The importance of enterprise content management (ECM)

By: Wilhelm Greeff, business manager for business productivity solutions at Decision Inc.

Data has become a mission-critical asset with companies investing significantly in analytics platforms to derive value from it. However, this often sees ECM fall by the wayside and yet it is an indispensable tool to properly manage and maintain data beyond the traditional automated processes.

ECM therefore must re-emerge in the hearts and minds of executives as a business solution that brings with it many advantages in the digital environment. This does not make it a silver bullet to solve all productivity challenges. Instead, there must be a drive inside the organisation to actively make use of it.

Like any tool, ECM is only as effective as the end-user that uses it. If implemented properly, and users are trained and comfortable with it, productivity will improve. Chance management is the key especially when looking at evolving legacy solutions into a more connected (and virtualised) environment. The risk is such that when a company focuses too much on just the service aspect of ECM and not effective change management, a bad experience could result in blaming the product and not the organisational approach towards that solution.

Improving decision-making

As a platform, ECM is used to store large amounts of organisational information (and integrating documents, people, and processes) in one place. This provides the ideal environment to build reporting platforms to utilise the information. As such, ECM provides a channel to drive decision-making in the business. And, the more integrated ECM becomes with other systems, the greater the volume and detail of information that can be reported on.

Another advantage of the above is that it provides businesses with a single location (whether on premise or in the cloud) where information can live and be accessed by multiple users from anywhere, anytime, and using any device that has connectivity.

Despite concerns that ECM will result in an information free-for-all by employees, it does provide for permission and access control – from a high-level (think access to a specific sub-site) all the way down to an individual file.

Getting it integrated

Most ECM systems can integrate with other business applications out of the box or through product connectors. However, in a world driven by custom development there is very little that cannot be done to make ECM systems talk to other tools, systems, and platforms.

ECM solutions are not limited to ICT organisations. Instead, they are widely used by companies of all sizes across different industries. And yet, despite this, many users still do not understand the basic benefits and capabilities ECM unlocks. Some might not even be aware that they are using it. This does open the door to really push ECM in a much more integrated way and unlocking all the potential it can provide in the organisation.

ECM will eventually replace all paper-based systems thanks to an increasing reliance on electronic documents or other forms that can be submitted by a myriad of devices. Any connected device that can handle capturing and processing of information becomes a tool in the ECM armoury.

ECMs can also integrate with specific platforms that provide users without smartphones with access to basic HR services like applying for leave and getting their payslips and company communications. Thus, even at the lowest level of technology availability, paper-based systems can be eliminated.

And devices do not even have to be connected. Various platforms are available that offer synchronisation capabilities back into ECM systems when users come back online. This also greatly reduces the need for internet access at all locations (a mine being a prime example).

The way forward

ECM is no different to any system or solution that is implemented at an organisation. It requires users to understand why change is coming, what the change is, and how that change will affect them.

The level of push-back and acceptance will differ between audiences. Typically, those that are already used to one or another way of automation are more receptive than those that are still operating using more ‘traditional’ approaches.

Irrespective, ECM will remain a fundamental part of the digital transformation journey that every organisation must embark on.