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Enterprise Content Management (ECM)

What is ECM and how does it benefit organizations?

ecm iconEnterprise content management (ECM) is a form of content management that combines the capture, search, and networking of documents with digital archiving, document management, and workflow.  The special challenge of managing and using all forms of a company's internal information (which is often unstructured) is what sets enterprise content management apart from other forms of content management. Because of this, most ECM solutions on the market today focus on business-to-employee (B2E) use.

Key Benefits:

  • Centralized storage – documents and other information are stored in one location for easy maintenance and access.
  • Fast access – access digital information quickly and group related documents.
  • Taxonomies – classify documents for easier lookup.
  • Secure – set permissions so that only certain groups can access information.
  • Save money – with only one repository to manage there are no costs to maintain paper files.

As ECM solutions have evolved, new components have become available on the market. For example, as content is checked in and out of the system new metadata is added about the content, which can then be used to train the system to gradually acquire new filtering, routing and search pathways, corporate taxonomies and semantic networks, and retention-rule decisions. Some of the capability even occurs automatically.  And, since email and instant messaging are increasingly employed in decision-making processes, ECM can include data regarding these communications which can then be used in business decisions.

What is ECM

Solutions can provide intranet services to employees (B2E), and can also include enterprise portals for business-to-business (B2B), business-to-government (B2G), government-to-business (G2B), or other business relationships. This category includes most former document-management groupware and workflow solutions that have not yet fully converted their architecture to ECM, but provide a Web interface. Digital asset management is a form of ECM concerned with content stored using digital technology.


Government standards, including HIPAA, SAS 70, BS 7799 and ISO/IEC 27001, are factors in developing and deploying ECM. Today, organizations can deploy a single, flexible ECM system to manage information in all functional departments, including customer service, accounting, human resources, etc. It’s not enough to “manage” content. The ability to access the correct version of a document or record is important. Content must be managed so that it is used to achieve business goals. Enterprise Content Management is the systematic collection and organization of information that is to be used by a designated audience – business executives, customers, etc. Neither a single technology nor a methodology nor a process, ECM is a dynamic combination of strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information supporting key organizational processes through its entire lifecycle.

  • Capture boils down to entering content into the system.
  • Manage is what you do next to it, so it can be found and used by whomever it is intended for.
  • Storing it means finding it an appropriate home in your infrastructure, be it a formal content management system or other information solution.
  • Preserve refers to long-term care – archiving, if you will – the practice of protecting it so it can be utilized however far into the future the organization needs it to be available.
  • And deliver is all about putting the information in the right people’s hands right when they need it to be there.

Document management eventually was subsumed into content management in no small measure because there is more information available to us today than ever before, and most of it is not being created by us. Thanks to the mainstreaming of a whole range of sources like the internet, thumb drives, smartphones, cloud, etc., the need has accelerated to deal with information of all kinds: not just in terms of more media types like text vs. images vs. voice files, but also in terms of how structured – and thus how readily managed – it all is.

Structured information is information that is highly defined and not only is intended to be processed by a computer program, but readily can be – like most of the information held in relational databases and acted upon by line-of-business solutions.

Unstructured information is, well, information that does not have a fully defined structure, and most likely will be read and used by humans. As examples, think of most of the information produced by common office applications (word processors, presentation programs).

Semi-structured information is information that lies somewhere in between, like invoices, purchase orders, and receipts, which contain data to be computer-processed but which come in formats and layouts that first need to be identified and classified – a task that often is handled by humans but increasingly is being automated as the tools improve. This all becomes important when you consider the effect on your business that not managing these elements can have! Diminished utility, loss of time, loss of productivity, possible non-compliance with regulations or corporate policies, the risk of serious business interruption if key repositories die or natural disasters strike – none of them happy outcomes! Effectiveness, efficiency, compliance, and continuity all combine, in different proportions, to drive the business case for content management in most organizations.

Terms often associated with ECM:

Content and Documents Unstructured content enters an organization's IT infrastructure from a variety of sources. Regardless of how a piece of content enters, it has a lifecycle. Follow a document through its lifecycle as viewed through the use of ECM technology.

