Contents of this article:
- Introducing Enterprise Content Management
- Content: What does the C in ECM stand for?
- What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?
- What is an ECM Solution?
- Key Features of ECM Solutions
- Enterprise Content Management Example
- 10 Benefits of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
- Does My Business Need ECM?
- What's the Future of ECM and EIM? Key Trends in ECM
- Meet WoodWing's Enterprise Content Management Software
Introducing Enterprise Content Management
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the process of centralizing, managing, and providing access to documents and files across your organization. When paired with the right technology, it also automates workflows associated with that content. This so-called unstructured data is the bane of many businesses. Industry experts estimate that unstructured data represents 80 to 90% of all new enterprise data, and it’s growing 3X faster than structured data. And most companies don’t know how to manage it – let alone use it strategically for the benefit of the organization. Deloitte found only 18% of organizations report being able to take advantage of unstructured data.
Enterprise Content Management solutions have grown to meet this demand for enhanced content access, analysis, and automation. In 2022, Forrester found 67% of software decision-makers planned to increase their investment in Enterprise Content Management, with a further 24% expecting to spend the same. But what exactly is an Enterprise Content Management system and how does it benefit businesses? If you’re considering investing in ECM, we’ve got everything you need to know.
Content: What does the C in ECM stand for?
But before we dive into ECM, let’s first get to grips with what the C of ECM stands for. Because it might not be what you think. And an Enterprise Content Management system might do more than you expect. In Enterprise Content Management, ‘content’ means unstructured data. Before your eyes glaze over, thinking about death-by-databases, it isn’t THAT type of data. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Unstructured data means any information that CAN’T be easily stored or displayed in a database. Anything that isn’t neat numbers and values. Things like emails, images, text-based documents, PDFs, et cetera, are all classed as unstructured data.
And your business has a LOT of it.
According to research from IDC, organizations globally are predicted to generate over 73,000 exabytes of unstructured data in 2023 alone. If you can’t picture an exabyte, join the club. We’re talking unfathomable figures. But what exactly is all this data made up of?
Examples of unstructured data
The exact nature of your unstructured data – or ‘content’ – will depend on the nature of your business, but it can include things like:
- Purchase orders, invoices, and receipts
- Customer emails and correspondence
- Design drawings and schematics
- Photographs, video, and graphics
- Employee resumes and job applications
You might also hear them called ‘information assets’ or ‘digital assets’.
Why are these assets so important?
These assets are valuable to your business for lots of reasons. For example, they may:
- Power core business functions (such as text and images that build into products for publishers)
- Contain actionable insights that could benefit your business (such as feedback from customers)
- Convey essential information between employees (such as blueprints or workflows)
- Be operationally essential (for example, matching purchase orders to invoices to pay suppliers)
- Ensure compliance with legal requirements (such as consent forms and contracts)
Do you REALLY need to access this content?
Perhaps not all of it. But at least half. Deloitte states that about 20 percent of an organization’s data has value for analytical, legal, or regulatory needs. And another 30-40 percent is the active business data being created daily. This means 50 to 60 percent of your unstructured data needs to be retained and accessed. Beyond that, the rest is ROT - redundant, obsolete, or trivial.
The challenge of managing ‘content’
Content is hard to manage because
- There’s so much of it – How do you store and structure it in a way that makes it easy to find, access, and manage?
- Different people need access to it – Where do you store it so they can all access it - and how do you stop people from accessing content they shouldn’t
- Each piece typically has a lifespan – How do you make sure content is relevant and up-to-date? And properly archived when no longer needed?
Enter Enterprise Content Management…
These challenges created the idea of Enterprise Content Management – and the software designed to solve them. When ECM first started, it was about MANAGING content. Putting content in one place to make it easier to manage. Today, the approach has evolved. Savvy businesses understand that nowadays ‘content’ drives business performance. It contains insights, unlocks efficiencies, improves service delivery… That’s why ECM is now often referred to as ‘Content Services’ and ECM software as ‘Content Platforms’ - recognizing that simply managing content isn’t enough. You need a way to get it efficiently to the people who need it.
