What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?
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Information is, in the words of Peter Sondergaard, senior VP of Gartner Research, “the oil of the 21st century, and analytics is the combustion engine.” While information is indeed essential for the operation of today’s world, the current age of “information overload” (a term coined in the 1970s by Alvin Toffler in his book, Future Shock) has brought with it, content management problems. Nowhere are content management problems seen better than in the content archives of large companies.
By 2020, the global amount of data created daily will reach 44 trillion gigabytes, and most of this data will be unstructured. But is there really a need?
It turns out, yes, because
Employees can't find the information they need 46% of the time! Also, they need to search almost 13 unique data systems before they find an answer!
There is clearly a disconnect. There comes enterprise content management.
ECM, or Enterprise Content Management, offers a solution to the overwhelming problem of content management in businesses. The concept, introduced by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) in 2001, has now grown to encompass strategies, tools, processes, and skills that an enterprise needs to manage all its information assets across its lifecycle.
What is ECM (Enterprise Content Management)?
All enterprises have diverse, unique needs for content management to provide easy and systematic access to operational data to all stakeholders in the business. As an enterprise grows in size, so does its informational base related to product details, inventory, accounts receivable/payable, customers, research and development, financials, facilities, assets, and human resources.
The informational content of an enterprise was traditionally paper documents such as invoices, resumes, and contracts but has now grown to include audio and video files, web content, social media content, and email interactions. The management of such vast content can become unwieldy to an organization.
An AIIM survey showed that the overall average time spent managing information as well as searching is 45 minutes, which is roughly 8% of the working day. Even worse, IDC reports that employees can’t find the information they are looking for 46% of the time, and as much as 2.5 hours are spent every day searching for information.
Such inconveniences, beyond affecting worker morale, also affect the productivity of a company.
According to the above IDC report, Fortune 500 companies, on average, lose $60-85 Billion in direct costs alone, and even more on opportunity costs, to time wasted searching for information.
The solution to the above problem? Enterprise Content Management (ECM).
ECM is an umbrella term that covers the technology, strategy, and method used in managing an organization’s informational content. Given that in business parlance, content management, data management, and information management are strongly correlated approaches, we will use the words information, data, and content interchangeably in relation to an enterprise’s digital archival system.
The evolution of ECM (Enterprise content management)
Companies have always aimed at devising strategic approaches to managing operational content so that all participants and stakeholders are equipped with the information and data required to operate and make decisions. Efficient management of an enterprise’s content allows for efficient task management, which results in time savings and better revenue generation. The tools for a company’s content management have evolved over the past two decades, from Network file shares to emerging AI-enhanced ECM solutions.
Network file sharing was the earliest tool for the storage of information and included removable storage media, centralized servers on computer networks, World Wide Web-based hyperlinked documents, and distributed peer-to-peer networking. Although file shares were easy to adopt, they failed beyond a critical size of data and were notoriously insecure and data could become disorganized.
The next-generation Enterprise Content Management (ECM) approach introduced by Gartner, served to overcome the limitations of Network file sharing. These ECM systems embodied by-products such as Nanonets, comprise a master database that stores data in various formats (Word, Excel, PDF, images, etc.). While older ECM solutions allow the security of data and a certain amount of content organization, they do not cater to emerging needs such as global file sharing and sync, group communication, team collaboration, etc., all of which go beyond simple document collection and data access and involve interactive systems.
In recent years, AI technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing, and data mining have resulted in smarter ECM systems that provide end-users with new capabilities such as intelligent information retrieval, chatbot capabilities, and Robotic Process Automation. An example of intelligent information retrieval using smart ECM is Microsoft’s Project Cortex which analyzes different types of content from various sources within an enterprise and organizes it into shared topics such as projects, products, processes, and customers to create a knowledge network for users to access as part of their search results.
What is Enterprise Content Management Solution?
