Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Six Questions about ECM You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask

You’ve probably heard a lot about how ECM software can improve your productivity and your bottom line. Maybe you are considering an investment in an ECM system. Or perhaps, like many early adopters of the technology, you are contemplating replacing an older system with software that is less rigid and more agile. Whatever your situation, there are some basic concepts with respect to the technology that can help enrich your understanding of the possibilities that implementation has to offer—whether or not you are new to ECM:

1. What is ECM and how does it differ from EDM?

It is understandable that there is confusion surrounding these acronyms. After all, many of us vendors are guilty of using the terms interchangeably. To be fair, both terms originated from similar needs. EDM, or electronic document management, was a term used when electronic imaging, management, and storage technology first came about. The purpose of an EDM system was to eliminate paper and make information available electronically.
EDM technology eventually evolved into enterprise content management (ECM) software. ECM still entails going paperless, but its goals are far more expansive than those of EDM. ECM lets organizations manage different types of content—not just scanned images. In addition, ECM is a launching pad to overall enterprise efficiency and connectivity, enabling workflow, automation, electronic forms (eForms), records management, and other advanced capabilities that deliver significant ROI.
Although the technology had advanced dramatically, the mindset, unfortunately, has not. Far too many organizations use their ECM systems solely for electronic storage and retrieval. In these cases, the system has become little more than an electronic filing cabinet, managing information statically rather than dynamically. Signs that a company has not evolved its mindset beyond paper processing include:
  • Scanning and saving business documents after they have been processed manually
  • Routing documents via email for processing after they have been scanned
  • Printing out paper copies of electronic documents as part of standardized business processes
  • Off-site box storage of the paper records
What is the difference between EDM and ECM? It seems like a simple question, but the answer can be complicated. The important thing to remember is that if you are using your ECM system solely for electronic storage and retrieval, expansion offers the potential for dramatically improved returns on your investment. Using an ECM system for simple electronic storage and retrieval is akin to using a smartphone just to make calls. It is important to know your system’s capabilities so that you can make the most of the technology.

 2. How can I get better performance from my ECM system?

If your ECM system is not performing up to your expectations, it is likely that your organization falls into one of the following scenarios:
  1. You have not approached your ECM implementation from a business performance perspective. In this case, it is possible that in spite of advances in ECM technology, your organization hasn’t let go of a paper processing mindset. It is easy to fall into this trap. Processing information the same way that your organization has always processed information—in spite of advances in technology—means that you don’t have to go through the sometimes difficult exercises of change management, process analysis, and organizational assessment. Coming up with more efficient ways to process your information takes some work. Is it any wonder that so many organizations opt to continue outdated, inefficient practices?
  2. You are using a legacy system that lacks the agility to be configured quickly and easily. This scenario is not uncommon for some of the early adopters of ECM—particularly those in the insurance, government, and healthcare industries. At the time that they were introduced to the business world, legacy systems solved a myriad of problems associated with document management. Unfortunately, for all of their robustness, they are typically very rigid. And because they are difficult to program quickly and easily, not only are they unresponsive to today’s immediate business demands; they usually have an extremely high TCO. You may be surprised to learn that a high-performance ECM solution can offer improved functionality and be more cost-effective than your current legacy solution.
  3. You have processing bottlenecks, and your implementation hasn’t led to reduced costs. These are issues that could definitely benefit from a thorough process analysis. Check out the troubleshooting guide, When Workflow Doesn’t Work, to learn more.

 3. What is the difference between an ECM system and an ERP system?

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, also known as point solutions, focus primarily on structured data. ECM, on the other hand, manages both structured and unstructured content, data, and documents — even those that accumulate outside of processes that are strictly transactional.
ERP systems tend to be used to address specific areas of a business — accounts payables, accounts receivables, inventory management, HR, etc.— and they do it well. Oftentimes, these systems offer lightweight imaging and document management functionality. However, these systems do not necessarily lend themselves to the true enterprise connectivity afforded by ECM. ECM not only extends the functionality of ERP implementations; it connects your diverse departments, enabling security, access, and scalability for each of those different areas.
If your enterprise relies on the functionality of an ERP system, imagine what you could accomplish by integrating it with ECM software. You could implement electronic forms throughout your enterprise, which would provide the opportunity for self-service of your stakeholders and enable you to dramatically reduce incoming paper. At the same time, eForms would allow you to digitize incoming information immediately upon receipt. Technologies like workflow and BPM would enable you to automate the flow of information across your enterprise for significantly expedited turnaround and error reduction. Integrating ECM with ERP and other core business solutions helps you to extend the life of your existing systems, providing them with enhanced functionality.

