What is enterprise content management?

The enterprise content management industry has been growing steadily over the past several years and is expected to hit over $32 billion in revenue by 2027. But what is enterprise content management, and do you need it? Let’s take a closer look at the concept and how it can help solve some common organizational problems. 

What is enterprise content management (ECM)?

As part of their daily operations, large businesses naturally generate a lot of content (memos, presentations, videos, spreadsheets, etc.) in a variety of formats (PDFs, Word documents, images, etc). Like any other business asset, all this content must be managed. For it to be useful over time, it needs to be organized, searchable, and secure. 

Enterprise content management is the practice of collecting, organizing, and storing your company’s key information. It’s an umbrella term that refers to the software, systems, and processes you put in place to manage all the content your business uses, in every form. ECM applies to assets of all types, both structured and unstructured: 

  • Structured content usually has a fixed format or set of fields. It’s often easily dissected into parts. 
  • Unstructured content is more free-flowing and less predictable, making it harder to search and manage.  

ECM attempts to organize all of your company’s assets collectively so they are readily available and easily accessed.

How is ECM different from document management?If you’ve been doing some research, you’ve probably run across a similar term — document management. ECM and document management differ in a few key ways. Document management strictly focuses on storing and organizing documents, usually those in structured form. In contrast, ECM is broader and refers to the overall approach you use to systematically organize all your company’s content, structured or not. Document management can be part of an overall ECM plan, and ECM can be considered an enhancement for large-scale use. 

Do you need ECM?

While your organization might seem to be functioning well without an enterprise content management system, be on the lookout for signs that indicate you would benefit from a change:

  • Do you have processes with clear bottlenecks? If processes are stalled over low-value tasks, like getting approvals, it could indicate users aren’t receiving documents in a way that’s easy to process. 
  • Is your industry heavily regulated? An ECM would help you manage documents in a way that helps you remain compliant. 
  • Are you struggling to find documents when you need them? If it takes a lot of time to retrieve documents and other files, you would benefit from a centralized document storage solution that makes searching for documents easier. 

Tips for effective enterprise content management

It helps to know how to approach a concept as big as ECM. Here are some tips to help you tackle ECM the right way:

  • Start small. One of the key objectives of ECM is to improve workflows. But before you apply it to a critical process, test your new ECM system with small processes. You can always scale a working system to your entire enterprise. It’s much more difficult to rework an inefficient process that you’ve already rolled out company-wide.
  • Train your employees. Using an ECM system is a skill of its own, so be sure to provide training. Frustration will cause people to create workarounds, diminishing the effectiveness of the system you’ve implemented.
  • Map out content workflows. ECM is intended to support the complete life cycle of a piece of content, from creation to completion. It should help you get the right content into the right hands at the right time. Even if you’re working from templates, approach a workflow like you would building a house. Draw the blueprints first. This will help you identify problematic or missing areas that you didn’t spot in your initial plan.

The amount of content an enterprise has to manage can be massive. With the onset of cloud storage and faster data processing, our ability to generate content grows at similar rates. There is no overnight solution for figuring it all out, but if you incorporate these strategies and build sustainable workflows, you’ll stand a much better chance at getting your business’s content under control.

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