Enterprise Content Management (ECM) enables organizations to go beyond traditional document management by providing an integrated enterprise platform for managing the complete life cycle of information, automating content-centric business processes and enabling records management.
“Companies are using ECM in a wide variety of ways to solve diverse business problems. New technology innovations are rapidly increasing the capabilities of ECM, making it an even more useful tool,” says Prashant Kothari, head of ECM practice for HTC Global Services.
Smart Business spoke with Kothari about ECM and how it can help organizations manage ever-growing content and information.
Why ECM is important?
An ECM platform can help organizations to gain better control of content and information. It also helps streamline business processes to increase productivity and efficiencies, thereby reducing costs. An ECM platform brings all the information together in a way that helps knowledge workers to make decisions faster.
What types of businesses can benefit from using ECM?
It can benefit nearly every business that deals with content in both forms – paper and electronic. Content could include documents, emails, faxes, multimedia, transaction records and other digital assets.
ECM is critical for any business that is dealing with challenges such as large volumes of content that need to be made more accessible and usable, inefficiencies in completing operational tasks that require content for decision making, or regulatory compliance mandates that require greater control over unstructured information within the organization.
How does business process management tie in, and what benefit does it offer to a business using ECM?
Business process management (BPM) enables automation of manual business processes. It provides a comprehensive set of workflow capabilities for the end-to-end automation. This helps automating task assignments, triggering tasks on a specific event or decision making using predefined rules.
It integrates content with business processes, thereby helping an organization to make timely decisions using the most accurate information available. Such capability can reduce cycle times and improve productivity across the entire organization and deliver significant return on investment.
What is the process of setting up an ECM system for a business?
The ECM platform provides software components that can be used in standalone mode or with other components as a unified platform. At a high level, these components can be grouped by functionality for imaging, content and data capture, content management, process management (workflow), records management, electronic forms, collaboration and business rules management.
The process starts with the assessment of content management needs and process management needs (if any). Identify the type of content that needs to be managed and the format of the source content. How and who all will need access to the content once it is stored in a repository?
This assessment is then used to identify the ECM software components that will be used to implement the solution. Once the ECM components are identified, hardware and infrastructure requirements are defined.
The solution is then designed by defining configuration for content capture, management of various content types, users access, user roles and security, system integration, storage for repository, and reporting. The software is then configured and customized as per the design.
There are several ECM software products in the market to choose from, and these products can be procured and set up in-house, or hosted by external vendors. Some ECM vendors are now offering their software via cloud (or SaaS) model as well.
Typically, to setup an ECM environment, one has to set up ECM software components and database software on appropriate hardware (server/s). Configure storage devices such as Storage Area Network to set up content repository. Configure network administration and a security server such as Active Directory for setting up user authentication and defining access privileges. Configure content ingestion tools to import content from various source such as email, fax and online. Set up scanners and/or multifunction copier machines for scanning paper documents.
Implementation of advanced features could require configuring workflows, deadlines and content retention policies. Some products provide features to define search templates that can be configured for each business group to enable easy way to search, retrieve and view content.
What should a company expect to invest in an ECM system as far as time for installation, training employees to use the system and updating and maintaining it?
That varies depending on the size of the organization and its needs. Implementation of a basic system requires minimum time and training. Users can easily learn the system within a couple of days. However, if it’s a complex solution that incorporates business process management, then the implementation and training could take few weeks.
From a support perspective, these products are very stable and don’t require significant effort to maintain and support. However, periodically, one has to review database growth, and storage needs to handle the growth in content and transactions. Manage user accounts and also monitor logs for transactions occurring within the system and verifying users accessing the system.
What is the return on investment?
It increases as you move up from basic imaging and document management features to advanced workflow automation and legacy integration to electronic discovery and content analytics features. However, for a business that primarily relies on paper for all type of information could achieve significant ROI with just a basic system. This basic system could address challenges of managing paper, content sharing and delivery, disaster recovery, business continuity and regulatory compliance.
ROI is calculated on a case-by-case basis by considering factors such as the current cost of information capture, information management, storage, sharing, processing, and communications management. Typically the efficiency gained by implementing ECM goes from 20 percent and beyond.
