Planning and rolling out enterprise content management (ECM) for your organization can quickly get bogged down and complex unless you streamline the process early on. If you can define a standard ECM portfolio with clear “routes” for supplementation and other customization, this process will be much easier.

For example, you might segment your company’s content usage patterns and portfolio into four basic types: Basic ECM, Standard ECM, Collaborative ECM and Specialized ECM. Later, you might want to add a few more types to address your high volume imaging, business process management (BPM) and long term advanced archiving/records management (RM) needs. Then you can plan to use SharePoint to address some of those patterns, and maybe other ECM systems (e.g., EMC, IBM, OpenText, etc.) to address the remainder. Perhaps you only need SharePoint.

By now we’re up to maybe six usage patterns, which may be too complex for organizations that are trying to get an ECM program rolling. If you want you can get fancy later, but it’s usually wise to start with a simple set. I recommend just these three: Non-ECM, Collaborative DM and Structured Process ECM. Use these as buckets as you assess your current state, and see if you can fit most of your processes into just these three usage scenarios.

ECM Usage Patterns

Here’s brief description of the three patterns:

  1. Non-ECM This is simply file sharing and storage without any management or controls. It may well be the default pattern for much of your critical content, although it's inadequate for sharing and securing high value, high risk information. Note that this isn't “basic document management” with library services -- it’s really just file management like you get with your shared drives or basic sync and share services.
  2. Collaborative document management (DM) for internal departments and project teams This pattern involves Microsoft Office centered work focusing on documents and work-in-progress (WIP) which require more control than is possible using shared drives and email. This pattern is probably found across most of your departments, but is less prevalent in today’s process and transaction focused administrative areas (such as accounting and procurement) or line-of-business areas (such as loan processing, insurance claims processing, underwriting, etc.). 
  3. Structured Process ECM This pattern requires tightly controlled content management (I sometimes call it “core ECM”) to support structured business processes.

The following sections provide more details on the capabilities of each usage pattern, the typical best fit for each, and the benefits of the tools used to address each.


In your organization’s current state, this may be the pattern for all content in shared drives, hard drives and email -- including much content that is high risk and value, and requires better management.

Non-ECM Capabilities:

  • Simple file storage and retrieval
  • If cloud-based, it offers the user the ability to store files in a cloud-based storage area that provides only basic functions, like login security
  • Provides no ECM-related functions such as version control, check in/out, workflow, etc.

Non-ECM Best Fit and Benefits:

  • Best fit: low-value, low-risk content left after migrating higher value content to other ECM solutions
  • File shares are easy to use
  • Reduces the use of email for file-sharing

Collaborative DM for Departments and Project Teams

In your organization’s current state, this is the pattern most appropriate for much of the content in SharePoint and some that is in your other ECM systems, if you have them. But SharePoint is probably not being used effectively enough to address this pattern across your company, and some of your ECM systems may lack some of the capabilities required for this usage pattern (such as good workflow and adequate records management).