Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems

Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems and Engineering Content Management (EngCM) systems evolved from the same fundamental requirements – to categorize/classify and index documents on a network for easy retrieval as part of a business workflow process. These documents, or “containers,” represent all types of files that need to be managed for access, security, revision, distribution, disposition, and eventual destruction (over and above the capabilities provided by the operating system). Corresponding to businesses drive for productivity, information re-use, data integrity, information provenance, auditability, and regulatory compliance, these systems evolved to manage the “content” (what is in the files, databases, and models), as well as the containers.

ECM Defined

Abbreviated as ECM, Enterprise Content Management has been adopted as the market definition formerly occupied by vendors of Document Management Systems (DMS). Why the subtle change in name? Initially, DMS vendors concentrated on extensions to basic file management capabilities provided by their operating systems. As such, they were interested in the file (irrespective of its source) and storage/indexing/retrieval mechanisms to allow the user to classify and retrieve documents in an organized, library-like manner. In essence, they were initially concerned only with the file as a container.

What is a Document?

Documents are more than just files. They are files that are uniquely characterized and named such that they may be unambiguously identified, referred to, and retrieved. Consider the term “documentary evidence” as a clue to their uniqueness and status. File systems are rudimentary document management systems – providing, that is, if everyone knows the filing structure! File system hierarchies, though, are not always intuitive to each end user, which is why they require additional search and retrieval techniques (one of the initial market drivers for DMS).

Content at Work

It’s not enough to “manage” content. Of course, the ability to access the correct version of a document or record is important, but companies must go further. Content must be managed so that it is used to achieve business goals. Central to this strategy are the tools and technologies of ECM, which manage the complete lifecycle of content, birth to death.


The key to a successful compliance strategy is integrating the idea of compliance success into your business-not viewing compliance as a project that can be completed and then considered “finished.” While painful, complying with regulations should be viewed as an opportunity to improve common business processes and not just an ongoing cost to the business. It is no secret that there can be high costs associated with your compliance initiatives for both technology and employees.


Collaboration is the art of working together. The key to strong collaboration is utilizing the set of technologies-instant messaging, whiteboards, online meetings, email, etc.-that allow work to take place wherever and whenever needed. It’s good business; groups can accomplish more than individuals. Collaboration allows individuals with complementary, or overlapping, areas of expertise to create better results faster than before.


While ECM can be a costly initiative, what are the costs of not properly managing your content? The cost of not implementing ECM tools is too often left unmeasured until too late. Things like the cost of long legal proceedings, the loss of repeat business through the inability to perform simple customer service interactions, and the cost of typical business process delays are easy to measure after the fact-lawyers’ time, the cost to acquire new customers, and FTE salaries. Understanding the cost of these potential losses will allow you to see that ECM investments have valuable benefits that often can be measured, but not always. The key is to set your key metrics for success up front and measure your success based on those expectations.


Keeping a business going 24×7 is the task of business continuity planning. While often mentioned with disaster recovery, business continuity planning is the overall strategy for ensuring that operations continue in the event of any disruption-natural or man-made. Disaster recovery is more Paperless or Paper-efficient Many companies are seeking to deploy ECM to support a reduction of paper end-to-end. In some industries this is expressed as a desire to become ‘paperless’. Clearly in industries where the paper document is the information transport medium or method of interacting with the end customer, e.g. insurance claims processing, then parallel processing of the claim cannot occur while there is still paper in the loop. In this mode the document interface on the front and the back end may be hardcopy, but the intermediate processing may be entirely electronic. In other industries this is expressed as a desire to become ‘paper-efficient’. Many functional workers still prefer the paper rendition to the electronic rendition. Indeed it is still a challenge in difficult or hazardous areas to take an electronic rendition. Additionally for auditing and insurance purposes many organizations still require the ‘wet’ signature or stamp on the paper record. In this mode it is transported electronically but printed (with the necessary watermarks or banners) at the point-of-use, and later recaptured as a record of the time when it was in hardcopy form. narrowly focused on getting an organization’s IT infrastructure going again, a subset of business continuity.

Business Process Management/Workflow

The tools that move content throughout an identified business process, such as claims processing. BPM solutions are frameworks that can be used to develop, deploy, monitor, and optimize multiple types of process automation applications-including processes that involve both systems and people. Consider which processes are candidates for automation, and whether they require some degree of ad hoc processing or manual intervention. Workflow is now commonly associated with the manual processes of managing documents. Workflow handles approvals and prioritizes the order documents are presented. In the case of exceptions, workflow also escalates decisions to the next person in the hierarchy. These decisions are based on pre-defined rules developed by system owners.

