Keep track of data - a new era for enterprise content management

We're dealing with ever more and diverse bits of content - a cloud-based enterprise content system could be a way to handle them

Years ago, we all used to play LPs on a turntable when we wanted to listen to music. After a while, cassette decks and CD players became popular. 

Of course, these days everyone listens to music through a computer or smartphone and, as a result, many people have a big stack of LPs, cassettes and CDs gathering dust in the garage, while their phones and PCs can run films too.

Search has been improved too. In the old days, we had to rifle through stacks of LPs, cassettes and CDs to find the album we wanted to listen to. Now, we just type the name into the search field and up it pops.  If we want it to, the computer can also make playlists based on particular songs.

There is a point here to all this, apart from being a pleasant stroll down the byways of the recording industry. Imagine those LPs are the equivalent of paper documents and the turntable is a filing cabinet, the cassettes are photographs, the CDs are email, MP3s are scans, music videos are video and films are blogs. That’s sort of analogous to enterprise content management (ECM), except with enterprise content you also have voice, chat and posts to deal with.

As Saul Neale, regional sales director for UK & Ireland at EMC’s information intelligence group puts it, 80 percent of a company’s information is unstructured data and businesses are starting to understand that “managing and capitalising the ever-increasing flow of chat, images, video, voice, posts, blogs, email, docs and scans in the new information environment will provide them better insight and business advantage”.

But if they “fail to capture, manage, analyse, communicate and properly govern their information they will fall behind”.

At this point, it’s important to make a distinction between document management and enterprise content management because there’s a tendency to confuse the two. When it comes to cloud-based technology, for example, the likes of GoogleDocs and DropBox are essentially offering document management functionality such as storage and sharing rather than anything more comprehensive.

Charles Hanna, senior industry manager at independent ECM supplier Hyland Software, says it’s important to be clear. “Often, document management is confused with ECM,” he argues. “It is this misconception that has led many to think there are thousands of ECM vendors. In reality, document management is a small component of ECM and electronic document management vendors should not be confused with ECM strategy providers.”

Why would companies choose to invest in ECM? Jes Breslaw, EMEA marketing manager at Workshare says it can help them to “organise the chaos of email and the huge volume of content generated by users. The benefits of ECM include increased productivity and better governance through to better business intelligence and reduced risk in complying with the regulations regarding the storage of data”.

Simon Shorthose, managing director of ReadSoft UK, echoes those sentiments, pointing to a “notable proliferation” of documents. “Look at how fast the exponential growth of original content and documents has occurred – and the variety of formats that documents can be easily produced in. Combine that with the need for enterprises to share more knowledge internally, faster, in order to win business in lean times and you find the answer as to why ECM is on a roll”.

Assuming businesses have invested in ECM or are looking at it, what role can cloud computing play? As with many other business and application areas, cloud computing can deliver some fairly generic benefits for ECM. Hanna at Hyland points to the fact it can be deployed more easily with little set up time and managed as a hosted cloud solution that is low in cost and maintenance. ECM in the cloud also improves data recovery because the cloud can provide multiple failover points.

“Ultimately, the cloud will give the ECM user a lower cost of ownership by eliminating many of the hardware, networking and IT costs a company would have incurred using an on-premise solution,” he suggests. Ultimately, he may well be correct, but in the meantime people are confronted with what they can do now or, more importantly, what they’re willing to do.

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