February 22, 2023

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The ultimate guide to enterprise content management

Enterprise content management (ECM) solutions play a crucial role in the transformation and modernization of business today. But with so many potential systems and use cases, figuring out where to start can be overwhelming.

Danielle Simer

Marketing portfolio manager

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The Ultimate Guide to Enterprise Content Management

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions
play a crucial role in the transformation and modernization of business today. But with so many potential systems and use cases, figuring out where to start can be overwhelming.

That’s where The Ultimate Guide to Enterprise Content Management comes in. In this guide, we answer your most pressing ECM questions, as well as some that you probably haven’t considered.

So, sit back, relax, and let’s start with basics: What is ECM anyway?

What is ECM?

Enterprise Content Management is a framework of tools, methodologies, and processes that helps organizations manage content throughout its lifecycle, automate workflows, and streamline business processes to drive business goals.

Modern ECM systems are the key to digital transformation, capable of:

  • Simplifying file sharing and library services
  • Maintaining information compliance, governance, and records management.
  • Optimizing business process management.
  • Enabling mobile and remote working
  • Acting as a content repository for external applications.
  • And a slew of other critical tasks and processes.

Enterprise Content Management History

The need for enterprise content management can be traced back 5,000 years to ancient civilizations struggling to maintain organized societies. As civilizations grew, the need to record, collect, and manage information grew with it.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when the information technology world introduced a new definition for Document Management (DM or DMS). This technology scanned paper documents, turned them into digital images or PDFs, stored those files electronically, and enabled users to retrieve information via simple search capabilities.

Document Management or Enterprise Content Management?

It’s a common misconception to think that DM and ECM are the same — but it is fair to think of enterprise content management as the natural evolution of document management.

Today, we have more information than ever before, and data volume will continue to grow as the lines between our physical world and digital one blur. The need for automated solutions to store, organize, and locate information becomes more critical daily. This need drove the evolution of ECM as a sophisticated solution to the growing requirement to manage our digital world.

Those organizations grasping the information modernization ethos are reaping the benefits. Research shows that 80% of the market capital growth of the world’s leading companies can be traced to digital-native firms — or those who are inherently managing information effectively.

ECM Components

Modern-day ECM systems are typically formed from six core components:

  • Capture
  • Manage
  • Store
  • Preserve
  • Access
  • Automate

These components are the building blocks of ECM technology and allow organizations to control documents from creation right through to destruction.

ECM Features

Building on the core ECM components, a series of additional value-added features are frequently delivered by solutions:

  • Scanning, or capture of physical documents and transformation via tools such as OCR and intelligent document processing
  • Automation in workflows and Business Process Management (BPM) tools
  • Secure collaboration to safely work simultaneously
  • Enterprise search to efficiently locate information via connected silos of information
  • Records management to help mitigate risk by automatically retaining and disposing of content, on schedule
  • Customer communication management (CCM) capabilities to manage personalized interactions with large volumes of customers
  • Seamless integrations to immediately see the benefits of ECM with less training and higher user adoption

ECM Benefits

It’s easy to say that a modern ECM system is crucial in today’s business environment and digital transformations, but in what ways? The components and features provided by ECM solutions benefit your organization in four tangible areas:

  • Strengthened compliance and governance
  • Improved security
  • Increased productivity and efficiency
  • Cost Savings

Why you need modern Enterprise Content Management?

If your organization still relies on outdated legacy information systems, your business is more than likely surpassing your system’s ability to deliver value. If you are holding on to outdated tools, it’s time to consider how you can adapt and compete in today’s — and tomorrow’s — highly competitive markets. It’s time to implement a modern content management system to discover the benefits of a true digital transformation.

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Your current content management system is not fit for purpose

More often than not, the core reason why people look to a modern ECM system is because their existing system is failing them. Remember, content management has been around for a long time, and many legacy systems came with lengthy support and maintenance agreements — it is common for 5-7 year support agreements with some vendors.

Can you imagine using a 7 year old cell phone today? Well this is exactly what many people find themselves doing with their ECM system. These poor souls find themselves using a “solution” that likely offers poor scalability, limited (if any) cloud options, a lack of ongoing innovation, and an inability to integrate with other systems in your business stack. With existing legacy enterprise content management that is not fit for purpose, organizations need to modernize, and bring their information management capabilities in line with the rest of their IT eco-system.

Information is critical to your business

In our rapidly advancing digital world, where information is seen as a commodity, businesses must adequately manage their information.

Information management provides a framework to build better strategies while streamlining processes, increasing productivity, and creating an engaging customer service experience. It also critically connects documents to the data stored within them — surfacing information and insights that often remains hidden in many file formats.

