Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Solutions

What can ECM do for your organization?

Most of a company’s information (an estimated 85 percent by IBM and growing exponentially) is stored as unstructured information, including forms, scanned images, electronic office documents, reports, HTML and XML-based Web content, high-volume e-mail archives and rich media such as digital video and audio. Getting the most from vast amounts of content across its life cycle has proven a challenge. So has properly classifying, storing and accessing information. There is widespread need for improved access to unstructured content to enable faster, better-informed decisions and more nimble responses to growth opportunities and competitive pressures. To improve business performance, companies must take steps to enhance the availability of unstructured content for all business users and systems. One of the most practical and efficient ways to securely access and store content is with a content management solution that allows employees, partners and customers to manage digital content throughout the organization from a single bidirectional interface.

Managing unstructured content throughout your organization is a core ECM capability. Business agility is achieved by using content of any type in a consistent, reusable manner to respond rapidly and accurately to demands for information. Organizations today are often constrained by their ability to process content efficiently. Therefore, content management systems must make it easier to create, revise, store and manage content from the applications of choice by end users, while maintaining corporate policies for enforcing compliance and legal discovery.

Traditional ECM Solutions

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) has gone through significant changes in recent years. A while back, ECM revolved around document management or imaging. The process was discreet and adequately solved a specific business problem. With traditional ECM, information is locked in disparate applications such as image management, document management and e-mail archives. Traditional ECM used to be limited to the scope of content management without ties to broader business processes. Also, solution delivery extended into many months, and ECM return on investment (ROI) was eventually achieved in two to three years.

It’s a common problem for many enterprises: The information needed to run the business is there, but it’s inaccessible. Vast stores of information are siloed in separate repositories across the company. According to IBM studies1, it is estimated that 79 percent of companies have two or more information repositories, and 25 percent have 15 or more. And information often isn’t shared or leveraged between these silos. The result is that companies cannot take advantage of the information they have to improve employee and business performance and productivity.

Next-Generation ECM Solutions

Information is integral to the success of every business. The ability to access information when and where it is needed is crucial to a company’s ability to serve its customers, and ultimately, to remain competitive. If an organization’s employees can’t find, distribute, use and protect the information they need to do their jobs, employee productivity and company performance suffer. In short, organizations need to make it easier for employees and partners to access, manage, share and distribute the content they need to get their jobs done.

Now the need for ECM is much larger, since today’s fast-moving enterprises need the flexibility and agility to respond to unexpected challenges, events and opportunities. The most robust ECM solutions available offer many new capabilities that can address a wide variety of old and new business challenges. In today’s forward-thinking organizations, business practices are built on business processes that facilitate speed and change, rather than enabling rigid business methodologies. So enterprise content and business processes need to be managed together as a whole to maximize information and help businesses to truly thrive.

Organizations will need to move away from the siloed, document management point solutions of today to more integrated systems that support views across multiple repositories, as well as the ability to integrate across multiple applications. Additionally, architectures will need to shift from document or content-centric workflows to broader business process management flows that support interactions between multiple business areas and across multiple application domains. The next-generation enterprise content management architecture will need to support a collaboration environment that allows for increased interactions both within organizations—between departments and functional areas—and external to organizations—with suppliers, vendors and partners.

Choosing an ECM solution to meet your needs

With hundreds of content management systems on the market, choosing the right one for your company is no trivial matter. What should you expect from a content repository and integration solution? Identifying your criteria and finding out what features individual content management systems offer can occupy considerable time. The essential requirements follow: At a minimum, a content management solution should be able to federate disparate repositories, provide self-service access using a Web browser, be easily integrated into an enterprise-class database, include a real-time application interface and support a modular infrastructure.

Access to disparate repositories
If your content is spread throughout your organization, your content management solution must be able to access all of it through a single interface. There’s not much benefit in a content management solution that only works within a single group or department. Rather than erecting barriers to content, your content management solution must provide access to disparate information repositories within various departments across heterogeneous operating environments, and enable that information to be securely delivered, managed and stored across the organization.

A content management solution should be able to integrate all your content by delivering “federated access,” which means that multiple disparate repositories look and act like a single unified repository. This provides a complete platform for deploying applications and workflows spanning multiple content sources. With federated, integrated access to all your content, there’s no need to “rip and replace” existing IT assets, or to migrate all your data into a single repository. Your content management solution should leverage existing content repositories, which is good news for IT decision makers, enabling them to control costs and speed time to market.

Self-service, Web-based access
An effective solution should provide easy-to-use, Web-based, self-service desktop applications that enable employees to flexibly view and work with different content formats throughout the organization. Web-based access helps lower costs, increase responsiveness and free employees to spend more time on decision-making processes. When employees, partners and even customers can answer questions on their own by accessing the content management system on the Web, call center costs go down and productivity improves. Web-based, self-service applications also help improve customer and partner relationships.

Native integration with a powerful, enterprise-class database
Look for native integration with a scalable, reliable information management platform. A content management solution relies on the underlying database to provide indexed search, security and lifecycle management services. It’s important to make sure that your database is well-known for performance and scalability and supports multiple platforms for portability.

Real-time interface to applications
The content management solution should provide content in real time to off-the-shelf corporate applications such as SAP as well as home-grown applications. The content management system functions as a common infrastructure for managing content outside the application from which the content originated. This makes the same piece of information available to a wider group of users. Think of an invoice originating in an accounting application. Normally, it would be viewable only to other users of that application. But, by storing the invoice in a content repository that is linked to that accounting application, you can make the invoice available to users of other applications, such as a logistics system.

Storing unstructured content such as forms, images, documents, and audio and video in the originating system can lead to massive growth of that system. In many instances, these systems were never designed to store and manage unstructured content. The result can be degradation in performance, extensive backup and recovery times, and unfettered hardware growth. Content needs to be managed in a content management repository designed specifically for this purpose.

Not only should the content management system be linked to your applications, the content management functionality should be accessible directly from within those business applications so that users do not have to log in and out of different systems.

Modular architecture
The content management system should be designed in a modular fashion that enables you to deploy solutions to business problems as required. New solutions should be able to re-use previously deployed pieces of the content management infrastructure such as the repository and storage. Modules should include or integrate with archiving, records management, document and output management, electronic forms and other content sources.

The foundation you build with a content management solution can be leveraged to address your compliance initiatives and other business and IT needs over time, so you can get more out of today’s investment in hardware, software and skills.