  • Electronic Unstructured Data: email, instant message, text document, spreadsheet, etc.
  • Electronic Forms
  • Paper Documents/Forms

Scanning Paper generally enters the organization through a scanner, or sometimes, a multifunction device. In centralized scan operations, large volumes of paper are put into the system by dedicated workers. In distributed operations, smaller volumes of documents are captured with lower volume scanners or multifunction devices closer to their point of creation.

Document Imaging Software captures the image of the paper document. Increasingly, electronic document images have the same legal status as a paper document..

Forms Processing Business forms are ingested into the system. Most forms today are "structured"-the location of the form elements are known. The ability to process unstructured forms, those without a pre-defined form template, is improving..

Recognition Technologies that allow paper information to be translated to electronic data without manual data input. Recognition technologies have progressive capabilities from optical character recognition (OCR) to intelligent character recognitions (ICR) and are important for converting large amounts of forms or unstructured data to usable information in a content management system. .

Categorization/Taxonomy A taxonomy provides a formal structure for information, based on the individual needs of a business. Categorization tools automate the placement of content (document images, email, text documents, i.e., all electronic content) for future retrieval based on the taxonomy. Users can also manually categorize documents. This is a critical step to ensure that content is properly stored. .

Indexing An essential part of the capture process, creates metadata from scanned documents (customer ID number, for example) so the document can be found. Indexing can be based on keywords or full-text. .

Document Management Document management technology helps organizations better manage the creation, revision, approval, and consumption of electronic documents. It provides key features such as library services, document profiling, searching, check-in, check-out, version control, revision history, and document security. .

Records Management Content of long-term business value are deemed records and managed according to a retention schedule that determines how long a record is kept based on either outside regulations or internal business practices. Any piece of content can be designated a record..

Email Management As the de facto standard for business communication, removing emails from the server and saving them to a repository isn't enough. Email must be classified, stored, and destroyed consistent with business standards-just as any other document or record.

Web Content Management Web content management technology addresses the content creation, review, approval, and publishing processes of Web-based content. Key features include creation and authoring tools or integrations, input and presentation template design and management, content re-use management, and dynamic publishing capabilities.

Digital Asset Management Similar in functionality to document management, DAM is focused on the storage, tracking, and use of rich media documents (video, logos, photographs, etc.). Roots of the technology are in the media and entertainment industry, currently experiencing growth, especially in marketing departments. Digital assets typically have high intellectual property value.

Repositories Structured and unstructured-the core of many ECM systems. This is where the data resides and where much of a company's investment in ECM resides. A repository can be a sophisticated system that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, or as simple as a file folder system in a smaller company. The key is to have information that can be found once it is placed in the system.

Storage Content needs to "live" somewhere. Storage technology (optical disks, magnetic, tape, microfilm, RAID, paper) provide options for storing content online for rapid access or near- or off-line for content that isn't needed often.

Content Integration Enables disparate content sources to look and act as a single repository.

Migration As storage media ages, content must be moved to new media for continued accessibility.

Backup/Recovery Backing up content in various formats and/or locations helps to ensure business viability in the face of a disaster. .

Search/Retrieval One of the greatest benefits of a strong ECM system is the ability to get out what you put in. By having strong indexing, taxonomy, and repository services, locating the information in your system should be a snap.

Syndication Distribution of content for reuse and integration into other content.

Localization Recasting content based on the needs and cultural mores of different global markets.

Personalization Drawing on a taxonomy and based on established user preferences, various types and subjects of content can be delivered via user-defined preferences.

Publish Content gets where and to whom it needs to go through a number of tools. Content can be delivered via print, email, websites, portals, text messages, RSS feeds.

Paper Electronic Portal, Intranet, Extranet, Email, Fax.

Security Restricts access to content, both during its creation and management as well as when delivered.

  • Digital Rights Management - prevents the illegal distribution of rights-managed content by restricting access to content down to the sentence level as well as granting/restricting permissions for forwarding and accessing content.
  • Digital Signatures - ensures the identity of a document sender, and the authenticity of the message.
  • PKI - uses a public and private key pair held by a trusted third party to transact business over the public Internet.

Collaboration Collaboration technologies enable individual users, such as employees or business partners to easily create and maintain project teams, regardless of geographic location. These technologies facilitate collaborative, team-based content creation and decision-making.

Long-Term Archival Content that must be preserved over decades must be saved to media, such as paper and film-based imaging, with longevity to match. To learn more about how PaperFree can employ Enterprise Content Management in your organization, give us a call today.

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