Enterprise Content Management 101
You have probably heard Enterprise Content Management referred to by many names – including document imaging, document management, collaborative commerce or workflow. These are all components of the broader Enterprise Content Management market or ECM.

ECM is the electronic capture, storage, retrieval, routing and management of multiple data types – including digitized images, faxes, computer outputs and electronic data. Its basic purpose is to manage different data types and make them readily available to end users.

Companies usually begin looking at ECM solutions when they realize that they have:

  • Too much paper to handle, too little space to effectively manage it.
  • Too many lost, misfiled or damaged documents
  • Poor customer/vendor service response times
  • Inability to have remote users access critical business information
  • A need to more easily implement and manage retention schedules and internal controls defined in their corporate compliance plans
  • An opportunity to minimize potential risk of records-related litigation

Systems range from being simple to extremely complex – depending on how the amount of integration with existing systems and how the solution is woven within daily business processes. Regardless of how simple or complex the system they all have three basic components – input, storage and retrieval.

Input can come from scanned documents, incoming faxes, e-mail, electronic files – such as Word or Excel files – and downloaded computer streams.

All of these data types are input into the system, indexed and stored on some form of medium. This could be magnetic storage or optical disk technology. Typically the image is stored within one database and another database will contain index information about the image and the address of where to find the image.

The information about the image is later used for retrieval. Retrieval can take place over the Internet through a Web client or from software on the user’s desktop. In addition, the image can now be placed in a workflow to automate processes and allow for parallel processing. The image can also be printed, faxed or e-mailed directly from the system.

ECM solutions can help your business by:

Reducing your transaction costs. A content management system makes documents available at the press of a key – regardless of where you are. Less resources are spent retrieving files, hunting for lost documents, and over-nighting or faxing documents. Employees can be given secure access to retrieve documents from anywhere.

Streamlining your processes. Once you have the content stored electronically, you can use the data to automate your processes. No longer do you have to wait for one step in your business process to be completed before the next can begin. These actions can happen in concurrently. In addition, because the processes are automated, overseeing and reporting on the processes is made much simpler. Management can readily see where bottlenecks are occurring in the processes and take appropriate actions to address them.

Leveraging your internal systems. For example, through the use of a content management system, users can leverage the investment that they have made in an ERP system. The ERP system contains information about the transaction – but it does not contain the source document that supports the transaction. When an ECM system is integrated with the accounting system, accounting clerks can access the source document, whether it is a purchase order, invoice, shipping document or some other form of correspondence, all from within the accounting system leading to a much quicker response time and better service to vendors and customers.

Preparing for disaster recovery. By having data stored electronically, organizations can be assured critical data is protected should fires, flooding, human-caused disasters – any loss of data – occur.

Meeting regulatory requirements. Many companies have certain regulatory requirements that must be met. For example, magazine distributors have governmental audits where they must produce a copy of certain magazine subscriptions. Without a content management system, clerks must pour through a warehouse to manually pull documents. With ECM it is very easy for them to sit with the auditor at a terminal and automatically present the requested information.

Resolving transaction discrepancies faster and at less cost. Recent studies have shown that corporations spend up to 40% of their transaction time resolving discrepancies. Because ECM provides data that is accessible in real-time from the desktop, time wasted searching, faxing, calling back and forth is greatly reduced.

Looking for more information on the basics of content management and how to begin? Read our white paper about Choosing a System or check out our FAQ page

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