Brainstormmag | ECM – a step towards the paperless office?
ECM cuts down on physical paper, and makes storing information easier, saving companies time.
The move to enterprise content management (ECM) is growing as companies appreciate that this software improves productivity and helps grow profitability.
However, the paperless office isn’t here just yet – and it’s going to take some time before employees change the way they view document storage.
Daren Moodley, portfolio manager/architect at First Technology Digital, says ECM is important for companies because most data is unstructured and resides in multiple systems, such as shared drives, USBs, SharePoint, SAP, vaults and so on. “Hence, it’s practically impossible to ensure compliance, records management and archiving without an ECM strategy and system. And, given that data is growing at around 30% per year, getting this data structured and making it easily accessible is critical.”
Wilhelm Greeff, business manager: BPS at Decision Inc., adds that companies need to move away from information that lives on shared drives and user PCs, which isn’t being properly managed and maintained through automated business processes. “The risks here are obvious…and yet a lot of companies choose to continue operating this way and miss out on the benefits and advantages that (ECM) brings to an organisation.”
ECM software transforms how organisations manage information to enable a digital workplace, optimisation of costs and drive better business results, says JP Lourens, software and solutions product manager at Kyocera Document Solutions South Africa. “These are all business drivers that are vital for a company’s profitability, longevity and sustainability.”
SAP chief data officer Peter Blignaut argues that ECM is vital to digitising end-to-end business processes. He says having content available as part of a business process improves productivity because it reduces the time staff members spend in locating information during each step in the process.
In addition, says Paula Sartini, founder and CEO of BrandQuantum, ECM is becoming more important in helping companies to improve their customer experiences, which is starting to become the key differentiator for customers. “Marketing departments are starting to pay more attention to the overall brand delivery at every customer interaction and are looking to implement solutions such as ECM to improve employee efficiencies, deliver consistent brand experiences and meet customer expectations at every touch point.”
Moodley notes ECM not only helps improve productivity by allowing users to quickly find what they are looking for, it also streamlines processes such as approvals and co-authoring. “And, with a growing percentage of today’s users becoming increasingly mobile, it can aid in the use of mobile technology, another productivity plus.”
ECM is key to ensuring that the many small decisions that make up the daily operations of any organisation are made with current information, adds Blignaut. “For example, an ECM solution can ensure that all documents related to an employee are available to a manager evaluating (that) employee.”
Blignaut notes that a good ECM solution makes information much easier to access, both by making sure that the information is correctly classified for searches and by facilitating embedding content in business processes.
An ECM solution revolutionises the way an organisation performs business processes, adds Monique Williams, Hyland Southern Africa’s regional manager. “Digitised documents and files in a wide range of formats (can) be searched, managed and immediately made available to staff across the organisation.”
This, she says, means that many processes can be automated with a digital solution, particularly structured processes that follow predefined steps and have predictable outcomes. “For example, in accounts payable, any amount under R500 could be paid automatically.”
Lourens says ECM enables automation of manual workflows and legacy business processes, while empowering employees to take control of information and processes and providing organisations with the control and insight necessary for driving business innovation substantially increases productivity.
“ECM improves collaboration across the workforce, because everyone has access to the same documents. Plus, people on the move will be forced to follow business rules, will be more productive, and will be able to make decisions based on information easily accessible and secure.”
Another advantage to ECM Lourens cites is the ability to comply with regulations, because it aids companies in ensuring that policies and procedures are up to date and that they are prepared for regulatory audits.
“ECM security controls, combined with the auditing and reporting capabilities, provide the tools to both create and enforce boundaries for everyone within the organisation and also offers the ability to make informed decisions within the boundaries of the organisation’s policies and procedures.”
Lourens says today’s tools integrate with office scanning, printing and database services, using several methods and tools such as connectors and APIs, enabling organisations to digitise more of their processes and transform the way they operate.
“An ECM solution allows for a structured process to be enforced with no deviation. A documented process is only as good as what is performed in the actual world. It allows organisations to be flexible in adapting to business needs. Any changes made to a process are instant and adhered to from the very next instance.”
Williams adds that an ECM solution also enables documents and decisions to be routed to the right people as soon as that information comes in. This, she says, is particularly helpful with unstructured information that still requires human intervention, such as an invoice for something the company didn’t order.
Sartini notes, however, that to be effective, it is important that permissions-based access is set up so that specific departments and individuals only have access to the information that is relevant to them.
Lourens says demand for ECM systems is growing as it provides the integrative middleware to automate multiple business processes, as well as to adhere to regulations and remain compliant. “ECM enables users to simplify and streamline these critical procedures.”
Adds Blignaut: “Yet medium-sized and smaller organisations often adopt a subset of ECM solutions in response to specific regulatory requirements or business challenges and don’t yet see the opportunity to deploy ECM across the organisation.”
There is an appetite for ECM solutions, particularly ones that are going to improve on customer experiences and build the brand, but companies are looking for options that are going to improve efficiencies from the get-go, notes Sartini.
However, she cautions, ECM can add to the complexity of systems if not managed properly and if not easy to use. ECM solutions should be streamlined to ease the pain for the employees in accessing the right information quickly, and give them the peace of mind that they are using the correct content and latest documentation available, she notes. “Only then will ECM drive efficiency, improve productivity and contribute to the company’s bottom line.”
This, says Sartini, means that ECM needs to be seamlessly integrated into a company’s software, and information needs to be centrally managed to prevent employees accidentally tampering with company documents or making changes to brand content.
Not yet paperless
In the short term, says Blignaut, ECM won’t replace paper. “There are too many systems based on paper and too many regulatory challenges. However, we do see that customers are trying to reduce the quantity of paper and associated overheads.”
Lourens notes that all businesses use paper in some way, which means ECM can assist in any sector. There are, however, some industries that are more paper-intensive than others and require much more aggressive ECM adoption, such as logistics and hospitality, he says.
“We live in a digital age, where everything is done either from a mobile phone, tablet or laptop. We no longer use physical road maps to reach our destinations, instead, we use a GPS. The era of having to use legacy systems, processes and procedures to achieve an end result is over.
“It is easy to see how ECM eliminates many of the obstacles created by paper, such as labour-intensive procedures, slow distribution of information, delayed decision-making, misplaced originals and the inconvenience of retrieving files from storage.”
Although the benefits are there, implementation does mean changing long-term behaviour around storing and retrieving information, says Blignaut. “Change management is key to ensuring successful ECM deployments.”
Greeff agrees that ECM won’t aid productivity unless there is a drive to actively make use of the features and benefits it provides. This, he says, is why change management is key. “Like any tool, it’s only as effective as the end-user utilising it.”
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by Natasha Meintjies