Enterprise content management enables a seamless business process
Some say paperwork is the foundation of civilisation. Empires rose and fell on their bureaucracies' effectiveness. Keeping records - particularly business records - was a hallmark of early civilisations.
For example, both the ancient nations of Ur in the Middle East and Mohenjo-Daro in modern Pakistan produced countless seals for stamping commerce contracts. The Phoenicians developed modern writing to keep sales and inventory records.
If you read between the lines, company knowledge and business processes have existed symbiotically for a very long time. Nobody wrote down a contract unless it was a formalised counterpart to some business process.
In modern times, this relationship continues to be necessary. In the 1980s, companies dubbed it 'document management' and the 1990s coined the term 'enterprise content management' or ECM. By the early 2000s, business process management (BPM) came into focus as companies sought to automate processes. Since then, the synergy between content and processes has been highlighted again.
"ECM allows for workflows to continue and to transact better and faster," says Randy Moche, Head of Sales at ECM provider ELO Digital Office Africa. "We see that in the value proposition. It's cost saving, it's time saving, and you'll use fewer resources if you use ECM to help improve your business processes."
The company information trap
Content and processes often overlap. Take the example of a purchase order that needs signatures. In a paper-based environment, a runner would take the document to different stakeholders - a convoluted and time-wasting journey. Some companies might try to modernise things by printing and re-scanning the document, yet that is still a big waste of resources and can lead to multiple versions of crucial correspondence. And that contract doesn't become accessible for future reference through search or attaching itself to specific processes.
A gap between paperwork and processes creates lag, knowledge gaps and lower productivity. According to AIIM's 2016 Paper-Free report, employees can spend up to 20% of their time searching for relevant documents - not surprising considering how much more information a modern business must manage.
"The fact is that if a business doesn't get on top of its knowledge and doesn't work on automating processes, it will eventually run into serious problems," adds Moche. "Many businesses fortunately do realise this but they don't note the connection between processes, workflow automation and knowledge management. This is a common reason why many BPM projects don't deliver value."
Ancient civilisations could see the correlation, but they had some advantages. Written information was a luxury and treated as such. In the modern world, knowledge has become so commonplace that we forget its relation to business processes.
Yet, it relates today in much more interconnected ways. For example, suppose a customer places an order. In that case, that is knowledge that ties to a sales process and can also enrich a CRM profile of the customer, not to mention filter key financial data into ERP environments. All those tangents represent processes. Thus, marrying processes and knowledge is crucial for efficient productivity and business improvements.
The new generation of ECM
If the relationship between processes and knowledge is evident, why aren't more companies using ECM systems? In a time when paper ruled and processes existed primarily in employees' minds, an ECM was a demanding addition to a business.
But today, ECMs embrace modularity, integration and the general principles of platform solutions. Companies can automate ECM features alongside business processes instead of being another box for employees to tick (or avoid). By integrating into existing systems, a modern ECM enables companies to design modern workflows and automated processes.
"A modern ECM doesn't have to replace incumbent business systems. The purpose of ECM is just to enhance systems that have been there in the past. It is meant to integrate with what's in the environment, such as a CRM or ERP. ECM then adds capabilities, such as linking customer-facing forms to line-of-business systems and systems of record. That information is already being fed manually into those systems. But when companies try to modernise those processes and go more paperless, they run into problems because business systems don't have the means to automate knowledge-based processes. A modern ECM does, and does it securely."
This last point is crucial - security and data theft are major concerns for today's businesses. It's often why companies avoid adopting an ECM, as they fear it could expose them more - especially if knowledge is stored in cloud systems. But Moche says this is a fallacy.
"Best of breed ECMs take security very seriously and actually lower the risks associated with paper. If a business loses most of its paperwork in a catastrophic incident, it can end up closing its doors very soon after that. And storing files on local hard drives is also risky, especially in the age of ransomware. There is also the risk of not modernising: how long can you remain effective if your people spend a lot of time looking for business data? And how much do you lose when they make decisions without access to key information such as contracts or sales histories?"
Companies know this. According to AIIM, the amount of paper usage at 55% of surveyed companies is decreasing. They do this for different reasons, of which process management and automation rank highly. And they leverage modern ECM solutions to get that right.