 4. How does ECM help with compliance?

No matter what industry you are in, compliance requirements are made up of three major components: privacy, security and accountability. You need to be certain that your stakeholder information is protected and secure. At the same time, you need to be sure that you are managing your records in such a way that they can be produced on request. (Or upon demand, as the case may be.) Your ECM system can help you maintain compliance in the following ways:
  • Security. ECM offers unparalleled security of your protected information, allowing you decide who can access, view, sign, act upon, annotate, or distribute documents. An ECM system that supports redaction can guarantee that your customers’ personal information is not accessible to processing staff. ECM’s authentication and authorization measures further secure your confidential information, ensuring that identities are protected and that data is viewed only by individuals who need to see it for processing purposes.
  • Audit trails. ECM enables digital audit trails of all business activity, offering verifiable evidence that shows who has accessed your documents (and when). If your company is audited for any reason, ECM provides you with the tools to demonstrate that you have taken every effort to enact privacy measures and secure your information. Inspections and auditing become significantly easier with digital records.
  • Produce documents upon request. As you know, audits, assessments, subpoenas, eDiscovery requests, and right-to-know laws mandate strict financial penalties for organizations that are unable to provide records when they are requested. ECM solutions offer indexing capabilities to enable you to produce information on demand. Systems that offer enterprise search enable you to query your repository for text matches in non-text file formats such as PDF, TIFF, HTML, and JPEG. Enterprise search combines keyword and full-text searching, helping you to locate structured and unstructured data contained in files and other documents.
  • Records Management. A high-performance ECM system allows you to automate the retention and disposition of your records. This ensures that records are not kept beyond the time period that is mandated by law. It also prevents records from being destroyed prematurely. A superior ECM system will also enable legal holds: records can be set aside for the litigation process and kept unaltered until the legal hold is released, but files are still available for staff to access and use. Seamless records management also enables companies to create retention plans for each document type, ensuring standardization and removing the human factor from the records management equation.

5. What is the ROI for an ECM system?

This is a question with variable answers, which are dependent on your specific needs. Are you considering a traditional on-premise ECM installation? Or would the monthly operating fee associated with a cloud based subscription solution work better for your budget? When determining ROI, it is is important to have a keen awareness of how the system would enhance your business goals as well as your work environment. Typically, the better you understand your business processes today, the better your potential to lower your TCO tomorrow. Consider that ECM offers the potential for significant returns in the following areas:
  • Reduced costs associated with storage: Obviously, ECM software will help you reduce costs related to physical storage. But why stop there?
  • Improved productivity: Implementing advanced ECM technologies such as workflow, BPM, eForms, and process automation will help you expedite turnaround without increasing your workforce. The technology also helps you reduce errors and better serve your stakeholders.
  • Risk mitigation: ECM allows you to reduce discovery costs and risks associated with litigation in a way that is proactive rather than reactive. Audit trails, compliance with e-discovery requests, and records management capabilities enhance compliance initiatives no matter what your industry.
  • Disaster recovery / business continuity: The idea of your business being affected by a natural disaster used to seem farfetched, unless you were located in a hurricane zone or an area that was prone to earthquakes. Realistically, with wildfires, floods, and severe weather becoming more prevalent, savvy organizations need to enact a contingency plan to ensure that operations are up and running regardless of environmental conditions. ECM is a crucial component of your disaster recovery plan. Furthermore, if your business is located in an area that is prone to disasters, a cloud-based SaaS ECM implementation may be the smartest way to protect your assets.
An investment in ECM has the potential to pay for itself in very little time. That said, it can be difficult to make broad-scale predictions with respect to how quickly ROI will be realized. One of the best ways to quantify an investment in ECM is with an organizational assessment. This will help you gain a more thorough understanding of what type of system would help you best reach your goals. At the same time, it would ensure that you are not overpaying for ECM modules that you don’t need.

6. What is involved with migrating information from an older ECM to a newer solution?

Are you paying a lot of overhead and a lot of money to service a system that takes too long to modify and is difficult to use? If you were an early adopter of ECM technology, you might be surprised by the degree of agility and affordability that the newer systems offer. And fortunately, if you are considering an upgrade, you have some options with respect to accommodating your existing ECM system:
  • If you are replacing your current ECM system, you can migrate all of your necessary documents, files, and associated metadata from the original system to the new system.
  • If you are retiring an ECM system but would like to leave your documents in their current storage location, your new system can import just the desired metadata and the pointers to all associated documents that are still housed in the previous locations.
  • If you are continuing to use your current content management system along with your new solution, you may be able to leverage a repository plug-in. This allows you to import the document’s data into the new system but leave the document itself in the other ECM.  When you request to view the document, the new system will use the repository plugin to find the document in the other system and display it in the new system’s viewer as if it was in new system.  For example, if one of your departments is using SharePoint and the rest of your enterprise is using an ECM system, you don’t need to duplicate the actual document in two repositories; and yet, users can access the document from either system.

The big picture:

It is natural to have questions about how to best access, control, and use the information that drives your business forward. If you’d like to learn more about ECM software and how it can enrich your business, we’re here to help. Whether you are new to ECM or are contemplating replacing a system that is underperforming, you can most certainly benefit from consulting services from an experienced vendor with the technical and business expertise to address your needs. Discover how an organizational assessment, workflow analysis, and change management consulting can help take your productivity to the next level. It is never too late to learn how to get the most from your ECM system implementation.


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