Enterprise content management is a term people in small to medium size businesses rarely encounter, but one that is just as critical to them as it is in large corporations. Enterprise content management, also known as ECM, is an overall strategy for managing your documents, video, photographs, graphics, engineering drawings, and any other types of content your company uses. It encompasses categories of data management like document imagining, database management, photo sharing, and any other types of record or data management.
Your ECM strategy will determine many critical factors for your company’s data systems. It covers areas of concern like:
– Data Security
– Storage Systems
– Archival Methods
– Data Conversion
– Data Access Systems
Those are just a few of the elements covered in a good ECM strategy. The best place to start to determine your company’s content management plan is to inventory all types of data used in your company. Do not rely on what your Information Technology department believes. Take time to visit with department heads in every department in your company. Visit with advertising, marketing, sales, manufacturing, customer support, finance, human resources, engineering, and any other departments your company has.
You should expect a few surprises as your inventory your company’s data and content usage. It is common to discover departments have setup their own small internal content management systems, even if it is informally. You need to document how the data is stored, used, and secured. This information is crucial to creating a strategy that is embraced and will succeed in your company. These steps are essential for small companies as much as large companies. Small companies frequently have fewer controls on their data and content management allowing departments to dictate their own systems. It is time to bring them all under a single management umbrella.
Why is it so important to take all of these diverse sources of content and bring them into a single system? It saves time, money, and work. How often have you watched as departments point fingers at each other about information that was not shared on a project? Most of the time the individuals involved in these disputes did not intentionally fail to share information. They had no idea they other department did not have access or that they even needed the data. When you have a well-designed content management system for your enterprise, finding the content you need becomes easy.
Instead of spending hours tracking down people in other departments and trying the find the pictures, drawings, or documents, you do a quick search of the system and locate what you need. You many discover you do not have security clearance for the documents, but at least you know where they are and have a process you can use to request access.
Sharing content between departments becomes easier, too. You do not need to email documents and other content. You setup shared folders and projects in your management system. Everyone involved in the project can check out the materials, add annotations, request further information, and create new content all within the project area of the system. Instead of battles between departments about data ownership and project management, you have a unified platform that encourages cross department engagement and makes sharing the data necessary for a project simple.
Your employees can restrict the data they share to individual people, entire departments, or groups of people. Utilizing groups, you can setup security structures that cross department and location boundaries allowing greater collaboration and faster workflow on important projects.
What kind of software is required to build your enterprise content management system? A couple popular choices are Microsoft’s Sharepoint and Oracle’s Content Management. There is a variety of other companies offering top quality solutions, including several open source solutions. You choice of content management system should be based on evaluating the types of data and what other types of systems your enterprise uses.
As an example, if your company exclusively uses Microsoft products likes Microsoft Office, Exchange Server, Outlook, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Project, and Windows Servers, then it would make perfect sense to look at Microsoft Sharepoint for your content management purposes. The integration of products makes implementation easier. Additionally, your IT staff is already trained to work with Microsoft products and support reducing their learning curve on the system.
We want to express a small word of warning. Just because your company uses Microsoft does not always mean it is the best solution. Take extra time to evaluate your types of content carefully. Some systems excel working with images, drawings, and videos, while other systems excel working with documents, web content, and other data. Determine what your company needs to accomplish and then evaluate features.
You should wait to evaluate prices until the end of your evaluation of enterprise content management systems. The purchase price of the software is just a small portion of your overall cost. Ease of implementation, ease of use, and annual fees can make a more expensive software platform the most cost effective solution. Look carefully at the costs for ongoing maintenance of the system. Ask your IT department for an estimate on installation costs and management costs of maintaining the software.
The toughest job is to determine which system your company employees will accept and use. Your real return on investment comes when your employees start using your content management system to improve their efficiency and reduce the cost of storing and managing content. Take a close look at how the software functions from a standard user’s perspective. Is the interface something they are familiar with, or that they can learn quickly. Does the software offer good help screens or tutorials?
Enterprise content management software can help your company take control of your documents, images, and other content that is currently scattered throughout the company. Choosing the right software is a careful balance of evaluating costs, functionality, and ease of use. If you follow our few suggestions to inventory your types of data, evaluate your current software platforms, and test with real employees, you will choose a system that gives you a fast return on investment.