Enterprise Content Management was originally designed to manage the transactional content of an enterprise, which was, in turn, related to actionable outcomes of the company. The smaller organization could potentially manage content simply by using traditional communication forms like email, telephones and physical files and folders but such archaic content management systems prevent the business from scaling and expanding.
Over time, however, Enterprise Content Management solutions have grown to encompass the entirety of the information assets of the organization. Along with document storage, modern Enterprise Content Management systems come with extensive capabilities such as controlled access to files, data scraping for specific end uses, embedded analytics, and other features that enable business process automation like contract management and collaboration tools. In effect, ECM solutions could potentially become part of the content lifecycle management of an organization and overlap with records management and business process management to help in reducing operational risk, enhance efficiency, and enable better profitability.
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The Elements of Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise Content Management solutions comprise four essential elements.
The workings of Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise Content Management enables the following features for better business operations:
- Streamlined archival of information that helps in quick access to and retrieval of relevant data at the appropriate times.
- Elimination of physical data (paperwork) and clutter associated with filing of physical documents, thereby helping with better document management and long-term storage.
- Custom structuring of data depending on the business needs and competency to enable cross-referencing, context establishment, and transparency of documentation across the company.
An efficient ECM solution encompasses the following tasks:
Document automation tools may combine one or more of the following functionalities for various levels of content management: data capture, data classification, document verification, version control, and audit tracking capabilities with features for security, searching, indexing, and administration. In recent times, this has grown to encompass Rich Media Management, oriented towards the management of non-text content such as photographs, audio clips, and video collections, which help in functions and streaming and transcoding operations.
Read more: Ultimate Guide to modern document processing
Integration and interfacing
Enterprise Content Management tools allow an interface between various automated Business Process Management (BPM) processes and can be connected to metadata, automated document approvals, and semi or fully-automated workflow. Some common functionalities that must be integrated are emails, productivity tools such as word processors and spreadsheets, business systems such as CRM and ERP, and existing systems specific to departments like HR, finance, and legal. The ECM solution should be compatible with the existing software applications in use for routine job functions, such as editing documents, storing data files, searching, electronic record fabrication, and preservations tools A good ECM system must actively integrate and add value to these existing core tools.
Enterprise Content Management has assumed much greater importance in the COVID world than before because of the pervasiveness of remote working that has necessitated content sharing and collaboration over fiber optic cables and satellites. The best Enterprise Content Management tools leverage the power of technologies such as granular access permissions, document encryption, and version control to enable secure collaboration between stakeholders and the preservation of data safety.
Content analysis and retrieval
ECM solutions are equipped with features that allow users to retrieve specific information from within an organization. Content is often scattered across the business in multiple, often disconnected systems. A good enterprise content management solution must bridge the silos of information and bring them a common platform that is amenable to easy and methodical data retrieval. The intelligent analysis of different content types to extract relevant information can unlock value in content and provide actionable insights for decision-making processes.
Company policies and legal regulations may necessitate the retention of specific documents for predetermined lengths of time and may also have rules on disposal.
ECM’s Records Management capabilities can help ensure the immutability of content and enable compliance by controlling and applying retention schedules. In modern times, records management also includes Web Site Content Management.
The location of the digital content – at local servers versus the cloud – is an important part of Enterprise Content Management solutions. In either case, security and compliance are essential for content storage. Storage information governance includes the location of storage, network, security, data centre architecture, in-transit connections, built-in redundancy, and data replication access restrictions.
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What are the benefits of using enterprise content management software?
Coherence of operation
A good ECM system can bring together the disparate content of an organization into a single platform, thereby bringing in data and task coherence.
Time savings and faster turnaround times
The time savings afforded by automated data management can be undone if there is no overarching process to integrate them within an organization’s larger work umbrella. The seamless links between the various tasks afforded by the Enterprise Content Management system can help avoid such delays and bottlenecks in the daily operations of the company. Nanonets can process documents 10x faster than your current solution!
