Enterprise content management (ECM) systems could very well be the most complex, feature-rich type of business software. These systems have all the complexity of a Swiss watch and, when selected with care, can keep a company's workflows running with the same precision.
As the ways companies use content have changed and grown over time, ECM systems have also adapted and expanded. In fact, they've changed so much that the term itself is now a little outdated. (More on that in the Market Trends to Understand section.)
Despite all that change, the need for content management tools and platforms is stronger than ever before.
Hold on, you might be thinking, why are they making this so complicated? I just need something simple to manage my sales, marketing and service content. If that's the case, you're probably better suited for a simpler content management system or something purpose-built to manage company documents.
However, if you still have your sights set on the most feature-rich system for managing content, then read on! This guide will give you the perspective and understanding you need to move forward with an ECM system purchase. In it we cover:
Content includes nearly all of the written information companies use internally and externally. This can range from (internal) process documents, policies and projects to (external) marketing and sales-focused content, content for websites and content only available to paying customers. While content can refer to audio-visual and graphical content, it typically refers to text-based digital content.
ECM systems are designed to manage all of the processes within the content life cycle, from creation and collaboration, revision and review to publication and even promotion. ECM systems contain a variety of tools to assist with each of these stages and typically include centralized reporting and analytics functions to help monitor these processes individually or on the whole.
Example process workflow diagram in DocStar ECM (Source: docstar.com)
Given the great variety of ways companies use and produce content, it's no surprise there's an equally great variety of content management applications. Most of these applications—a selection of which are discussed below in the Common Features of Enterprise Content Management Systems section—fall into one of the following general categories:
The following table lists some of the more common features and applications included with ECM systems. Remember that different vendor solutions emphasize different functionality and that this list is by no means comprehensive.
|Secure repository||Enterprise content management systems include centralized or distributed storage repositories for content and include tools for controlling levels of access.|
|Document IDs||Provides reference names for enterprise content. These can be assigned either manually or automatically.|
|Format support||ECM systems should provide support for a variety of file formats (.docx, .xls, .html etc.). Support can range from basic storage to full read, write and edit capabilities.|
|AV support||ECM systems offer varying levels of support for non-text-based formats, such as audio, video and image file formats.|
|Check-in/check-out||This function ensures that content is only modified by one user at a time. This is accomplished by extending read-only rights to some users while other users are in the process of modifying content.|
|Offline document access||This lets users download content to be worked on offline. It usually also includes a sync function to update the content once the user returns online.|
|Template management||Lets users create, deploy and work from content templates. Templates improve consistency and make it faster to recreate versions of commonly used content formats.|
|Record management||Records are content that relate to business transactions. They can have higher retention and documentation requirements, which some ECM systems support.|
|Scanning and capture||These tools help digitize paper documents with functions such as optical character recognition (OCR).|
|Document creation||Lets authors enter new documents into the ECM repository directly from the authoring application, rather than through a separate upload process.|
|Automatic registration||Automatically supplies the required metadata when new documents are submitted. Metadata includes document IDs, content types and file names.|
|Bulk import and export||Lets users upload/download groups of files to and from the ECM system's repository, saving time and effort.|
|Workflow definitions||Create and implement prescribed workflows (sequential tasks) for different types of content. These tasks can then be assigned to specific users or user roles.|
|Graphical workflow design||An intuitive GUI-based means of creating and editing content workflows, an improvement over text or API-based editors.|
|Global content updates||Allows for all instances of content types or metadata fields to be updated when a single update is made to the relevant template.|
|User work queue and task list||Provides individualized workspaces to each user (or user group) with a list of tasks assigned to each individual user (or user group).|
|Workflow reporting||Gives statistics on current and past workflows, including reporting on per-task completion time, per-workflow completion time and wait time between tasks.|
In 2016, Gartner issued the following statement:
"Content is a critical asset, a source of business insights and a driver of processes. How organizations create, manage, disseminate and exploit their enterprise content has changed in response to external market forces and internal business drivers. To reflect the changing market dynamics, Gartner is retiring the term "enterprise content management" (ECM). We believe that, going forward, the practice of managing content will be enabled as a set of services that coordinate content usage by all parties: users, systems and applications."
Source: "Reinventing ECM: Introducing Content Services Platforms and Applications" (available to Gartner clients)
One of the changing market dynamics Gartner identifies is the fact that many content-related applications and services have expanded their functionality to include functions once solely in the ECM domain. These include file sharing services, business process management and collaboration tools.
If your ECM needs are largely focused in one of these areas, then those links might be the best place to begin your product selection. Of course, you can also skip all of that and just give us a call at (844) 687-6771. After a free consultation, we'll come up with a shortlist of products for you to focus on.
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