Content is vital for business operations. It informs important decisions, enables responsive customer service and secures the records of commerce. And there’s way more of it from within an organization’s systems, and from beyond the firewall, such as social media.

ECM Needs to Come in Different Shapes and Sizes

Managing content means different things to different operations. For an HR department, an enterprise content management (ECM) system looks like a self-contained, complete service with a portal, access controls, automated workflows and analytics. For a global manufacturer with multiple regional departments, ECM is a collection of repositories for many functions accessible via an enterprise-wide intranet and ERP applications. Simpler operations may only need a way for a single librarian to organize and publish static documents.

The diverse needs of business leaders searching for an ECM solution that makes sense for them has driven an evolution in the product landscape and architecture. ECMs have moved from a controlled monolithic repository model to an “accessible anywhere, anytime model,” compounded with a set of business-centric services which provide a seamless and secure information experience. This nimble model allows businesses to adapt to new demands and scale up or down quickly.

What Buyers Want From an ECM

The stakes are high and growing: worldwide expenditures on information technology software and new technologies are soaring. Even major enterprises with established affiliations with big-name vendors are looking to lesser-known alternatives for something new, something that can actually solve their problem. Cloud computing has quickened this shift in the market, making it easier for innovative startups to win the attention and endorsement of tech reviewers.

In my organization, we talk to business leaders every day who want to know what other product options they should be looking at. They have invested in the big vendor products in the past and end up using only a fraction of their capabilities because they are not a good fit for their needs, or users were not adopting the technology.

What buyers are finding more and more in the marketplace are upstarts who try hard to please with a strong product story and customer support. ECM end users reported three ways that the newer products differentiated themselves from the stalwarts in the vendor landscape:

  1. Metadata management makes reporting easy and eliminates the need for special coding, allowing users to see and access information in simple business language. Many businesses starting their ECM journey capture a lot of information but then can’t find it again to extract insights for important decisions. A good metadata management layer helps users apply meaningful tags to their files and use the tags to retrieve the information they need. In this way, information assets can be surfaced from siloes and users anywhere can understand their context and value.
  2. E-discovery audit trail entails tracking and managing files and file histories en masse for the purposes of legal proceedings. Electronically stored information including emails, instant messaging, accounting databases, websites, and any other electronic information that could be relevant evidence in a lawsuit, must be identified, extracted and analyzed using digital forensic procedures. The ECM system must be able to sort critical business records and classify the records to be retained, while minimizing the need for expensive and error-prone human resources.
  3. User training, when effective and readily available, is training that enables users to get the most out of their software. The most successful ECM solutions are business-driven and business-managed. But for this shift forward in responsibility and culture to happen, users need to be engaged in its development and empowered through strong training to administer the service without depending on the IT team. Users report that newer entrants in the software landscape provide exceptional support during the project and throughout the service contract. We often hear from clients that their big-name vendor representative doesn’t get back to them — brand name alone is no longer enough to retain those buyers.

Why are these factors important for buyers? They answer a real business need and move the content program forward, while offering an attractive cost arrangement (e.g., yearly subscription model rather than a large upfront investment). Tech-savvy users expect the efficiencies that automated processes such as e-discovery can deliver as well as self-serve workspaces with handy links to the information they need every day. Without a working metadata program, users will be stuck in file-share land.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Enterprise Content Management at the Crossroads

Before You Jump Into the New ECM Water

Along with all these options in ECM services and platforms, come decisions. How will buyers find the right product or even the right combination of products? Leaders sometimes over-simplify ECM projects and under-value their contribution to the bottom line, using phrases such as, “Lift and shift” or “All we need to do is move our files over.”

There are straightforward, proven steps to building a next-generation content management program. Invest time and the right expertise in foundational work such as building a working group to make decisions about what they need the technology to do — and building structures for their business-critical information.

Before talking to vendors, buyers should understand their key information “trails” (content inventories and process mapping) and identify priority focus areas (use cases); and provide business users with the training and engagement that ensures they are along for — and drive — the transformation.

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