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What Exactly Does ECM Do?

Bill Dermody

Imagine you work for a company that has employees creating hundreds or thousands of documents (Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDFs and scanned images). Meanwhile web servers are creating millions of records (invoices, approvals and electronic receipts), all of which needs to be archived, indexed, actionable and searchable.

Actually, you probably don’t need to imagine that scenario. It describes pretty much any company on planet Earth today. The challenge of managing an organization’s documents, unstructured information and making it accessible to the right people at the right time is one of the biggest challenges any business faces. With more employees working remotely, anyone who is responsible for managing supply chains, contract management, HR processes, or government administration, Electronic Content Management will be more important than ever.


Whether you use the term Managed Content or Enterprise Content Management, the principle is the same. Content Management is the systematic collection and organization of information for business use.

Thanks to the never-ending growth of Web traffic, smartphones and the cloud, the need has accelerated to deal with information of all kinds. Many companies are finding that using SharePoint or shared file servers just doesn’t cut it anymore. Enterprise content management does not refer to a single technology or process. It is an umbrella term used to describe the combination of methods, tools and strategies that support capturing and managing content as well as the storage, preservation and delivery of information throughout its entire lifecycle. 


The first and perhaps most powerful function of any managed content system is that it will capture and enter content into a database. This can be any kind of document, including invoices from vendors, contracts, reports or employment records. ECM should be able to manage records whether they are scanned into the system from paper or if they are created electronically and move directly into a digital repository.

Capturing your records and data in an enterprise content management reduces the time, cost and complexity associated with managing documents throughout their life cycle, helping ensure compliance with record retention policies. To make the content management system useful however, it must make it possible for users to view or make edits (based on access rights), include metadata to enable organization, enable search functions and to organize documents within a flexible folder structure.

For example, a company could create separate folders for marketing or sales teams, another could use folders to differentiate middle-manager files from entry-level documents, or use folders to separate HR documents from payroll information. If done properly, a Nucleus Research study showed content management systems will return $6.12 for every dollar invested.


The benefit of capturing and storing your documents and data this way is that your users can now find any document using both full-text search and smart indexing searches. Content doesn’t just disappear into a void but remains usable and available whenever it may be needed. If done properly, your document text, metadata, annotations and entries are all searchable.

Enterprise content management software will eliminate time spent searching for information, so you can spend more time helping customers, regulators, auditors or anyone that may need answers quickly. It also means you have the information needed to make better decisions about issues impacting your organization’s bottom line. For example, it is possible to automate searches and retrieve information your company will need so that reports can be delivered and auditors can now conduct audits without ever coming on site. 

Just as importantly, ECM allows users to set expiration dates determining when files should be disposed of or archived for indefinite safekeeping. This is especially useful in industries such as health care or legal where it is necessary to retain documents over long periods of time.


In addition to making your data available and actionable, ECM makes automation possible. Many vendors offer discounts to customers who pay their invoices within a specific period of time (such as 10 or 15 days). ECM repositories should enable your staff to automatically route documents to the right people at the right time, alert staff when documents require their attention and keep remote workers in the loop. ECM systems enable users to accurately match, distribute and approve purchase orders, delivery tickets and invoices, improving efficiency.

Automation can make sure purchase orders are signed, records are archived and employee vacation requests are approved with minimal human intervention. With intelligent routing, an ECM system will create the necessary steps of review and approval, in the order specified. And as more and more workers are maintaining social distancing or working remotely, the end result is processes that are secure, cost-efficient, streamlined and error-free.

A study from the Aberdeen Group found that companies that used software to automate processes spent just $3.09 to process an invoice. In contrast, companies that had no solutions in place were spending an average of $38.77. Automation means a business can provide approvals, move invoices and get work done with fewer steps and while maintaining social distancing. 


Perhaps the most powerful capability ECM gives any organization is that these systems optimize records management practices and protect against risk. Managed content enables security settings to allow organizations to protect data by restricting access to folders, documents, or even specific words. Administrators can monitor system login and logout, document creation and destruction, password changes and protect information access. 

That helps ensure government compliance through strict maintenance of file security, permissions, approvals, and lifecycle management. Your organization can now provide access as needed to auditors, consultants or business partners while ensuring confidential and proprietary information is kept secure. 

There is more information available to us today than ever before, and most of it is not being created by humans. With an ECM system to capture, preserve, archive and make this content actionable, companies are saving money as well as finding new revenue sources. Talk to the business process experts at the Gordon Flesch Company about how to start or build on your own managed content solution.

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