Manual business processes, especially those that coordinate content from multiple departments and branches of an organization, require considerable human capital. ECM systems can help eliminate the manual labor involved in many content management operations. Customers using Nanonets save more than 80% of their accounting costs.
Digital Enterprise Content Management systems can cut out paper from the company’s daily activities. Paperless offices not only save the environment and eliminate paper clutter in the office but also increases productivity by over 50%.
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Having a common platform where all the company’s individual content can be accessed and the coherence of data prevents errors that are common when content is distributed across the company indiscriminately. Nanonets has an accuracy of >95% while processing documents.
Conserving human capital
ECMs can eliminate human involvement in mundane, repetitive activities. It can free employees otherwise engaged in tasks such as data entry or first-level customer interaction from these time-consuming tasks.
Enterprise Content Management solutions can centralize data and enhance transparency across the board while also logically integrating the business functionalities spread out across the organization. It also sets up security measures and traceability of information, which ensures better compliance with relevant regulations.
ECM not only allows standardization of operations but also ensures the maintenance of records of all stages of a business process, thereby creating an audit trail. Nanonets maintains all the logs so that you're always audit-ready.
Recognizing and prioritizing companywide content can be challenging especially when there are too many parameters that affect the functioning of the company. The AI features of modern Enterprise Content Management solutions can help in quick predictions based on data and history, which can help in management-level decisions.
As the client base and operational portfolio expand, the management of disparate content can become unwieldy and lead to more management challenges. ECM systems enable streamlining of all business content, thereby allowing the business to scale.
ECMs ensure compliance with both internal and external regulations and standards, directly or indirectly governing the enterprise's information management.
Examples of Enterprise Content Management solutions
The healthcare sector runs on content. There is content related to patient data management, healthcare staff management, infrastructure maintenance, quality control, billing, etc. In the absence of a common content management solution, the content types are handled by separate departments and collating all data and processes under a single platform would help in better efficiency of the entire healthcare system. In addition, it can also ensure compliance with regulations and enhance reliability among the public.
At no other time in recent history has the disruption of the supply chain been more serious than during the pandemic. ECM solutions in inventory management, procurement, scheduling, and transporting information can help in predicting delays and thereby making and triggering contingency steps to avoid large-scale disruptions.
Finance and Accounting
The advantages of Enterprise Content Management solutions to the financial aspects of a company’s operations cannot be overstated. The Accounts Payable Department, for example, provides financial, administrative, and clerical support to the purchase process of a company and deals with a mountain of content in its daily operations. The content, especially financial content, of the AP department must seamlessly integrate the various functions of the procure-to-pay process that spans purchase order management, vendor management/communication, invoice management, product tracking, and payment. Enterprise Content Management in AP operations, such as invoice management and purchase order management, can help organize the procurement process in companies.
The Retail Industry
ECM can enhance the efficiency of front-end processes such as targeted, social media content generation, customer management, etc., and also integrate it with back-end processes such as inventory management, the procure-to-pay process, invoicing, and shipping tasks. Enterprise Content Management can also analyze operational patterns and customer behavior and use the information for accurate decision-making that increases revenue and profitability.
The above are but a few examples of areas that ECM would benefit from. The education sector would especially benefit from ECM solutions because educational operations are content-driven. Government agencies and departments would also benefit from ECM solutions, and digital management of content would ease and hasten the process of governance, thereby benefiting countries.
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Implementation of ECM solutions
Enterprise Content Management solutions are not plug-and-play systems and must be customized to an enterprise. The implementation of an ECM system must entail clear identification of the needs of the organization, the type of organizational culture, the data type, and the ERP and other systems that the ECM must be integrated with. AIIM, an association dedicated to the information management industry, recommends a thorough assessment of the following aspects before implementing an Enterprise Content Management system:
- Concept of Operations
- Information Governance Framework
- Business & System Requirements
- Classification Scheme,
- User Interface & Environment,
- IT infrastructure,
- Roll-out, and
- Post-implementation support.
