An Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system helps organizations manage their unstructured content through predetermined methods, processes, and tools. Across a 30-year evolution, starting life as document management systems, today’s enterprise content management systems are crucial to modern business. This blog takes a closer look into how this 21st-century tech can benefit your organization through the lens of its key features and components.
Benefits of Enterprise Content Management
Implementing an ECM solution is a vital project that takes both time and effort. However, having successfully deployed the solution, the associated benefits are numerous.
1. Improved Security
The digital world is constantly fighting battles against data breaches, and the last thing an organization wants to do is leave its sensitive content vulnerable.
When an organization’s documents live in an ECM system, they sit in a secure digital repository. The system provides comprehensive access permissions, detailed user activity tracking, and document versioning and encryption enabling the organization to rest assured that their documents are safe and sound.
Secure content management systems also protect organizations from human errors like losing files or leaving sensitive information out in the open where prying eyes can collect confidential data. Additionally, increased security features like redaction can protect specific confidential information within documents when collaborating and sharing content.
2. Strengthened Compliance & Governance
An organization’s information is one of its most valuable assets. Consequently, the strategy that defines the policies and procedures for information handling and management, and by what means, is of utmost importance.
Failing to comply with government and industry regulations can lead to financial penalties, business interruption, and a bad reputation. This is especially pertinent in highly regulated industries such as healthcare, pharmaceuticals, finance, and energy.
It’s no longer enough to prove that best practices are in place; now, an organization must also prove that it has complied with regulations based on accurate access and usage information, verified through detailed audits.
With an ECM system in place, the tracking and documentation of all user activity is automated, providing organizations with access to the data required to demonstrate effective compliance.
An ECM system’s information governance also protects content and ensures efficiency by establishing a single source of truth, ensuring users are working on the correct version of content at all times.
3. Increased Productivity and Efficiency
When content is well-organized but still easily accessible, organizations can streamline business processes, quickly locate information, and enable employees to focus their attention on critical tasks instead of time-consuming administrative work.
Not only does an ECM system benefit workers with increased internal productivity and efficiency, but organizations can better provide exceptional customer service and deliver their products and services in a timely manner.
The bottom line is that users inside and outside of an organization reap the benefits of a secure, connected, and collaborative way to work with information.
4. Cost Savings
An enterprise content management system’s digital repository frees your organization from the burden of managing paper.
Printing and shipping fees, as well as time spent delivering paper documents throughout an organization and to third parties and clients all add up. If an organization has masses amounts of physical documents, it is responsible for storage costs, including the maintenance and managing of that storage.
The actual cost of working paper, not to mention the environmental impact, is significant — as is the cost of inefficiency that is introduced by the continued use of paper in processes. All of these paper-driven costs can be substantially reduced by using an ECM system.
Key Features of Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise Content Management is a broad term that describes a set of related functions and processes that come together to provide an incredibly versatile set of tools to manage documents and content. To provide that flexibility any effective ECM platform needs a core set of content management system features. From a repository for simple document management to secure collaboration, below we detail the six key features that every ECM solution needs to have.
1. Document Management
When Enterprise Document Management Systems (DMS) were introduced in the 1980s, little did anyone know that, 30 years later, they would evolve into today’s enterprise content management systems. While its roots are firmly planted in replacing physical filing systems, document management is more than just that.
From capture, document version control, and audit tracking capabilities to complex security features, search functionality, indexing, and administration, document management is at the heart of ECM systems.
One of the darlings of modern business technology is automation, or workflows, and automated Business Process Management (BPM) is an organization’s key to removing mundane manual processes. From simple document routing based on metadata, through document approvals, to complex business processes, workflow and automation of activities is what many think of when talking about ECM. The reality is that many never get beyond simple automation, but for those that do, great results await.
3. Secure Collaboration
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it seemed like the majority of the world’s workforce was forced to work from home overnight. Remote working used to be a perk if you were lucky enough to receive it; it’s now a necessity that demands secure collaboration and may even be the new way to work in a global market.
But there’s always a risk involved with sharing sensitive information online, either via email or the cloud, whether between coworkers, third parties, or customers. It’s not just data breaches an organization has to worry about; it must also keep track of document versioning, authorizations, and edits.
ECM secure collaboration capabilities make use of technologies such as granular access permissions, document encryption, and version control to give users the benefit of working in a safe, controlled environment from any device or location they choose.
4. Enterprise Search
Search functions allow users to find information from within an organization and are a critical component of an efficient ECM system. IDC research identifies how much searching for information actually costs an organization:
- When the average worker attempts to locate information in their company’s system, they can’t find it almost half (46%) of the time.
- For the average knowledge worker, 30% of the workday, or 2.5 hours, is spent searching for information.
