Enterprise content management (ECM) is one of the most important focus areas for companies this year. A significant number of organizations will be looking into implement a new ECM system, updating their current document management (DM) or records management (RM), or adding new functionality offered by ECM suites, like digital asset management (DAM) and compliance management components.
But why would an organization look into implementing an ECM system? What are the benefits? What are the incentives for a company to change its way of working? Why implement yet another enterprise software solution?
In every organization, there are different kinds of content circulating. People are e-mailing internally and externally with attached documents or files. Sensitive documents such as sales contracts are being sent and received and are often saved to local drives. With all this content floating around, there should be a place to capture, store, manage, and deliver content to relevant departments within the organization.
Current situation for an organization
This article will give an overview on the kind of content existing within a hypothetical organization; how it document workflow and storage works; the types of publications it has on the Internet; and what would change by implementing an ECM solution.
Many organizations that have not implemented a full ECM suite may have bits and pieces of organized information, but this is often at the departmental level rather than the corporate level and it is not integrated into any business process. Often there is a file server to store frequently used documentation, but unfortunately there is no version control, and documents are accessible to anybody because roles or business rules are not defined.
The organization that will be described in this article is one that is looking at the advantages and impact of implementing an ECM solution. For our purpose, we will call it Content.com. First let's describe what kind of documents and content that is available in the organization right now, and then describe the areas within an ECM that are applicable. We will then identify what the pros and cons will be for implementing an ECM solution.
Content.com has a sales department that use as customer relationship management (CRM) application to keep track of customer information. Besides the CRM, they also use presentations about the organization and template e-mails are sent to customers requesting information. These e-mails offer more information and describe the company and the possibilities for the client. There are other kinds of documents that the sales department uses. Some are available on a portal or intranet and some are saved locally on a sales person's desktop, so content can be customized with extra information.
None of the locally stored content has version control, workflow, or is reused throughout the organization. If it is, it's on a personal basis. Content is forwarded via e-mail and when reused by another person, it is again saved locally on the desktop. All this content is not managed in a repository.
There is a portal available, where people have access to some company documentation including the latest versions of documents that need to be sent to clients. This portal is updated by the editing department, and other departments cannot to change or save these documents in the portal or put them through the workflow.
Content.com also has several web sites where it publishes new content on a daily basis. Content consists of text, images, banners, and has links to archived documents etc. Besides these web sites, there is also a newsletter that is sent out, which also refers to new, daily information on the site. Content.com uses its own dynamic web pages to display this content.
All this information and unstructured data is stored on web servers in a folder structure and different web sites link to these folders for content. Additionally, a lot of content pertaining to certain tools and vendor information is stored in databases.
This is managed and maintained by the technical department within the company. Text is created in several different places including internally and externally, by companies providing information that is also published on the Internet. This information is checked by the editing group.
A workflow has been installed by the editing group for incoming documents, which are sent to a particular e-mail address. Installed internally, this workflow is part of the intranet portal software. The editing group decides what is published on the intranet and other departments can only make a request to have something published by sending the group an e-mail. This is not incorporated in a workflow or content management system (CMS).
Structuring content through ECM
An ECM application can bring structure to a pile of unstructured data that exists within a company. This structure will bring consistency and more efficiency within the organization as well. To be able to structure content, different components within the content need to be defined and tagged in such a way that it fits the structure. These components can be headers, titles, descriptions, references etc.
Structuring content can be divided into several steps:
Content creation: Content can be created in a separate application or with integrated WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) content editing tools. The author is guided to where to place content. The content is then split into components that will be stored in the repository.
Content presentation: The content components can be loaded in a template for presentations. It can be presented through different channels, in a web browser, a PDA, as printed material, etc.
Content management: Content that is being created and presented by the document management system needs to be managed. Version control for created content and workflow is important because it increases employee efficiency.
Collaboration is easier when you structure content and its different components. With the check-in and check-out functionality that a content management system has to offer, you can be sure that nobody else will be working simultaneously on the same component.
