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5 benefits of enterprise content management (ECM)

ECM is a hefty investment, so it's a good idea to evaluate all the benefits before making a purchase. Understand how ECM benefits these five areas of business.

By deploying an enterprise content management platform, organizations can enhance the productivity of their employees and stakeholders, reduce costs and mitigate risks.

ECM provides organizations with the tools to capture, organize, store and deliver an ever-increasing volume of digital information -- documents, images, rich media and other types of content that contain business value. ECM helps to streamline content lifecycles and automate process workflows.

Here are five business benefits of ECM.

1. ECM provides the repository of record for important business documents

Organizations depend on important business documents, such as contracts, product specifications, marketing plans, technical manuals and submissions to regulatory authorities. Producing and managing these items in today's digital economy is an ever-increasing challenge. Scale and scope are perennial problems. Electronic documents can also be lengthy, comprising hundreds or thousands of pages and combining text with images.

ECM establishes the repository of record for maintaining these high-value work products. This repository includes both the storage environment and the organizational framework -- defined by a file plan -- for categorizing documents. ECM adds different types of metadata to tag files by various terms and other criteria.

Most importantly, ECM establishes the authoritative document collection for the organization as a whole. Other people and processes simply need to access the items sourced from this authoritative repository to ensure that they are using approved versions.

2. ECM supports a single source of truth for collaborative work

When it comes to teamwork, there is no substitute for keeping things simple. Knowledge workers expect just enough structure to do their jobs. As they share information in electronic documents and digitized images, they depend on self-evident file names and content categories linked to projects, tasks, activities or other organizing criteria.

ECM provides an easily accessible place for sharing files. Team members can organize files and folders as they see fit, adding familiar terms that match their particular tasks. ECM maintains the single source of truth for securely storing files and assigning content categories. It can even display lists of approved terms and suggest new ones, adding to the collective intelligence of a collaborative workplace. Team productivity increases, often at an exponential rate, as more and more knowledge workers within an organization rely on an ECM environment to do their work.

3. ECM maintains content security

There are inherent risks when making digital files accessible online. Organizations need mechanisms to ensure content security. Only authorized individuals should be able to create, update, and/or delete particular documents, images or other digital artifacts. And administrators should be able to monitor information flows to track the digital health of their collections.

ECM mitigates risks by managing trust and security.

ECM mitigates risks by managing trust and security. To begin with, ECM provides a secure yet trusting environment. Like locking doors to an office building and then tracking who enters, ECM authenticates people and processes seeking access to a repository, ensuring that they are who they are. Once users are authorized to enter, ECM manages access controls to individual files and/or folders, determining who can create, read, update and delete various files. ECM logs all interactions, providing administrators with the data to monitor and verify content flows.

In today's distributed work environment, organizations face increasing threats to content security. Authentication and access control mechanisms that verify trusted activities are no longer sufficient. Modern ECM tools increasingly incorporate zero-trust capabilities that rely on AI, telemetry and continuous monitoring of enterprise networks to detect risks in real time, before they affect business activities.

4. ECM makes content findable and useful

Knowledge workers devote substantial time and effort searching for information and then acting on the results. A purchasing agent, for example, may need to check sections of a contract before approving a purchase order. A marketer planning a new branding campaign may want to find previous promotional plans before creating a new one. A software designer may want to review current market requirements and customer problem reports before proposing enhancements to an existing product. Knowledge work depends on accessing actionable content in a business context.

ECM provides multiple capabilities to make content findable, enabling knowledge workers to easily search for answers to questions and save time doing their jobs. Basic search begins with keyword matching -- looking for files in a repository that match predefined character strings and returning a list of results.

Ensuring security within enterprise search is essential -- knowledge workers should only be able to retrieve files they are entitled to access and view. Natural language processing techniques add intelligence to the search process and increase both the precision and recall of results. Federated search is a time saver to query and aggregate results across multiple repositories within an enterprise.

ECM makes content useful by streamlining steps knowledge workers need to take to accomplish particular tasks and thus reducing the overall costs of a business activity. For example:

ECM can support case management, such as managing the documents for a commercial mortgage application and routing the collection through predefined business processes for review and approval.

When integrated with an ERP system, ECM can maintain the repository of current contracts that purchasing agents need to directly access from within their business application.

There are cost/benefit tradeoffs for automating business processes, however. Organizations must make upfront investments in application integration to achieve these results.

5. ECM is essential for content governance

In today's dynamic digital economy, organizations face ever-increasing risks from the rising tide of digital information. Organizations struggle to separate the digital ephemera of everyday work from published documents and final form assets -- items that contain business value, require preservation, and often must comply with regulatory mandates.

Documents and messages generated as ongoing business activities may become evidence in legal disputes, and disorganized content can add unnecessary costs of proceedings.

ECM mitigates the risks of digital work by providing tools and services, accompanied by underlying operational strategies, for good governance across the content lifecycle.

To begin with, it's important to separate works-in-progress from final-form results and ensure that the repository of record maintains these published items. ECM can help organizations implement retention policies for different types of files, as well as the scheduled disposition of interim drafts. ECM can automatically identify which files constitute official records and then manage them by formally defined records management processes for long-term retention.

Within a repository of record, security classifications are important, particularly when an ECM automatically assigns and maintains content sensitivity labels. Finally, should an organization face a subpoena and document production requests, ECM can apply legal holds to predefined content collections and easily extract the requested files from the repository of record without added costs. Being prepared reduces the costs and risks of digital work.

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