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This article is part of our Buyer's Guide: A buyer's guide to selecting the best ECM tool

Tips for buying an ECM tool

Once you've addressed your business needs, it's time to put together a set of must-have features to help you find the right ECM tool for your organization.

Before buying an enterprise content management (ECM) tool, develop a clear understanding of the business needs the software should address. Some companies might need document management software that provides content analytics, where another company's primary priority may be to have an ECM tool that interfaces with social media platforms. Clarifying your needs up front will help ensure everyone in your company is on the same page as you navigate the market for the right set of tools.

The best way to clarify your needs is to develop a set of must-have features to identify the right product. Your list will, of course, depend on the business challenges you want to solve and will be used when you prepare your request for proposal (RFP).

Establishing must-have ECM tool features

If document management is a priority, the following ECM tool features should be on your list:

  • Provides a data repository that will accommodate the many terabytes of data to be stored.
  • Supports text, images, videos, email, streaming data and data coming from sensors.
  • Supports capture of external content, such as content from social media platforms.
  • Allows you to manage content on external sources; for example, the ECM tool automatically posts content to social media platforms when you change internal content that's configured to be published to the outside world.
  • Organizes the data it stores in personal folders and file cabinets, or in group folders and file cabinets.
  • Provides easy data capture, retention and management and, ultimately, destruction of data that's no longer needed.
  • Enables easy interoperability between an ECM system and other content management systems or other back-office applications, such as customer relationship management, ERP and digital asset management software.
  • Provides hybrid cloud-based ECM setups that enable remote teams to access files without logging into a virtual private network while also ensuring that some content needs to be internal to the company.
  • Provides capabilities to easily search content stored in multiple repositories.

If records management is a priority, you should look for an ECM tool that provides these features:

  • Supports the standards you need to adhere to, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for financial services or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for healthcare.
  • Manages content retention at the report level and perhaps at the section level.
  • Includes a rules engine for content distribution, preservation and expiry.
  • Includes an audit log to help you prove the document was processed throughout its lifecycle.
  • Supports workflows, so that users can approve documents and route them to the next person in the process.
  • Supports automated milestones that enable the capture, management, archival and ultimate destruction of documents.
  • Provides alerts to signal important milestones throughout the lifecycle of content.
  • Includes a powerful search engine that allows for the retrieval of content at the file level but also at a more granular text level. The search engine allows you to search both structured data (for example, text with pre-defined fields) and unstructured data (for example, audio or video content).
  • Allows users to create meta tags to allow for records to be cataloged according to your own rules, and to allow for retrieval in ways that make the most sense to your business.

If workflow is a priority, you need an ECM tool that includes these features:

  • Provides a workflow engine that pushes documents through a series of workstations in a sequence designed by you to align with your business processes.
  • Offers tools that allow you to sign off on documents and pass them to the next stage.
  • Presents content in variety of ways that fit into the work habits of employees in your company. For example, content may be presented in a browser, through Microsoft Office, through a spreadsheet, through email or to printers, a fax machine or through an enterprise application.
  • Allows users of mobile devices to participate in a workflow.

If your priority is collaboration, consider software with these must-have features:

  • Ensures access control by user, department, location or region.
  • Provides a scheme to manage security and access control across systems if you're interfacing with other applications.
  • Ensures security for cases where people from outside your company access content and provide feedback.
  • Recognizes and indexes sections within a report, so that you can navigate directly to the right section of the report.
  • Supports the separation of large documents into manageable sections that can be sent to different recipients (a process known as bursting); and it allows the combination of different sections from different documents into a single document (a process known as bundling).
  • Enables each section of a document to be archived separately and to follow its own retention period.
  • Provides tools for language translation, so people can work on the same content in different languages.
  • Includes tools to automatically convert content from one document type to another.
  • Includes search tools that allow searches by words or phrases, by content type or document owner or by date ranges.
  • Includes tools (or at least has the tools in a roadmap) to perform searches that take into account user role, location and search history.
  • Provides tools for mobile access, so workers can access content no matter where they are.

If Web content management is a priority, you should look for an ECM tool that offers the following:

  • Provides tools to help you populate internal or external websites with content in an ECM product.
  • Captures content from websites and updates internal content managed by ECM accordingly.
  • Provides tools to automatically post updates to internal or external websites when modifications are made to internal content managed by ECM.

Integration requirements

If integration with other ECM systems and other applications inside and outside your firewall is important, your must-have features might include the following:

  • Supports Content Management Interoperability Services for easier integration with other content management systems.
  • Has built-in connectors to the applications you need to integrate with.
  • Includes APIs that make it easy for you to develop your own connecters to applications if those connectors don't already exist.
  • Includes tools to set up automatic transfer of content from one ECM suite to another.
  • Allows users to access data from one application when that data was created in another application. For example, sales people may want to access ECM-controlled content through their favorite CRM application.

And finally, make a list of your must-haves for deployment, performance and administration:

  • Can be deployed in a way that suits you best: on cloud, on premises or hybrid.
  • Scales up or down to adjust to your changing business needs.
  • Enables automatic backup of content.
  • Provides a retrieval time that's suitable to your needs when you need to retrieve backed-up content.
  • Includes scripting tools and allows scheduled execution of scripts.
  • Includes tools to monitor and manage disk space.
  • Provides administration tools that make it easy to design and manage workflows, to configure content lifecycles and to define access control lists. Make sure the tools can be used by people who aren't necessarily tech savvy; for example, you may need to allow business users to design workflows in tandem with IT to ensure the process truly reflects all milestones.

Now that you've identified your list of must-have features, the next step is to create an RFP and then look at the market-leading products to see which one best meets your specific requirements.

Next Steps

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This was last published in August 2015

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What is your company's primary reason for buying an ECM tool?