Content platforms now dominate the mature market that we’ve historically called enterprise content management (ECM). Technical decision-makers and the business peers they’re supporting are no longer looking for generic document management systems, but need flexible, extensible platforms on which to design, develop, and deploy a range of content-rich applications.
Cheryl McKinnon, principal analyst with Forrester
Q1 2023 report into content platforms.
What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?
Enterprise Content Management: a definition
ECM is concerned with centralizing, storing, surfacing, using, managing, and sunsetting unstructured data/content in your business. It covers the full lifecycle of each piece of content – from upload and ingest, through version control, to archiving and disposal. Enterprise Content Management typically employs ECM software to securely manage unstructured data at scale, as well as improve the efficiency of access and use. For example, through technology like Optical Character Recognition, Artificial Intelligence, and workflow automation.
According to the Forrester Wave report ‘Content Platforms’, an Enterprise Content Management solution is…
A software platform architected specifically for the design, development, and delivery of document-, content-, or process-rich applications. Content platforms enable the decoupling of repository, application, and user interface layers and reveal services and APIs for application creation and integration.
Sense check: What is EIM and how does it differ from ECM?
Don’t worry if you don’t know what’s the difference between Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Enterprise Information Management (EIM). They’re closely related concepts and easily confused.
Enterprise Information Management
EIM is concerned with managing ALL types of information in your organization. That means structured data - the sort you find in databases and spreadsheets - as well as unstructured data.
Discover Enterprise Information Management solutions from WoodWing.
Enterprise Content Management
ECM - as we’ve established - focuses specifically on unstructured data like documents and media files. ECM can be part of an EIM strategy, to make sure your organization properly manages and capitalizes on all types of data in the business.
Discover Enterprise Content Management solutions from WoodWing.
What is an ECM Solution?
‘Enterprise Content Management’ is a set of business processes and practices. But today, the term is inseparable from the software sector it spawned. An ECM solution is simply the software that a business uses to manage its Enterprise Content Management activities – like document storage, retention, distribution, and disposal. When ECM solutions first emerged, the focus was on centralizing everything in a single system that met the needs of every department, team, and individual. If that sounds naively utopian, you’re right. It soon became apparent that this just wasn’t realistic. There is no ‘one ring to rule them all’.
Nowadays, the focus of ECM is to centralize as far as is reasonable, but, while recognizing that different departments may be better served by separate solutions (ideally integrated as part of a seamless software stack). As a result, there is increasing choice and variety in ECM software.
Examples of different ECM solutions
Some examples of enterprise content management solutions include
- Content Platform
- Document Management System
- Digital Asset Management System
- Records and Information Management System
- Quality Management System
What's the best ECM solution?
As you can see, there are now lots of different types of tools under the ECM umbrella. All aim to streamline the organization and retrieval of content, and improve performance by enhancing collaboration, automation, and more informed decision-making. But there’s no such thing as the best ECM solution anymore. It’s about what best serves your specific content service objectives. And this can depend on the nature of your business.
Key Features of ECM Solutions
Whilst ECM solutions can serve different purposes and deliver a range of functionality, they typically support content upload, management, access, and distribution – plus collaboration and automation in content workflows.
Centralized document management
All ECM platforms create a centralized system to store and access content. Documents are available digitally and on demand – making it easier to search and surface documents and information.
Most ECM systems can accept paper documents – typically by using Optical Character Recognition to ‘read’ scanned documents and digitize them. They also support e-signatures and document creation.
Content ingest and identification
ECM solutions have systems for ingesting and correctly classifying content – using OCR, machine learning, and AI to assign document metadata and descriptions to make them searchable and discoverable.
Version control and audit trails
ECM systems maintain a version history of documents – providing access to current and past versions – as well as maintaining an automatic audit trail for amends and revisions.
Permissions and security
ECM platforms let you set users’ permissions to allow and restrict their access to different types of content. They also include robust security measures to protect against malicious access and cybercrime.
|✅ Staff survey results
|❌ Financial information
|✅ Employee handbooks
|❌ Personnel files
|✅ Brand guidelines
|❌ Embargoed press releases
Search, retrieval, and distribution
ECM systems include powerful search and retrieval capabilities. These help users quickly find and access specific content within the platform. Some also use AI to predict and serve what users are looking for.