Prashant Kothari is head of ECM practice for HTC Global Services. Reach him at (248) 530-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Insights Technology is brought to you by HTC Global Services.
How much time do your employees spend each day tracking down documents or recreating those that have been misplaced? Even if it’s just a few minutes — and at most businesses it’s much more than that — that’s time that those employees could be doing something more beneficial to the company, says Nano Zegarra, director, Imaging Solutions Division, at Blue Technologies.
“People waste a lot of time getting up to look for files,” says Zegarra. “And while they’re up searching, they bump into someone, and three minutes turns into 10. An enterprise content management (ECM) solution can eliminate that wasted time by placing all of your organization’s documents, regardless of format, in an easy to search centralized repository. There is no real need to get up and search for documents.”
Smart Business spoke with Zegarra about how an ECM system can create efficiencies for your company and allow your employees to focus on growth, not on searching for documents.
What are the benefits of an enterprise content management system?
Many companies have unstructured document storage, with some documents on paper and some in electronic format stored on a network or on their computers, with multiple versions of the same document in different places, lacking any kind of consistency.
Paper documents can be easily lost, damaged, misplaced or they may be overlooked altogether, causing you to recreate them. And with paper-based workflows, you have documents moving from one person to another through multiple levels of approval with no real way to audit the trail or link related documentation.
But with ECM, the related documentation is always at your fingertips and one can easily monitor a process to see where the inefficiencies lie. It offers a huge return on investment.
Another benefit is customer service. If a customer calls to question an invoice or a contract, there may be some timely investigation needed. That may entail calling someone to request a document or looking for old e-mails, then calling the customer back with the information. But with an ECM solution everything is stored centrally, so you can quickly log into the system, enter your search criteria and have everything regarding that customer in front of you, giving you the ability to quickly answer any inquiry and provide the necessary documentation to the customer if needed.
All of the work that is now sitting on your desk or that is scattered in files across multiple locations can now be sitting on your computer for quick and easy access from anywhere in your organization.
How can a company get started implementing an ECM system?
It just takes someone recognizing pain points or inefficiencies in the way they do business. Too often, companies get into the mindset that paper documents are the way they’ve always done it so that’s the way it needs to be done. It takes a proactive thinker to recognize that there has to be a better way.
When people think of ECM, they often think they need to involve the IT staff, but that is not true. The best place to get started is to identify your biggest problem point, the area where you have the biggest inefficiencies when it comes to processes, especially paper-driven processes. Once you recognize that this is something you need, contact an ECM professional, who will ask about your processes to analyze your needs and identify inefficiencies that could be eliminated with an ECM solution.
Aren’t a lot of companies already paperless?
Yes, and a lot of companies think that because they are paperless, they are doing it right. But simply being paperless isn’t enough. After companies gain an understanding of what ECM can do for them, they realize that even though they are scanning everything, they can still make that process more efficient.
There are a lot of bottlenecks in organizations, even in those that have gone electronic. Someone has to digitize a document, and someone has to categorize it.
Some ECM solutions can capture data automatically, relieving you of the timely indexing, and pushing it right into a workflow process. That’s where you see the biggest cost savings: workflow processing. It is the best way to handle any type of transactional data.
When you look at return on investment, you have hard costs and soft costs. Obviously you need less paper and storage space, but there are also the soft costs gained in people not wasting time tracking down paper documents, sitting on the phone waiting for someone else to track down a document or waiting on approval.
ECM speeds up the process and allows you to repurpose employees for more meaningful tasks. Then, as a company begins to grow, it doesn’t have to add people to process more. It can tweak the workflow, adding efficiencies, and, as it continues to grow, it can tweak it again.
What should a company look for in an ECM provider?
Look for a solutions analyst, a company that is not just trying to sell you a system or software but that will partner with you, listen to your needs, analyze them and find the best solution.
Also make sure the system is user friendly so that you can tweak it yourself. With many systems, when you want to change something, you have to go back to the vendor for every change. A proper solution should be handled by the user; you are the one that knows your organizations and processes better than anyone. The job of the solutions analyst is to make sure that you not only have the tools but the knowledge to make your business workflow better.
Nano Zegarra is director, Imaging Solutions Division, at Blue Technologies. Reach him at (216) 271-4800 or nzegarra@BTOhio.com.