Enterprise Content Management (ECM): Everything You Need to Know

  Taylor Pettis    January 25th, 2021  

Enterprise Content Management illustration

Chances are your organization has a lot of content floating around. From Word documents, emails, and Excel spreadsheets to scanned images and PDFs, all of this content helps you and your team accomplish your goals.

While having all this content on hand is beneficial, it can also quickly become overwhelming and lead to inefficiencies that cost you time and money. To avoid these headaches, enterprise content management is a must. It allows your business to organize and manage its content in a way that improves processes and reduces inefficiencies.

Below we’ll dive deeper into what ECM is, why it’s important, how it works, and what you need to do to implement it.

What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

Enterprise content management (ECM) refers to the tools and strategies that capture, store, manage and deliver content in a way that accomplishes critical, day-to-day processes at an organization. At its core, ECM creates order out of data that used to be unstructured, difficult-to-find, and unavailable. It eliminates “content chaos” and ensures the right people get the right content at the right time.

Implementing an ECM system benefits a variety of departments in your organization: accounts payable and receivable, human resources, payroll, supply chain management, marketing, and many others.

Why Is ECM Important?

No matter the size or scope of your organization, ECM is essential. After all, it can be a real challenge to organize content when you have so much of it and it lives in different places. ECM improves the way you operate in a variety of ways.

In addition to helping you keep tabs on all the content at your disposal, an ECM system improves communication among teams—particularly those working in different locations, offices, and time zones. With all of your files organized in a central location, teams will find it easier to talk to and support one another. Improved communication leads to streamlined workflows that are free of the manual, tedious process of the content lifecycle process, saving your organization time and money in the process.

The Elements of ECM

Now that we’ve gone over the importance of ECM, let’s take a closer look at its elements. A good ECM system:

1. Runs on Digitized Documents

While paper documents may have been the only option in the past, digital documents are now the norm. To understand why, imagine you work for the state and have to process tens of thousands accounts payable transactions each month.

With physical vendor invoices, you’d have to hand off hard copies to various parties just to make payments. That sort of manual work takes hours, and at the scale at which any government operates, those person-hours add up quickly. Plus, tracking so many physical documents is tough to say the least.

By using an ECM system that, by its nature requires digital documents, you avoid these issues. Digital documents are easy to track and recover, unlike their physical counterparts. Plus, they may also reduce the impact paper copies have on the environment.

2. Acts as a Central, Secure Storage Site for Documents

With an ECM system in place, everyone knows where to go to find the documents they need. Let’s say you work at a hospital with doctors, nurses, and others specialists who collaborate to diagnose and treat patients.

An ECM solution makes it easy for every healthcare professional to access relevant, up-to-date information so they fully understand a patient’s history and perform their job appropriately. They won’t have to waste their time sorting through medical records and other documents.

In addition, since an ECM system houses everything in a central location, it’s easy to establish the right security settings to ensure the hospital is compliant with HIPAA and other regulations regarding access to patient information.

3. Automates Processes That Revolve Around Documents

An ECM system can do wonders for any business process, especially those that depend on documents. If you’re working for a school district with many students and staff, for example, you have no shortage of requisitions, purchase orders, packing slips, pay stubs, and tax documents.

With ECM, you can get rid of the excessive paper pushing and storage that results in significant inefficiencies. An ECM system helps automate your processes like invoice approvals so you can improve tracking and turnaround times. It also increases visibility into documents across the organization and improves employee satisfaction.

How Does ECM Work?

ECM is made up of various components that all work together to improve the way your organization manages content. Here’s what you can expect with an ECM system.