An ECM can automate routine processes. E.g. Scan in paper invoice > OCR allows cross-reference to original purchase order > Information matches and invoice approved for payment.
Collaborative content services
Enterprise Content Management tools include team collaboration features and support for shared project workspaces in the cloud – enabling remote and hybrid teams to work together, from wherever.
Integration with other tools
ECM solutions integrate with other business tools, allowing teams and systems to share information and create cross-departmental workflows.
Enterprise Content Management Example
(From proposal and approval to invoicing and archive)
In this imaginary scenario, a business consultant prepares a proposal for the client in their Enterprise Content Management system. The proposal goes through a cross-departmental approval process before being sent to the client. When the client signs their contract, it triggers invoice and project creation in other teams. All documentation is stored in the ECM for future reference.
Step 1 - Proposal prepared
A consultant prepares a client contract proposal using a standard contract template in the ECM system. They then initiate a workflow for contract approval.
Step 2 - Approval process
The ECM system routes the contract proposal to the consultant’s manager, who reviews the proposal and either approves or requests revisions. Once approved by the manager, the workflow sends the proposal to the legal department.
Step 3 - Legal review
The legal department receives the proposal and reviews it for compliance and legal requirements. They have permission to make changes or return the proposal for revision. Once approved, the workflow continues.
Step 4 - Invoice issued
The finance department is notified that an invoice needs to be created and sent to the client. The ECM system automatically generates an invoice template pre-filled with contract details. The proposal and invoice are then sent to the client through a client access portal in the ECM that allows for e-signature.
Step 5 - Project triggered
Once the contract is signed and the invoice paid, the ECM triggers the creation of a new project for the delivery team. This pulls in key information from the proposal document, such as timelines, agreed budget, and deliverables. This can set other workflows in motion.
Step 6 - Archiving
The ECM system archives the approved contract, ensuring it's securely stored for future reference, audits, and compliance purposes. The entire workflow and all approvals are logged in the ECM.
As you can see, this ECM-powered workflow:
- Reduces manual tasks - such as re-keying information into the invoice - which reduces the risk of human error
- Automatically creates tasks for collaborators - reducing manual interventions needed to progress the work
- Allows for seamless cross-departmental workflow automation
- Makes life easier for the client - through digital documentation and signature
- Securely saves all relevant information and documents for future reference
Now, let’s look at more benefits of using an Enterprise Content Management System…
10 Benefits of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
We’ve hinted at various benefits of ECM already, but let’s spell them out. Remember that these are high-level benefits that apply to most businesses. Your specific use case may be even more beneficial, depending on the nature of your business.
1. Faster access to information
ECM solutions slash the time it takes for people to find the information they need to do their job - and since time is money, this cuts your costs.
2. Better business flow
Putting the right info, into the right hands, at the right time makes your business flow better - streamlining tasks, accelerating processes, and increasing productivity.
3. Improved data security
ECM solutions allow for great access to documents whilst maintaining high levels of security and protection. So people have better access to what they should be able to see - but nothing they shouldn’t.
4. Better data integrity
ECMs ensure the accuracy and integrity of the files thanks to version control, automatic revision tracking, and access to past iterations of content.
5. Easier compliance and governance
ECM helps organizations comply with regulatory requirements and reduce legal risk - formalizing governance structures for unstructured data and offering workflows around classification, retention, and disposal.
6. Efficient collaboration
Team members can use ECM systems for cloud-based collaboration. For example, in publishing, collaborating on editorial content and passing it through an approval process, before signing it off to the next stage of the workflow. (If this sounds like you, check out WoodWing’s content creation tools).
7. Support for remote working
ECM solutions support collaborative working, something that’s increasingly important in the remote/ hybrid world of work.
8. Improved quality management
ECM systems provide a repository for institutional information - like ‘how to’ information, workflows, and best practices. This ensures critical information isn’t lost when people leave the business. (Take a look at WoodWing’s quality management system for more info on this).
