What is Enterprise Content Management?
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) can be defined as a dynamic combination of strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver information supporting key organisational processes through its entire lifecycle.
The features and benefits of an ECM system can be wide-reaching, but at its core an ECM system is there to securely store content, organise it and streamline business tasks to improve document, record and form processing. Even as technology changes over time — many solutions today are leveraging the power of machine learning and artificial intelligence — an ECM system’s purpose remains largely the same.
Using ECM software, organisations can speed up operations by automating key processes, save time spent locating documents with a searchable, centralised digital repository and be better prepared to meet compliance requirements with software that can support efforts to secure content.
Capture, Manage, Store and Deliver
ECM = CMSD: Capture, Manage, Store and Deliver
Many judge the effectiveness of an enterprise content management system by its ability to do the following with your content:
Capture: This involves features used to get content into an ECM system, including basic scanning, optical character recognition, artificial intelligence that identifies documents, and tools to import content in bulk.
Manage: In this context, management primarily deals with making content easy to locate for authorised users. Features and functionality that facilitate this include configurable security and access rights to restrict unauthorised access, as well as searchable metadata that enables authorised users to find what they need quickly.
Store: Most ECM solutions will store your content in a centralised repository, but how it goes about it largely depends on its ability to utilise external databases or integrate with other systems.
Preserve: For organisations that are under strict regulations, or simply want to preserve content in case of disaster or wear over time, an ECM solution should be capable of assisting in archiving efforts. Functionality may include digitized records scheduling and the ability to work with write-once, ready-many storage.
Deliver: An ECM system’s ability to deliver is primarily based on whether its users can access the content that they need to when they need it. This likely means being compatible with a variety of devices, and ensuring that each device has an intuitive client they can use to access the system. For transactional content, such as invoices and purchase orders, a digital workflow or robotic process automation solution may be used to put these documents in the right staff member’s hands at the right time.
Use Cases for ECM
Find documents easily and process FOIA and other records requests faster, increasing regulatory compliance and satisfaction.
Accounts Payable Departments
Process paperwork faster, gathering invoice information quickly with AI smart capture technology, while utilising reporting features to track and monitor the entire AP process.
Rapidly Expanding Enterprises
Sustain growth with a solution capable of scaling with the business and offers seamless integrations with other line-of-business applications.
Teams can manage projects and initiatives globally. Process automation can route important documents for approval to major stakeholders, wherever they are in the world.
Automation tools can assist in eliminating manual data entry and streamlining the flow of information between different systems such as those for recruiting and onboarding.
Keep complex projects moving with collaboration and search tools, improving interdepartmental communications and vendor relationships.
Finding the Right Solution
Finding the ECM solution that fits your organisation starts with looking at your business processes as they exist, identifying opportunities for digitisation and automation and evaluating the marketplace for solutions.
Identifying your needs
Before looking at any solution, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can on how you plan to use your proposed enterprise content management system. This includes:
What kinds of content you plan to store in your system, including emails, videos, audio files or text documents.
What processes you plan to improve with automation.
If your solution needs to be used by one department, a few departments or the entire organisation.
What you need to deploy your new solution, including any hardware upgrades, or integrations with current systems.
How many users will have access to the system and what privileges they need.
What your budget is for this solution.
Factors to Consider
When choosing enterprise content management software for your organisation, it’s worth discussing how you want to license it. Below are a few key considerations:
Individual vs. volume: Many of today’s software vendors offer both individual and volume licenses. An individual license can be applied to a single machine, user, or in some cases a few more as part of the package, but usually less than ten. Volume licenses can be applied a few different ways, but usually represent a single license that can be applied to an entire organisation, saving time and resources for both the vendor and the customer.
Perpetual vs. subscription: When purchasing software, you may have a choice between a perpetual license and a subscription license. Perpetual licensing offers indefinite use of the purchased software for a large upfront cost, and may require you to update your software manually to take advantage of new features and bug fixes. Subscription licensing does not require you to pay as much upfront and instead offers software that’s automatically updated for a monthly fee. Typically, you also have the option to pay the monthly fee on an annual contract basis at a discount.
Cloud: Cloud-based software offers customers an opportunity to install their document management system on another organisation’s servers. Popular platforms offering these services include Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft Azure. These platforms and software solutions are usually offered as part of a subscription-based model, as an alternative to purchasing, maintaining or upgrading your own hardware. Although the solution is stored in the cloud, most modern cloud software vendors offer extensive security capabilities to address any concerns. Many cloud platforms even offer automated backups, increasing your ability to recover information in case of disaster.
On-premises: This option has you install software on your own hardware that you can configure how you see fit. If you are capable of procuring your own hardware and want complete control over security, this option may be preferred. However, on premises solutions are more resource heavy and cost intensive.
A smooth implementation process is essential to realising a return on investment in your expected timeframe.
Here are some important characteristics you’ll need to look for as far as implementation:
Configurability: Many document management systems have simple and advanced setup options. Simple setups can be fast, but you may want an advanced setup’s configurability based on what other systems or databases your organisation already has in place. The most powerful systems will allow you to set up an advanced solution just as easily as a simple one. In addition to the system itself, you’ll also want to ensure it’s easy to set up user accounts and administer security settings.
System requirements: If you’re using an on-premises solution, make sure that your hardware meets your software’s system requirements and that you purchase any specialised components needed for the software to run. You’ll also want to note if any firmware is required to run a particular piece of hardware, or if it can work as soon as you plug it in.
Scalability: Even the simplest setup packages can become tedious if you need to utilise them multiple times for large deployments. Consider your prospective system’s installation process at scale and if it can be configured or installed on multiple machines at once when choosing your solution.
Records management and archiving: If your organisation is a part of or affiliated with a heavily regulated industry such as finance and government, you may find records management and archival features essential to supporting compliance efforts. Some ECM systems can even provide features to update the status of records, so you know immediately when records are ready for archival or disposition.
Process automation: When using enterprise content management software, you’ll want to know exactly what it’s capable of as far as automating processes. This is why it’s important to take a deep dive into the specific actions the software can automate, and if you can configure these actions to meet your needs.
Most organisations need their document management systems to work with other enterprise software. You’ll want to make sure the solution you’re assessing works with any software you’re using or plan to purchase in the future, and that you have the IT resources to set up, implement and manage any integrations. Here are a few types of integration tools vendors usually offer:
Application programming interfaces: These can be thought of as a list of commands you can give an application with code. If you have the staff resources, you can code custom integrations with APIs to creatively solve any communication issues between systems.
Pre-built integrations: Typically offered by the vendor, a third party or built natively within the software itself, pre-built integrations should only need a few details about an external system to integrate with it, and can appear directly within an application’s graphical user interface.
Code-free tools: In cases where a pre-built integration or an API doesn’t exist and you don’t have the resources to code your own solution, some vendors offer code-free integration tools. Many of these tools work by simply mimicking human behaviour, but with the processing speed and accuracy of software.
Capture tools: You’ll need to make sure your solution provides technology to capture and digitise your documents, such as invoices and contracts. The best ones can gather data from documents using optical character recognition, organise documents in the correct folder automatically and even process multiple documents in bulk.
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