Information management system modernization has become critical with accelerated return on investment (ROI) and reduced . Instead of the usual “rip and replace” method, existing systems stay in place and together, while consolidation allows you to identify which systems are outdated or lack value.

Solve complex content challenges

Enterprise Content Management success depends on modern features and infrastructure to solve complex content challenges.

Features include:

  • A highly adaptable schema-flexible content model that allows for quick content repurposing to match the speed of changing business needs.
  • Streamlined content-driven transaction processing and advanced workflow creation that supports rich content objects.
  • Content consolidation into cloud-native Digital Asset Management (DAM) repositories that connect to multiple systems.
  • Native mobile application creation.

Content challenges will continue to evolve in complexity, volumes of data will continue to grow exponentially, and your organization will continue to increase in size. Flexibility, scalability, and customization needs will eventually force legacy systems into obsolescence.

Deliver a richer user experience

75% of users regularly recreate content knowing that it exists somewhere in the organization’s databases.

In the past, connecting systems was an expensive and complex undertaking — challenging to maintain and requiring custom coding. However, modern ECM systems offer content federation, allowing the ECM system to link core business systems via connectors. Federation creates a single solution that makes it easier for users to quickly locate content across the business, improving operational efficiency and reducing frustration.

Beyond this, tightly coupled integrations to core line of business applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) tools such as SAP and Salesforce allow end users to access business documents while continuing to work within the systems they are familiar with.

Increase market share with digital transformation

If you had to guess, what do you think customers identify as the key brand differentiator between businesses? Price? Product? The answer is customer experience.

Thanks to powerhouse players such as Amazon, Apple, and Google, customers now demand an intuitive, user-first experience for all transactions, no matter where they’re conducting business. When organizations deliver rich user experiences, they gain a monumental competitive edge that can, in turn, increase market share.

Digital transformation enables your organization’s employees and staff to work seamlessly and efficiently in a personalized environment. User-friendly applications that offer a “360-degree” view of the customer and real- or near real-time decisions have dramatically changed how organizations acquire, interact with, and retain customers and staff. ECM provides the toolset to deliver the information architecture that underpins such advanced levels of personalization — utilizing technologies such as capture and AI to extract business insights from documents, rich-media, and previously untapped data sources.

Still, it is low-code development tools that act as the catalyst for this transformation — enabling developers to create robust business applications in a matter of days or weeks. This development agility allows organizations to adapt to changing business, user, and market needs rapidly.

Content Management drives compliance

Modern Enterprise Content Management offers a multitude of capabilities to create a secure, compliant environment. Granular user and role based access permissions, comprehensive audit trails, records and retention management, and even version control strengthen the way organizations manage governance and compliance.

Cloud-native offerings are changing the game further with built-in security frameworks, validated by third-party auditors, to make mission-critical operations available 24/7 and protect them via full disaster recovery of continuity. Flexible, rule-based policies offer authentication of users, secure access to data, content verification, and encrypted protection, and detailed audit trails.

How to Build a Content Management Strategy

Whether you’re implementing your first ECM or are considering an upgrade, evaluation of current circumstances and challenges, as well as establishing a clear vision of future objectives, is critical.

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Evaluate your existing content systems

Start by identifying your needs and objectives versus the efficiency gaps in your current setup. It’s essential to know what types of assets your organization handles, how much information exists, and where it lives.

Determine how many information management applications are in use and how your organization’s end users locate information via current legacy applications and content repositories.

Platform vs solution

While solution suites are designed to solve problems, they only solve the problems they were intended to solve and usually require extensive coding. That’s not helpful in a business environment that requires total agility.

Platforms, on the other hand, provide a more flexible environment to build in and on. An ECM platform will deliver the core components and functionality such as sophisticated search capabilities, comprehensive permissions and security, complete document management, and workflow capabilities. Still, it will also deliver agility and personalization via low-code development tools — enabling organizations to build business-focused applications on top of the platform rapidly.

Moving to the Cloud

You may not be considering a move to managing content in the cloud today, but one thing is for sure: you’re going to have to move to the cloud — and probably sooner than you think! Planning that journey is a critical component of any information management, or enterprise content management technology strategy.

Evaluate migration risks

There are always risks involved with moving from one system to another but the benefits of modernizing your information systems vastly outweigh those risks if your implementation, migration, or upgrade is executed correctly. The key is to find the least disruptive approach possible. One way to mitigate those risks is to be aware of them.

Build vs. Buy

To build or to buy is a question that plagues CIOs and IT leaders across industries. While building a system seems like a viable solution since, like building a dream home, you can customize the system to fit your organization’s specific needs, this approach requires a high-level skill set and a lot of time and money. As a result, it also comes with a high rate of failure.