9. Lower storage costs
ECM systems support digitization initiatives and reduce the physical space needed to store hard-copy documents. This reduces costs associated with maintaining a paper document library.
10. Greener storage
There is an environmental footprint associated with storing data. Centralizing your storage can reduce it because ECMs reduce duplicate documents existing in multiple places.
Does My Business Need ECM?
Realistically, yes. If you are a medium-sized business or bigger, you’ll almost certainly benefit from an ECM solution. At its heart, ECM is about removing the barriers that stop people from doing a great job. And all businesses can benefit from that. However, it is more of a priority for certain businesses due to:
- Their scale or structure
- The nature of their work/operations
- Their reliance on content or information assets
Here are a few businesses that should prioritize ECM, if they haven’t already.
1. Enterprises and larger businesses
If you’re a big business, you will have more content and unstructured data than a small business. And more employees who need efficient access to it. Therefore, you’re more in need of ECM.
2. Highly regulated businesses
ECM provides secure storage and robust document management processes. This helps highly regulated businesses comply with regulations - for example, financial institutions or energy firms.
3. Businesses handling personal information
Some businesses use unstructured personal data to deliver efficient services. For example, healthcare providers or educational institutions. ECM combines security, compliance, and quick retrieval.
4. Information-heavy businesses
Industries like manufacturing, engineering, pharmaceuticals, et cetera, need to manage, control, and access 100% technical information. ECM helps with access, version control, audit trails, and cross-team collaboration.
5. Content-heavy businesses
ECM helps content-heavy sectors – like retail and e-commerce, and publishing – to manage and combine digital assets (e.g. product images) and data (e.g. articles or product descriptions) to create web and print content.
In each of these use cases, businesses can improve operational efficiency, data security, and collaboration.
What's the Future of ECM and EIM? Key Trends in ECM
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Enterprise Information Management (EIM) are constantly responding to emerging technologies and evolving business needs. While we don’t have a crystal ball, we can predict some likely ECM trends to look out for – with Artificial Intelligence, remote collaboration, and user experience high on the agenda.
More intelligent systems
Emerging technologies like AI and machine learning are likely to make ECM systems more intelligent - for example, supporting content classification, predictive analytics, and process automation.
Better user experience
High user adoption and successful self-service are essential to reap ROI but hard to achieve remotely. ECM solutions will improve their user experience to make it harder for users to fail.
Given the scale and sensitivity of content stored in EIM and ECM systems, security will become more important. Vendors that can boast higher security credentials will win market confidence.
Enhanced security and increased need for remote access mean more businesses are likely to move from on-premises to cloud or hybrid deployment.
Bigger data analytics
Better management of unstructured data means the potential to extract insights for better decision-making. AI will be a key enabler of this - allowing businesses to analyze documents at scale.
Mobile access and multi-device compatibility will be increasingly important as remote and hybrid employees expect ‘anywhere-productivity’ on devices that work for them.
APIs and integrations
ECM/EIM solutions will include more out-of-box integrations to connect to other software, as well as APIs to allow organizations to build specific integrations more easily.
The use of blockchain technology for content verification, audit trails, and secure records management may become a common feature in ECM and EIM.
Meet WoodWing's Enterprise Content Management Software
Whatever your use case, WoodWing has Enterprise Information Management and Enterprise Content Management solutions to streamline and simplify your business processes.
Simplify content production. Collaborate efficiently and deliver high-quality content faster with WoodWing Studio. Ideal for any business that publishes content at scale – from magazine and newspaper businesses to retail and ecommerce brands. Discover WoodWing Studio.
Take control of your digital assets. Store, manage, and share your files in one centralized hub with WoodWing Assets. Perfect for businesses that need better organization and access to their digital content – like images, video, and artwork. Discover WoodWing Assets.
Effortlessly manage your documents. Organize, access, and distribute your files securely with WoodWing Xtendis – a must-have for businesses that need powerful, secure, compliant document management. Discover WoodWing Xtendis.
Centralize your knowledge and processes. Unlock your organizational knowledge potential with WoodWing Scienta. For any business looking to maximize quality and efficiency. Discover WoodWing Scienta.