Definition

enterprise content management (ECM)

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Build a WCM architecture that supports business needs

Enterprise content management (ECM) is a set of defined processes, strategies and tools that allow a business to effectively obtain, organize, store and deliver critical information to its employees, business stakeholders and customers.

ECM helps streamline the lifecycle of information with document management and automates process workflows. It is compatible with most file types, including office productivity suites, image files, email, computer-aided design (CAD) and more.

It is critical for any organization with large volumes of content to have a defined ECM plan to eliminate operational inefficiencies, reduce costs and adhere to regulatory compliance mandates.

Components of ECM

ECM can be broken down into five major components: capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver. The purpose of each component, as defined by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), is as follows:

  • The Capture component involves creating information by converting paper documents into electronic formats, obtaining and collecting electronic files into a cohesive structure, and organizing information. Information can include invoices, contracts, research reports and more.
  • The Manage component connects, modifies and employs information through means such as document management, collaborative software, web content management and records management.
  • The Store component temporarily backs up frequently changing information in the short term within flexible folder structures to allow users to view or edit information.
  • The Preserve component backs up infrequently changing information in the medium and long term and is usually accomplished through records management features. It is commonly used to help organizations comply with government and other regulations.
  • The Deliver component provides clients and end users with requested information.
    The ECM components are listed

Benefits and importance of ECM

ECM provides a centralized platform where content can be held and disseminated in a manner that meets regulatory compliance requirements and risk management guidelines. An ECM achieves the latter two benefits by eliminating ad hoc processes that can expose an enterprise to regulatory compliance risks and other potential problems.

Full-function ECM systems include features such as content taxonomies, auditing capabilities, check-in/check-out and other workflow controls and security mechanisms.

An effective ECM can streamline access and business processes, eliminate bottlenecks by reducing storage, as well as paper and mailing needs, optimize security, maintain integrity and minimize overhead. All of these can lead to increased productivity. The first step is to document all the types of content that the organization deals with, the business processes its part of and who handles the content. ECM software can be used to identify duplicate and near-duplicate content, allowing the organization to keep a few copies of a particular piece of content instead of hundreds.

ECM has become increasingly important and complex in recent years for a number of reasons. Financial fraud and data breaches -- and regulations designed to prevent them -- have made effective information governance essential not only for compliance reasons, but also to help protect the organization's reputation. Enterprises also need to manage content effectively for integration with business intelligence/business analytics (BI/BA) applications that help them to use the available information to guide business decisions.

Future of ECM

Enterprise content management strategies and tools are changing to adapt to the demands of organizations looking for more agility and integration. As technology evolves, ECM platforms add more features, as with digital asset management.

While ECM systems provide a number of capabilities, companies that want more flexibility in choosing content management features or don't need all of the components of an ECM suite can purchase one-off applications from software providers to meet their needs. This approach to managing enterprise content, which includes content services applications, platforms and components, was dubbed Content Services by Gartner Inc. in 2016.

This was last updated in September 2017

Next Steps

Learn more about Lexmark's Perceptive ECM tools

Learn more about Hyland OnBase

Should you invest in HP's enterprise content management tools?

Get more out of EMC Documentum

Continue Reading About enterprise content management (ECM)

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