of these business stakeholders, commonalities and differences between how different departments create, process, manage and store their content need to be identified fairly early in the analysis phase.
  • Estimation: Estimating the effort required for an end-to-end implementation is a fairly complex task. The trick really is to divide the implementation into different phases. The first phase is usually comprised of doing a pilot implementation on a limited scale where a few departments are selected and an end-to-end implementation is done. It becomes easier to estimate the implementation of remaining departments after a successful pilot rollout. Typical phases for a pilot implementation are
    • Inception
    • Analysis
    • Design
    • Implementation
    • Training
  • Training: A successful ECM implementation is about repeating the mantra of Information Management and keeping all the users in the loop of the expected organizational changes to achieve ECM. End-user training should be targeted toward understanding the strategies, tools, and technologies used to capture, process, manage, store and deliver information in support of their respective business processes. It must be noted that a significant portion of the ECM implementation effort should be spent on training so that users are readily prepared for upcoming changes and adopt the change without any reluctance.

See Also

Mobile Content Management (MCM)
Branded Content Management


Further Reading