These are grouped under the following requirements:
The assessment of the organizational requirements must include
- Assessment of the existing technology infrastructure and readiness.
- Immediate and long-term change management considerations.
- Levels of information security and alignment with regulatory compliance are required.
- Taxonomy and metadata needs for data classification and retrieval.
- Records management and governance.
- Storage capacity needs – on-premise versus cloud
- Disaster recovery strategy
- Training opportunities and upgrade potential
A detailed deployment and validation plan is a critical prerequisite to the implementation of ECM solutions. Pilot trials can help identify and solve process-related bottlenecks before Enterprise Content Management is deployed in the enterprise. Industry standards are available for stress testing key functionalities, such as large data handling or varied types of data inflow, and help can be sought from professionals to design and implement ECM solutions specific to a company.
To achieve the benefits of an ECM solution, enterprises must involve all stakeholders in selecting the Enterprise Content Management product and vendor, developing the implementation plan, deploying the plan, and training users. The ECM implementation roadmap must connect the organization's information management needs, culture, and business processes.
How to select your Enterprise Content Management solution?
Factors to consider when choosing an Enterprise Content Management solution include:
- Hardware requirements – Does the company have the appropriate technology infrastructure to run the software efficiently?
- Need for auxiliary hardware such as signature pads, scanners, etc.
- Features included in the software such as,
- Easy creation of documents
- Electronic notifications, reviews, approvals
- Logs of workflow activity for auditing purposes
- Conversion of ad-hoc routines into repeatable procedures
- Cost of the software and its maintenance.
- Availability of installment help from the manufacturer.
- Availability and cost of technical support.
- Data storage and backup options.
- Need for the training of personnel to use the system.
- Level of integration with existing software products.
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Nanonets as part of your Enterprise Content Management solution
Nanonets is an OCR software that can be part of the larger ECM solution because it leverages AI & ML capabilities to automatically extract unstructured/structured data from PDF documents, images, and scanned files.
The AI-driven cognitive intelligence of Nanonets allows the handling of semi-structured and even unseen document types while improving over time. The Nanonets algorithm & OCR models learn continuously. They can be trained or retrained multiple times and are very customizable.
The Nanonets API provides high speeds and great accuracy in line item extraction of data and drives automation for line item management. The output can be customized to only extract specific tables or data entries of interest.
The versatility of Nanonets arises from their ability to perform the following tasks:
- Accurate detection of the table structure of a line item containing documents like forms.
- All the line item entries that are present in the forms, like name, product, price, total sum, discounts, etc.
- The data can be extracted as JSON output that can enable the building of customized apps and platforms.
- While offering a great API & documentation for developers, the software is also ideal for organizations with no in-house team of developers.
This versatility allows the use of Nanonets in a variety of functions and departments within an organization – accounts payable, HR, inventory management, etc. This makes it an ideal system to be integrated into an Enterprise Content Management setup.
Additional factors that make Nanonets a good addition to ECM solutions are:
- It is a truly no-code tool
- Easy integration of Nanonets with most CRM, ERP, content services, or RPA software.
- No post-processing needed: Nanonets OCR can recognize handwritten text, images of text in multiple languages at once, images with low resolution, images with new or cursive fonts and varying sizes, images with shadowy text, tilted text, random, unstructured text, image noise, blurred images and more.
- Works with custom data through the use of custom data for training OCR models.
- Multiple input recognition: Nanonets OCR can recognize handwritten text, images of text in multiple languages at once, images with low resolution, images with new or cursive fonts and varying sizes, images with shadowy text, tilted text, random, unstructured text, image noise, blurred images, and multiple languages
- Independence from formats: Nanonets is not bound by the template of documents at all. You can capture data cognitively in tables or line items or any other format.
Advances in cloud, mobile, AI, and analytics technologies have enhanced the scope of content management solutions. Enterprise Content Management solutions can enhance productivity among end-users by creating an integrated culture in which business content is captured, stored, processed, and utilized for enterprise-wide efficiency enhancement.