What is ECM?

What is ECM?

Paperwork. Email. Information in general. We all have too much of it these days – whether at home in our personal lives, or in the office, strewn across our desks and digital devices. The abundance of content – in both physical and electronic form – is overwhelming and extremely difficult to corral as we create, consume and distribute vast amounts of information daily.

Organizations suffer significant losses in time and productivity spent searching for information. This can translate to significant costs for a corporation. IDC estimates “the typical enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year searching for nonexistent information, failing to find existing information or recreating information that can’t be found.” It’s estimated that the average worker spends 8.8 hours per week searching for information – to a tune of $14,209 per employee per year.

Not only does mismanaged information translate to lost time, productivity and a hit to the bottom line, it also – depending on your industry – puts your company at risk for noncompliance with various regulations or corporate policies.

What is ECM? Enterprise Content Management supports data governance efforts by adding structure to control and execute business rules around data. This protects your organization by efficiently managing where to store data, how to archive it and flagging when to destroy it. This strict control over sensitive information is required by many federal regulations such as HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley. Operating without ECM to help manage the data that lives in hardcopy form, digital form and out in the cloud exposes organizations to unnecessary risk and executives to unwarranted headaches.

Forbes Insights reports that data-related problems cost the majority of companies more than $5 million annually – and that 95% of organizations agree strong information is critical for business success.

Fortunately, there’s also a technology category and a discipline that’s helping control and manage data. Read on to learn about ECM and how it fits into the overall digital transformation that’s taking place worldwide.

The ECM Life Cycle

According to AIIM (the Association for Information and Image Management), ECM is, “neither a single technology nor a methodology nor a process, it is a dynamic combination of strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver information supporting key organizational processes through its entire life cycle.” Basically, ECM is the process of managing the life cycle of data – from its creation through to its eventual disposal. And, it’s essential nowadays to have an ECM system that offers easy organization and delivery of data in a timely manner to remain competitive in any industry.

There are various stages of managing business content. Savvy businesses can leverage opportunities to gain efficiencies in these areas, while laggards may make costly missteps that can throttle productivity and introduce greater cost and risk into business operations. Let’s review these key components in the ECM life cycle:

  • Capture: To effectively manage business content, it must be collected and accounted for on an ongoing basis. The first step is to collect your data from wherever its resides irrespective of format. Think about the range of content that exists around you: paper, emails, images, records and documents from business systems, etc. Don’t forget about what’s hovering in the cloud.
  • Manage: This next step enables you to efficiently move content around your organization to improved productivity and collaboration. ECM systems help optimize data flows and digitize content to allow for search and retrieval based on a word or phrase search.
  • Store/Preserve: Information is stored in a centralized location, removing the need to manage content across databases, systems and physical storage locations. An ECM storage initiative also includes preservation, so it can be accessed if needed in the future. How long you must store your data depends on various industry requirements, federal mandates, and regulations.
  • Dispose: Disciplined disposition of content is just as important as archival and storage. Keeping content past it’s required retention date can increase legal risk exposure. As well, disposing of data in a timely manner can provide cost savings by freeing up physical and digital footprints. Automated systems ensure content is properly disposed of can take the onus off of staff for manual intervention.

ECM Buzzwords

As you read about ECM, you’ll likely come across the following phrases. Let’s take a look at a few key definitions:

  • Structured Data: This is information that is “defined” or meant to be processed by a computing system. For example: Content in databases such as point-of-sale data or data contained in financial systems.
  • Unstructured Data: This is content that’s read by humans and typically resides on your computer or exists in printed form and doesn’t reside in a database or uniform format. For example: Information produced by office programs such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, emails, social media, hardcopy papers and forms, images, audio and video files, etc.
  • Digital Transformation: This is a hot initiative for organizations and involves using digital technologies to make processes more efficient and effective. For example, companies might leverage artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, robotics or cloud computing technology to drive change and improvements across the enterprise. ECM is a cornerstone of the larger digital transformation landscape – and industry pundits predict big things ahead. According to IDC, worldwide spend on digital transformation hardware, software and services will hit $1.3 trillion in 2018, and is forecasted to nearly double by 2021 to surpass $2.1 trillion in spending.

ECM Benefits

ECM offers some of the highest direct return on investments rates ever reported. A study from AIIM reports that “59 percent of ECM users achieved payback in 12 months or less (a single budget cycle) including 28 percent seeing positive returns after just six months.”

In additional to financial gains, businesses reap additional benefits from an ECM platform, including:

  • Simplifying the workplace
  • Gaining an edge against the competition
  • Improving business processes and efficiencies
  • Providing universal access to information
  • Better connections between people and processes
  • Making data engagements more satisfying to users
  • Establishing policies for retention, transfer and data destruction
  • Protecting corporate reputation

Charting Your ECM Course

When looking to implement an ECM initiative, consider the following questions when researching an ECM solutions and vendors:

  • What business goals are we looking to achieve?
  • Are we trying to solve a process problem or a content problem?
  • Do we have the internal capabilities to manage the system in-house, or should we outsource this functionality to a third-party provider?
  • Does the ECM technology integrate with our existing systems?
  • Is the system scalable to grow with our needs?
  • What are the expected costs to maintain this ECM program?

Another consideration will be whether to opt for an on-premises solution or a cloud-based solution. ECM in the cloud offers benefits such as little to no upfront capital expenses and removes the onus on internal staff to supply hardware and IT resources to run and manage the software. Fast implementation, ease-of-access and flexibility also can go hand-in-hand with a cloud ECM deployment. Research firm Markets and Markets reports the cloud ECM market alone will grow from $9.9 billion to $34.4 billion by 2022.

However, cloud ECM isn’t ideal for every company, and you should evaluate your company’s needs and requirements. An ECM vendor that offers choice and flexibility in deployment models – cloud, on premises, and hybrid – can give your organization piece of mind that it will meet your needs today and in the future.


The typical enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year searching for nonexistent information.

The typical enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year searching for nonexistent information.