Content and Documents

  1. Unstructured content enters an organization’s IT infrastructure from a variety of sources. Regardless of how a piece of content enters, it has a lifecycle. Follow a document through its lifecycle as viewed through the use of ECM technology.
  2.  Electronic Unstructured Data: email, instant message, text document, spreadsheet, etc.
  3. Electronic Forms
  4. Paper Documents/Forms


Paper generally enters the organization through a scanner, or sometimes, a multifunction device. In centralized scan operations, large volumes of paper are put into the system by dedicated workers. In distributed operations, smaller volumes of documents are captured with lower volume scanners or multifunction devices closer to their point of creation.

Document Imaging

Software captures the image of the paper document. Increasingly, electronic document images have the same legal status as a paper document.

Forms Processing

Business forms are ingested into the system. Most forms today are “structured” – the location of the form elements are known. The ability to process unstructured forms, those without a pre-defined form template, is improving


Technologies that allow paper information to be translated to electronic data without manual data input. Recognition technologies have progressive capabilities from optical character recognition (OCR) to intelligent character recognitions (ICR) and are important for converting large amounts of forms or unstructured data to usable information in a content management system.

Categorization, Taxonomy

A taxonomy provides a formal structure for information, based on the individual needs of a business. Categorization tools automate the placement of content (document images, email, text documents, i.e., all electronic content) for future retrieval based on the taxonomy. Users can also manually categorize documents. Critical step to ensure that content is properly stored.


An essential part of the capture process, creates metadata from scanned documents (customer ID number, for example) so the document can be found. Indexing can be based on keywords or full text.

Document Management

Document management technology helps organizations better manage the creation, revision, approval, and consumption of electronic documents. It provides key features such as library services, document profiling, searching, check-in, check-out, version control, revision history, and document security.

Records Management

Content of long-term business value are deemed records and managed according to a retention schedule that determines how long a record is kept based on either outside regulations or internal business practices. Any piece of content can be designated a record.

Email Management

As the de facto standard for business communication, removing emails from the server and saving them to a repository isn’t enough. Email must be classified, stored, and destroyed consistent with business standards-just as any other document or record.

Web Content Management

Web content management technology addresses the content creation, review, approval, and publishing processes of Web-based content. Key features include creation and authoring tools or integrations, input and presentation template design and management, content re-use management, and dynamic publishing capabilities.

Digital Asset Management

Similar in functionality to document management, DAM is focused on the storage, tracking, and use of rich media documents (video, logos, photographs, etc.). Roots of the technology are in the media and entertainment industry, currently experiencing growth, especially in marketing departments. Digital assets typically have high intellectual property value.

Repositories Enterprise Content Management

Structured and unstructured – the core of many ECM systems. This is where the data resides and where much of a company’s investment in ECM resides. A repository can be a sophisticated system that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, or as simple as a file folder system in a smaller company. The key is to have information that can be found once it is placed in the system.


Content needs to “live” somewhere. Storage technology (optical disks, magnetic, tape, microfilm, RAID, paper) provide options for storing content online for rapid access or near- or off-line for content that isn’t needed often.

Content Integration

Enables disparate content sources to look and act as a single repository.


As storage media ages, content must be moved to new media for continued accessibility.


Backing up content in various formats and/or locations helps to ensure business viability in the face of a disaster.


One of the greatest benefits of a strong ECM system is the ability to get out what you put in. By having strong indexing, taxonomy, and repository services, locating the information in your system should be a snap.


Distribution of content for reuse and integration into other content.


Recasting content based on the needs and cultural mores of different global markets.


Drawing on a taxonomy and based on established user preferences, various types and subjects of content can be delivered via user-defined preferences.


Content gets where and to whom it needs to go through a number of tools. Content can be delivered via print, email, websites, portals, text messages, RSS feeds.

Paper Electronic Portal, Intranet, Extranet, Email, Fax


Restricts access to content, both during its creation and management as well as when delivered. 1. Digital Rights Management – prevents the illegal distribution of rights-managed content by restricting access to content down to the sentence level as well as granting/restricting permissions for forwarding and accessing content. 2. Digital Signatures – ensures the identity of a document sender, and the authenticity of the message. 3. PKI – uses a public and private key pair held by a trusted third party to transact business over the public Internet.


Collaboration technologies enable individual users, such as employees or business partners to easily create and maintain project teams, regardless of geographic location. These technologies facilitate collaborative, team-based content creation and decision-making.

Long-Term Archival

Content that must be preserved over decades must be saved to media, such as paper and film-based imaging, with longevity to match.