10 ECM Basics and Gotchas to Avoid

Explore the crucial components of enterprise content management and the 10 pitfalls that undo efforts to capture, manage, store, preserve, secure and share information.

Ruth Blanco, Contributor

November 30, 2009

6 Min Read

The volume of information we're processing is unmatched in history: According to an InformationWeek Analytics 2009 State of Storage poll, more than 60% of the 328 business technology professionals surveyed manage more than 1 terabyte of data. A remarkable 20% of respondents manage more than 100 TB. Databases, e-mail and other office documents are the main drivers of data growth. In a recent Information Week Data Deduplication report, 60% of the 437 respondents said their Tier 1 storage needs are increasing by 11% to 25% annually, with 18% exceeding 25% growth. And that doesn't include the reams of paper records still being produced.

Too often, we're still using shared network drives and folder structures to organize information and enable remote access to documents. E-mail-based collaboration systems that create content silos are unfortunately the norm for too many organizations. When employees hold gigabytes of e-mail and electronic documents that are not shared across the organization, problems emerge ranging from lower productivity and organizational inefficiency when duplicating work, to users becoming single points of failure on projects, to embarrassing and potentially expensive security and compliance issues when critical data is lost or misused. At its most extreme, these increased costs and decreased productivity can cripple an organization.

Enterprise content management (ECM) systems have the potential to solve many of these and other problems surrounding the capture, management and delivery of content within organizations. Unfortunately, ECM deployments can be fraught with challenges that can devour a substantial amount of time, money—and IT credibility. It doesn't have to be this way. This article, which is based on the In-Depth Report entitled "10 Gotchas That Can Derail Your ECM Initiative," examines the components and benefits of ECM. To learn more about top challenges that grind ECM initiatives to a halt, download the full In-Depth Report from our ECM TechCenter.

The Ocean of ECM Offerings

The evolution of document management into ECM has made available systems much more comprehensive in their capabilities. However, it has also added a fair amount of complexity to these suites while raising questions around functionality and how to select the appropriate tool.

The ECM software spectrum typically falls into 10 broad functional categories. These categories may be standalone products, or may be features of larger enterprise systems. Each, however, requires its own unique approach to implement that aspect of functionality within the organization. CIOs need to understand these distinctions.

Document management is typically considered the foundation of ECM. Document management tools provide repositories for business documents such as Word, PowerPoint and PDFs as well as the logical organization, display, access control, versioning, auditing and search services for documents and their content. Document management software replaces file cabinets and their digital equivalents, shared file drives.

Collaboration tools allow people to work together and team up on content even if they are in offices around the world. These components usually include workspaces, real-time instant messaging, online meetings, screen sharing, wikis, polls, blogs and forums. Collaboration tools may reside within a document management platform or may be standalone components.

Web content management tools allow employees to author, maintain and administer internal or external Web sites that integrate content from different sources to provide an integrated view of data. This category may include enterprise portals that integrate content visually for end users.

E-mail management systems deal with the prodigious amount of e-mail people receive and define procedures for archiving, control and monitoring. These systems differ from document management tools in that they may also be used to reduce the size of the e-mail database and improve mail server performance. Other important goals are to control the lifecycle of e-mail and monitor e-mail content to ensure regulatory compliance. Records management enables IT to set retention and disposal policies and processes based on different content types. These policies control if and when content is deleted or archived on less costly storage and determines if there is a process that needs to be executed when the content is deleted.

Capture and delivery tools provide the means to convert documents from paper to electronic formats via optical character recognition so that forms can be stored, managed and most importantly searched. Content affected may include contracts and legal documents that have signatures; orders from customers; or other types of information that originate in paper form, like faxes.

Digital asset management provides a specialized set of content management services for browsing, searching, viewing, assembling and delivering digital media content types, such as audio, images and video. As more enterprise content moves beyond basic word processing and spreadsheet formats, having a process to include this data into the overall information library is critical.

Workflow and business process management provides tools for analyzing and executing processes around content. These procedures might include routing a document for approval, managing requests and approvals, controlling changes and revisions, and sending notifications when a document has changed or a new template is available for distribution. These systems might also be employed to enable integration into enterprise applications outside the ECM suite, such as to enrich CRM systems, push notifications to customers and enhance businesspartner communications.

Archiving systems help IT bring storage expenses under control through optimization of capacity. These systems manage content storage policies according to business context, and employ metadata drawn from other applications to make the most efficient use of storage assets. Functions might include deduplicating and migrating data automatically through different storage tiers, leveraging less expensive media while providing high-end storage services to further reduce storage demands. In enterprise environments, these processes are very time consuming for IT groups that lack an automated tool to apply policies uniformly across content.

Content reporting tools analyze content and generate reports on virtually any set of data while organizing and formatting output. This is not just useful for IT organizations seeking to manage their repositories; reporting systems also ensure the use of and compliance with content management policies and procedures throughout the organization. For many enterprises, regulatory requirements like HIPAA or SOX drive the move to ECM, so having a robust reporting capability is key. Reporting may also be used for management dashboards that can provide insight into aspects of the business and intelligence from a number of discrete content sources.

Top-10 Gotchas That Derail Deployments

Now that we've defined ECM, here's a sampling of the top 10 gotchas that foil many well-intended efforts to gain control over enterprise content.

1. Biting off more than you can chew.
2. Selecting the wrong tool for the wrong job.
3. Failing to incorporate all of your data.
4. Poor search capabilities.
5. Weak requirements.
6. Failing to understand how people collaborate and utilize content.
7. Immature business processes.
8. Poorly conceived retention policies.
9. Failing to size properly.
10. Failing to integrate into corporate systems and corporate culture. To learn more about these failures, download the In-Depth Report "10 Gotchas That Can Derail Your ECM Initiative" from our ECM TechCenter (free with registration). By knowing what to look out for, you can move beyond gridlock to get things done.

Ruth Blanco is a principal at Fusion PPT, an IT firm that helps government organizations increase IT efficiency. Prior to joining Fusion, Ruth spent six years at one of the nation’s leading accounting firms, working with ECM applications.

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