Are you confused about what Enterprise Content Management is? You are not alone. Enterprise Content Management, hereafter referred to as ECM in this article, is not a specific system, but a broad term covering many organization systems, techniques, and tools with an eye to keeping down costs, inefficiency, and loss of information. The theme that ties these systems, techniques and tools together is a fairly simple idea: Capture, Manage, Store, Preserve, and Deliver Content.
First, let us look at what Capture involves. In today’s business world, most information is used in electronic form and thus is the best format for storage.
Papers are generally entered into electronic form by means of scanning documents through either a scanner or multi-function device. In larger organizations there may be people whose job is simply to do this; in smaller organizations it is more likely to be entered by the people the information comes through or someone working closely with them. Scanning is followed by document imaging, which is basically an e-copy of the paper document via specialized software.
Document imaging is divided into two steps: form processing and recognition. Form processing is putting the documents and forms into the system. This is easier with structured documents that have preset information slots. Recognition is the translation of information into a usable format through technologies such as intelligent character recognitions (ICR) or optical character recognition (OCR).
Indexing is also vital to Capture, and allows the information stored in the system to be retrieved easily at a later date. Categorization tools, which automatically sort and store information, can be of great help in this process. Documents are frequently tagged with metadata such as customer or patient ID numbers for retrieval, which may be based on full text or on keywords.
Next let us look at Manage. To manage in ECM is to control the placement of information within the system. Obviously, this is a complex job and covers more than one task.
ECM managers may use document management software which allows a user to look at information like it was in a library. These technologies allow the user to keep track of document histories and revisions, when they were put in or removed, to profile, search for, and to secure documents as needed. Managing information is obviously important to any business, but it’s not a simple task.
For instance, if you store information, how long do you store it? How long is the information useful to your business? Determining this is of importance, and a system for doing so, called records management, needs to be in place. Information that is of long term importance is referred to as records.
Digital assets are things like logos, pictures, and videos, a category of things called rich media which are often quite valuable. Managing them involves usage, tracking and storage.
Emails are a standard form of business communication today, and they must be taken from the server and stored along with other information. However, just like any other record or document, they must be indexed, stored, and deleted in accordance to the policies dictated by the business’s records management. This is called email management.
Web management covers making web content, getting it approved, and publishing it. Doing so may include tools such as creation tools and integrations, content re-use, template design and management either for entering information or display purposes, and publishing capabilities. As you can see, Manage is not a singular task, but one that resembles a many-headed hydra of legend.
Next let us look at what Store includes. Having all your information in a single place, or repository, is a principal of ECM. This storage place might be as simple as a file cabinet, or as complex as an electronic system that is very costly. Whichever the case, it needs to be able to store both structured and unstructured information in an integrated and retrievable format.
Stored information must also be moveable, since as it gets older, it needs to make room for new data. Information can be stored in a number of ways. If it is older or not used often, it may not need to be stored online. Here are some examples of storage options: paper, magnetic tape, microfilm, optical disks, and redundant array of disks (RAID).
Finally, let us look at Deliver. Obviously, if one cannot retrieve information, it is useless. If done right, earlier steps of ECM should make retrieving information easy. But what are reasons that one would retrieve that information? In general: distribution within or outside of the organization, making certain that distribution is secure, or reformatting information for a different use.
Remember: Capture, Manage, Store, Preserve, and Deliver Content. Are you less confused now? In short, ECM is intended to streamline a business in multiple areas so that it becomes more effective and efficient.
Bjorn O’Connor is a technology enthusiast with a passion for how software can help improve people’s lives. You can follow him on Google+