Managing unstructured content

When the term Enterprise Content Management was first coined some seven or eight years ago, the objective was the same as it is today – to bring all of an organisation’s unstructured content into a managed environment for sharing, controlled access, findability and archive. The vision then was to provide a single repository, accessible by all staff, capable of dealing with all kinds of content, servicing business processes across the organisation, and providing a single, secure records archive with managed disposition. The obvious parallel was in the ERP and CRM systems that were already established as enterprise applications.
To this end, the Document Management and Records Management vendors of that time set out on a path to become ECM vendors by equipping their products with modules to cover every type of content and content process, either by organic growth, or more frequently by acquisition.

Unstructured content
Today, however, there is a general appreciation that ECM is more of a blanket term to cover information management technologies for unstructured content. In some organisations, it may indeed be a single system capable of dealing appropriately with many different types of content and records requirements. In others, it may be a collection of repositories and applications.
The common goal, however, is to provide users with a single-access capability allowing them to find, retrieve and process information from wherever it is stored, without needing to login to multiple applications. Increasingly, underlying content services infrastructures have emerged as a base for content management and business process applications.

Manage in place
The AIIM Industry Watch survey found that 35 per cent of organisations have a policy to migrate all content to a centralised ECM system. The remainder are taking a more pragmatic view, seeking to leave content in place in existing repositories, but provide a single-sign-on portal to link them together. This is largely to facilitate knowledge search by staff, but it increasingly provides a single control point for legal discovery and legal hold.
Taking this one step further, the latest records management philosophy is “manage in place,” whereby documents within multiple repositories are search-matched against templates of particular document types, and the same records management and disposition rules are applied no matter which repository is holding the document.   


Since its revision in 2007, Microsoft SharePoint has become astonishingly prevalent. 63 per cent of organisations are using or planning to use SharePoint. The most likely use is as a collaboration or shared-workspace tool, but document management and file-share replacement is the next most common application.
These projects are increasingly driven by the IT department rather than the records management staff, and in 29 per cent of companies, SharePoint is being implemented in parallel with or in competition with existing ECM suites, rather than being integrated with them. Having said that, SharePoint is the most popular single-sign on portal application for linking repositories compared to other suppliers or to Open Source solutions.

ECM suites
Although the ECM vendors have been selling multi-module integrated suites for some while, only 25 per cent of users have the basics of document management, records management, BPM/Workflow and Capture within the one suite, with a further 20 per cent or so having them integrated with their suite. E-mail is managed as a stand-alone application not-integrated with the ECM suite in 39 per cent of organisations, and not managed at all in 28 per cent. This is reflected in the finding that 55 per cent of organisations have little or no confidence that important e-mails are recorded, complete and retrievable.

New content types
The goal of ECM has always been to impose management upon all types of file containing content that pertains to the running of the business. As technology has developed, content types have grown from scanned images, documents, faxes and pictures, through e-mails and web pages, sound and video files, and most recently, text messages, blogs and wikis.
The AIIM survey asked respondents to rate how well managed each type of content was in their organisation, and it is interesting to match that against their level of importance to the business. Paper documents are still much better managed than electronic Office files, although there is a likely effect in many offices that paper filing procedures are deteriorating as electronic content takes over. E-mail attachments show up as being even less well managed than the e-mails themselves, and instant messages, SMS/text messages, blogs and wikis are largely off the corporate radar in 75 per cent of organisations. Heavy-handed governance of these nascent channels is considered to be old-fashioned but, given the potential external exposure, lack of policies and further lack of inclusion in the corporate archive are major risks.

Return on investment

Despite the fact that in 77 per cent of organisations it is considered important to justify records and document management initiatives with monetary or “hard dollar” savings, only 52 per cent of users have actually measured costs before and after their DM/RM projects. On the whole, hard dollar returns have come out very much as per user expectation.
Overall, soft dollar benefits have come out somewhat better than expected, and returns generally are considered to be better than for other IT projects, with 79 per cent “better” or “the same” as other projects. Given that cost reduction is currently the prime driver for any IT investment, and that enterprise IT projects are notorious for high expectations and low realisation of expected cost-savings, these results indicate that ECM is potentially a high performer.About AIIM
Doug Miles is the UK managing director of AIIM Europe. AIIM is the international community that provides education, research, and best practices to help organisations find, control, and optimise their information. AIIM offers training courses in ECM, Electronic Records Management, BPM, eMail Management, and E2.0, both online and as public classes. See Doug can be contacted directly by e-mail,

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