Remember, you’re not simply building a system to address today’s problems; you’re future-proofing a system that’s agile enough to adapt to rapidly changing business. To successfully build a modern content services solution you need to think about creating a modern, scalable, flexible architecture to solve the challenges of today — but you also need to be aware of how these needs will change over time, and architect for the future.

The build versus buy conversation is a deep and complex one needing to cover areas such as cloud-native solutions, NoSQL and SQL databases, low-code app development, REST-API’s, and Open Source.

Industry use cases

Sometimes, the most helpful way to solve a problem is to see how someone else solved it. ECM provides solutions for all types of businesses across industries, and understanding how other organizations in your sector have already deployed ECM solutions can be precious.

For example, consider one of the top 15 banks in the world who used an ECM platform to create a “Data Vault,” to store client information securely. They adopted a cloud-native platform, which dramatically increased performance and scalability, horizontally and vertically, with Open Source and microservices architecture, federation capabilities, and a low-code development approach.

Financial services is but one industry that has to pay close attention to compliance regulations. Healthcare, pharmaceutical, energy, and legal sectors all face severe penalties for noncompliance with government or industry regulations.

Consider hiring an ECM consultant

We covered a decent amount of ground through this piece when it comes to risk and how, no matter what, it will always be around the corner. However, in any given situation, there are ways to avoid risk or at least mitigate it, and digital transformations, which involve the utmost care in strategizing, planning, and deployment, are no exception. Often, failure also escorts the best self-implementations, costing time, money, and possibly jobs.

That’s why we recommend ECM consulting. We can’t urge the importance of investing in ECM consulting enough, and not because we offer the service but because we’ve seen the disasters caused by failed implementations.

Future of Enterprise Content Management

As we have seen, ECM has come a long way — from inceptions 5000 years ago, through document management, to where we sit today. But technology never sits still, and in this section, we take a look at the future of content management.

From Content Management to Content Services

n 2017, Gartner announced “The Death of ECM and retired the term, giving rise to a new term — “Content Services.” A Content Services Platform (CSP) is defined as a customizable, cloud-based SaaS software that natively manages all rich form content at scale and connects all information sources.

Before you ask why we’ve spent our time detailing ECM only to tell you that they’re dead, rest assured, they are anything but.

Think of a CSP as a modern, cloud-enabled evolution of ECM. In the past, users needed to adapt to the system, but CSP turns that upside down and provides a tailored experience based on an individual user’s preferences, giving them ease of access and interaction from their business app of choice, on any device, anywhere in the world, at any time.

Smart Content Applications

Organizations now have the tools to rethink how they manage information. The ability to leverage new capabilities like cloud, microservices, AI, and Machine Learning (ML) allow organizations to build smart content applications based on data-driven, actionable insights. Ultimately, this helps end-users achieve their desired outcomes as part of their experience. AI-powered ECM applications vastly improve decision-making and operational efficiency, deliver rich customer experiences, reduce time to market, and add value to your business.

Increasing Productivity with AI

We can talk for days about the benefits of AI. Still, while 60% of organizations see the potential of AI to automate mundane tasks, 60% also believe their organization lacks the skill to capitalize on AI.

But that’s why it’s critical to consider a true digital transformation and enjoy the benefits of new technology, like AI’s ability to increase productivity by 15% when combined with modern content services.

AI also enables organizations to create quality products faster than ever before and more efficiently while extracting critical information that can lead to more informed business decisions. There’s no predicting the extent of machine automation and intelligence, but one thing is for sure — those who harness the benefits now will reap the rewards in the future.

Accelerated Agility with Low code

Low-code tools increase efficiency for developers by allowing them to reuse existing components and templates to accelerate application delivery. They provide developers with the flexibility to code just enough to customize solutions without reinventing the wheel while also supplying drag-and-drop capabilities to easily configure workflows and business processes without writing a single line of code.

Since many business applications depend on content for their platforms, low-code tools provide rich content and document workflow functionality that enables developers to rapidly build content or case management applications to respond to evolving market demand. We witnessed how crucial that capability would prove during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Information is a gift to modern business. When managed correctly, organizations can unlock information’s limitless potential to inform and drive leading-edge insights.

We are witnessing the evolution of business technology daily, and as we know, “survival of the fittest” doesn’t wait for those struggling to keep pace. Enterprise content management systems have evolved from early document management systems into the fundamental platform required for organizations to compete in the modern corporate environment. Those organizations who understand and harness this power will see a significant competitive advantage in the future — those that don’t will likely not be here long enough to see the next evolution of ECM.