  • Documents are Digitized: To digitize documents, ECM uses optical character recognition (OCR) technology. OCR technology converts images of documents, like those produced when you scan a physical document, into a text file that’s easily readable by software. As a result, your organization can eliminate manual data entry, reduce the risk of errors, reallocate physical storage space, and increase productivity.
  • Digital Files are Stored: When all of your files are digitized via an ECM system, you can store them in the cloud, an on-site server, or a combination of the two. Regardless of what works best for your business, this digital storage is far more convenient than traditional methods. No more file cabinets and dedicated rooms for file storage.
  • Secured Access is Enabled: A virtual storage site gives you more control over who has access to valuable documents and confidential information. Most ECM systems give the option of providing tiered access to files. This to ensure that the only people who can view certain documents are the ones that really need to. Such access is especially important if you work in an industry like healthcare where you have to abide by HIPAA regulations. This mitigates the risk of your data being lost or compromised and saves you from lawsuits, a damaged reputation, and other consequences.
  • Processes are Automated: Any good ECM system has automation features. Depending on what works for you, these features might include automatically routing documents to the right people at the right time or notifying team members when documents warrant their attention.

These automated processes can be especially useful for accounts payable teams that still have manual processes. These processes often lead to late payments and missed early payment discounts. Once the system digitizes AP invoices via OCR, it extracts the information and submits it to your ERP for approval routing.

How to Implement ECM at Your Organization

If you don’t already have an ECM system in place at your organization, the process of getting there can take time, but it’s achievable. To help your organization reap the benefits of ECM, be sure to follow these steps.

1. Establish a Team

Take a close look at all of the managers and employees at your organization. Figure out who is best suited to handle the implementation process and assign them to your ECM team. They’ll be responsible for getting things started and keeping the ball rolling. You may want to choose an employee or manager from each department like accounts payable and logistics. This will make it easier for others to jump on board once your ECM is ready to go.

2. Get a Baseline

Your company’s relationship with files is unique. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to determine exactly what it is. Ask yourself how often employees work with files and content. Which ones use them the most to perform their jobs? What workflows depend on documents? Do you need to protect certain content from others to remain compliant in your industry? By answering these questions, you can create a baseline that will help you with the rest of the implementation.

3. Survey Employees

Since an ECM system is designed to support your employees and make their lives easier, it only makes sense to survey them. Depending on the baseline you’ve set, you may want to send out a company-wide questionnaire or target certain departments that use files and content the most. A survey will give you a good idea of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to file and content management.

4. Force-Rank Your Must-Haves

Determine which ECM features are non-negotiable, make a list of them, and then prioritize them. If you have rooms upon rooms of paper files, for example, an ECM that can digitize them with OCR is likely a must. In the event your accounts payable process uses an ERP and you’d like your ECM system to push invoices to it, ERP integration will be at the top of your list. Another essential feature may be straight through processing, as it allows AP invoices to be collected, reviewed, and processed through to payment without manual intervention.

5. Research Your Options

Now that you have a solid grasp of your needs and problem points, it’s time to do some research and find out which ECMs are available to you. As you’re scoping out your options, keep track of them and note their pros and cons. Remember that they’re not all created equal, and the right ECM for a different organization isn’t necessarily the right one for yours. Keep features, price, customer service, and reviews in mind while you weigh all of your options.

6. Get Buy-In

If your organization is new to ECM or slow to adapt to new technologies, tools, and processes, it may be a challenge to get buy-in across the company. Doing so, however, is critical. Without it, it’ll be an uphill battle to get employees to use the system that’s meant to support them and make their lives easier. Hold a company-wide meeting or a smaller meeting with your leadership team to explain the benefits of an ECM and share your research.

7. Pick a Pilot Project

Once you’ve received buy-in, start small. Choose a pilot project with a smaller department so you can easily manage and troubleshoot what’s going on. If everything seems to be working and you have proof that an ECM system is well worth the investment, you can roll it out on a wider scale. A pilot project can also build more confidence in the solution you found than if you simply hit the ground running without hard proof that your ECM efforts will be effective.

The Next Step: Find the Right ECM Solution

ECM allows your company to become smarter and more efficient than your competitors. As long as you implement it correctly, you’ll be able to save time, money, and hassle. Now that you’re well versed in the basics and benefits of ECM, the next step is to find the ideal solution for your organization.

Once you consider all your options, you’ll find that MHC Software is a great choice. It offers powerful OCR technology that can simplify invoice processing as well as an easy-to-use interface that everyone will appreciate. In addition, MHC Software allows for tiered automated invoice approvals and makes it possible to view related documents, creating greater efficiency and more time and money at your disposal.

Interested in supporting organizations with the right ECM solution?

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