Don't look at ECM as yet another project
An ECM solution isn't just another product. You also shouldn't see it as just a project that when once implemented, the work is done. Implementing an ECM solution is a new strategy—one that incorporates the potential of reusing content throughout the entire organization.
This approach will give you more control and consistency. By assigning tasks, you can have authors look after the content and leave layout, font, company standards etc. for the technical staff.
Because CMS solutions often are accessible through a web browser, people who work remotely are able to use its functionality as well, which is cost saving and allows work to be done more efficiently.
When do you need an ECM solution?
The easiest way to determine if a content management solution will be useful for an organization is to gauge the number of web sites and content it has. Content can be determined by the amount of components. A component can be different things, from a word document, to an image, an audio file, or a section of a document. If there are just too many components to manually maintain effectively, implementing an ECM will be beneficial. Of course, it is hard to determine when you have "too many" components, but often 500 to 1,000 components is considered too many to handle manually. With a large number of components, it gets harder to find certain pieces of content, and updating and managing the web site becomes more complex as different pages cannot be found or become outdated.
However, the managing number of components is not the only reason for an ECM solution. The number of times a web site is updated and the number of content changes are also an important trigger to keep in mind. Ultimately, there are numerous elements that need to be considered. Bob Boiko, one of the world's most well-known ECM consultants, created a formula to calculate the complexity of a content management system:
(authors) x (sources) x (components) x (types) x (throughput)
x (publications) x (personalization) x (redesigns)
—From the Content Management Bible, Bob Boiko
The equation gives a break even point on when to use a content management system. After calculating the results, you will have an idea where the organization is and you can continue to evaluate the organization from that point onwards.
In respect to Content.com, implementing a content management system can have positive influences in most areas. It is not necessary to implement a full enterprise content management suite. In the case of Content.com, an ECM suite will have too much functionality that the company will not use, such as digital asset management (DAM) or records management (RM) features. Because Content.com is a web-based organization and mostly publishes and distributes text and images, DAM functionality is less important because there are few artwork, video, and audio files. Also the RM feature that allows documents to be saved to CD-ROM or to be scanned into a digital format, is not needed by the company. However, Content.com still needs a content control system, and will benefit from a web content management solution.
Maintaining internal documentation and publication on the intranet is a good example of an area where the company will notice a difference right away. They will be able to capture content more easily within the organization. Managing the amount of content, and its delivery to the portal will be more controlled, efficient, and structured. The confusion of different versions throughout the company will be eliminated.
All documentation can be published on the intranet or portal site and can be accessible by everybody throughout the organization. Through the ECM tool, people can check-in and check-out documents and submit them for publication. The documents can then go through the approval process in the workflow. Additionally, the portal can have restricted access to some areas by giving different rights to users, so not all content is exposed to everybody.
Content on the home web site and newsletters are other areas that can benefit from a content management solution. Personalized messages on the landing page and in the newsletter is one of several benefits that Content.com can implement in the future. Personalizing content allows companies to ensure that the person who reads the newsletter or visits the site sees information of interest. This can either be done through explicit personalization through the data that the user provided, or by implicit personalization, which is based on the information being viewed at that time.
In addition to these functionalities, users can focus on automating different processes within the organization, once they are familiar with the system. E-mail can be integrated within the suite, preventing the loss of valuable information within e-mails. Incoming faxes can also be scanned electronically or a fax server can be used so information is captured and saved. Even legal documentation, such as contracts can be stored, so the sales departments can see the kinds of contract they have with vendors.
Transition within the organization
Implementing a CMS tool is more than just putting some software on a server. Content management requires a different way of doing business, and internal changes are mandatory to be successful. That is why management shouldn't see this as "just a project", but as a strategic change within their business model. It is one that will not only allow growth in the future, but will also maintain the growth of different web sites, more information, making the company ready for the future.
To help organizations obtain impartial analyses of enterprise content management (ECM) solutions, TEC recently launched its ECM Evaluation Center (www.ecmevaluation.com). Please send comments or inquiries to the author, Hans Mercx, at firstname.lastname@example.org.