- Fortune 500 companies on average have lost $60-85 Billion in direct costs alone, and even more on opportunity costs, to time wasted searching for information.
The numbers speak for themselves, but there is an additional challenge. Most organizations have content scattered across the business in multiple, disconnected systems. Any effective content search capability needs to bridge these silos of information to enable users to search, find and distribute relevant information efficiently, irrespective of where the original content resides.
5. Records Management
Legal requirements and compliance regulations dictate that organizations retain certain documents for a specific amount of time and then dispose of them properly at the end of that time span. These content retention and disposition schedules and their associated control are known as records management.
ECM’s Records Management capabilities help organizations with governance records, ensure the immutability of content, manage any associated risk, and strengthen compliance by controlling and applying retention schedules. Failing to do so can cost a company dearly, and the last thing an organization wants to do is deal with a compliance or litigation crisis.
6. Integration with Existing IT
One of the most important new features of modern ECM systems is their ability to integrate with existing IT infrastructures. The ultimate goal of any organization is to house a healthy information management ecosystem, one that consists of tools and technologies that interact seamlessly and perform based on an organization’s expectations.
Most organizations have established sets of digital tools and technologies that serve specific needs across the business. Examples of these include:
- Productivity tools such as MS Word, and MS Excel
- Business systems such as CRM and ERP tools
- Departmental systems for HR, finance, and legal
It’s imperative that any ECM system not only co-exist but actively integrate and add value with these existing core tools.
Components of Enterprise Content Management
Above we described the benefits of using an ECM solution and also the core features that a good ECM platform requires. The final piece in our exploration of all things ECM is to look at the seven pillars of ECM — the fundamental building blocks of an ECM solution that allow organizations to effectively manage their documents.
While turning paper documents into electronic formats via scanning is an important part of ECM’s Capture component, modern systems now collect information from emails, images, videos, faxes, completed forms, and more.
In this phase of the content lifecycle, the ECM system performs a number of tasks:
- Collects and organizes content into a cohesive structure.
- Extracts information from within the content.
- Classifies the content.
- Defines any required naming or metadata.
- Sends the content to its next destination.
During this process numerous technologies are used to automate the classification and extraction of data from the raw content. Optical character recognition (OCR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine vision, and Natural Language Processing (NLP), all play a part in helping to turn unstructured content into structured data for processing.
An ECM system’s Manage component is where many of its features shine. During this stage of the lifecycle, information is controlled via such features as:
- Document creation
- Document editing and collaboration
- Version control
- Secure sharing
- User roles and permissions
- Workflow and Business Process Management
The Manage component makes it possible to control information in accordance with corporate policies, industry practices, and government mandates.
An ECM system’s Store component isn’t simply about where content lives. With modern solutions, content can be stored in numerous locations and even within different systems using content federation.
These storage repositories can reside on-premises or in the cloud, or in many architectures both co-exist in hybrid storage scenarios. For those looking at long term storage and archiving, further options exist around online versus offline storage, speed of access, and much more. All of these configurations and options can be controlled intelligently by the ECM system itself, allowing your organization to optimize its storage for optimal speed, cost, location, and security.
Established user and role-based permissions govern content by controlling access to viewing, editing, and sharing information. Further preserving file integrity and security, detailed audit trails report all user activity.
Government and industry regulations require many organizations to retain documents and records for a certain amount of time. So, what happens once important content becomes inactive but necessary to keep?
ECM’s Preserve component, via records management and archival capabilities, allows an organization to securely store and continually back up content for the medium and long term, keeping accessibility and usability intact.
If end users are unable to receive stored information upon request, none of the previous components would matter much. That is why the ECM Access component is invaluable.
Users can access content from the ECM system in many ways — using folder structures, via search capabilities, or via custom case-management interfaces. Such access can be delivered via mobile devices, desktops, or web systems. The key requirement for access is that end-users are able to quickly retrieve the information they seek, in a secure manner, in line with corporate permissions and governance policies.
Many have argued that Automation is the true magic of ECM systems and their ability to streamline operations and increase productivity. This component decreases or eliminates altogether the tedious administrative tasks that humans typically handle, such as document processing and filing. Many organizations consider investing in an ECM system strictly for the automation component, which can drastically improve productivity and efficiency and increase ROI.
After factoring in all of the benefits, features, and components of an enterprise content management system, it’s easy to understand why organizations around the world are implementing this type of technology. Modern business tech will continue to advance at lightning-fast speeds, and an ECM solution is a core foundation in your overall corporate architecture.
If you already have an ECM solution, make sure it delivers against all of the functionality detailed above. If you don’t have a solution yet - now is the time to start weighing your options in order to future-proof your organization with a modern, intuitive information management solution.
Contact us to see how to create the most powerful ECM applications with the Nuxeo Platform.