Explaining ECM or Enterprise Content Management

ECM, or Enterprise Content Management, is a contentious issue in most large organisations today and due to the importance and scope of this subject and/or phenomenon, here is some information.

First, ECM is a concept, not technology.  It is not a system, it is not an application, it is neither software nor hardware – it is an approach, it is a way of working, a way of going about with the content of your organisation.  Therefore, let’s clarify a few concepts to create a common frame of reference:

  • E” refers to enterprise and not electronic. The focus is to manage the content of the DOD in a consistent manner.
  • C” refers to content. Content is the data or information inside a record or according to the Oxford Dictionary ‘the material dealt with in a speech, literary work, etc as distinct from its style and form’. Content is the reason behind the creation of a record. Without informational content a record has no reason to exist.
  • M” refers to management. In this case it refers to the management of content over its life cycle (from creation to disposal) and as an integrated whole.

I can hear you ask; “and the point is?”  Well, information management specialists would like to move the client from the management of records (i.e. memo’s, documents, files, etc) to the management of content (i.e. what is contained inside records).  Why?  Because this is where the value of information lies, not in knowing where (for example) a document or a file is, but being able to get into the content of one or more records and therefore being able to make an informed decision or to effectively execute a business process.

A formal definition of ECM is: “Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and records related to organisational processes” (Reference: AIIM).  ECM encompasses many content types and content management applications, and is therefore not a monolithic technology but rather a framework encompassing content management policies, practices, procedures and technologies. (Source: AiiM).

Secondly, there are very specific technologies that form an ECM solution.  Key ECM technologies are collaboration, electronic document management, electronic records management, workflow, business process management, web content management, digital asset management and enterprise search, all of which fits into another like a jigsaw puzzle.

Understanding the mentioned jigsaw puzzle, the “Gartner Learner’s Toolkit, What is Enterprise Content Management, and What is its Value” can be used as frame of reference.

According to Gartner ECM has the following functionalities and can be available in one suite or as independent components.  These are shortly described as follows:

  • Document management for check-in/check-out, version control, security and library services for business documents.

  • Web content management for automating the webmaster “bottleneck” and managing dynamic content and user interaction.
  • Records management for long-term archiving and for automating retention and compliance policies, and to ensure legal or record compliance.
  • Document capture and document imaging for capturing and managing paper documents.
  • Document-centric collaboration for document sharing and supporting project teams.
  • Workflow for supporting business processes and routing content, assigning work tasks and creating audit trails.
  • Related integrated document archive and retrieval systems for documents and reports.
  • E-forms for exchanging electronic content.
  • Digital asset management for storing and managing rich media content.
  • E-mail archiving and e-mail management for retaining electronic communications in support of compliance.
  • Search and information access to ensure that users may actively seek information, analyze it, remain informed and use information.

The most important aspect to understand is that no organisation will solve its content challenges by buying an ECM solution.  Buying is only one of a series of challenges that lies in the road to excellence in content management.  This is due to the fact that successful ECM is directly dependent on knowing exactly what the organisation wants to achieve by means of content management (i.e. business objectives), focused implementation of information science principles and practices, and then obtaining the appropriate technology.

No simple feat, indeed.

Dr CJH Coetzee dated 12/09/2019