Buyer's Handbook:

How to select the best ECM platform for your company

Checking all the boxes: What to look for in an ECM platform

Before deciding on an ECM platform, create a list of must-have features the ECM applications must offer. What's a must-have feature? It all depends on specific business needs.

Before investing in an enterprise content management platform, it is crucial to develop a clear understanding of business needs and content management requirements. Some companies might need document management capabilities that provide content analytics, while another company's priority may be integrating managed content with a customer relationship management platform, ERP system or other enterprise application. Clarifying business requirements and priorities upfront will help ensure that everyone in the company is on the same page as they navigate the market in search of the right software.

The best way to clarify company needs is to develop a set of must-have features to identify the right product. The list will help develop a request for proposal (RFP) and depends on the business challenges the company discovered. Here's a list of items to consider.

Establish must-have ECM capabilities and features

If document management is a priority, these enterprise content management (ECM) platform capabilities should be on the list:

  • provides a network-accessible content repository that accommodates large -- multi-terabytes and above -- data stores;
  • supports the content lifecycle from information capture to organization, storage, retention and, finally, disposition (irreversible destruction);
  • supports text, images, videos, compound documents, 3D objects and other content-oriented file types;
  • provides seamless capabilities for managing email and incorporating special-purpose repositories as required;
  • supports content capture from external systems, such as document scanners and syndicated feeds;
  • supports file organization and mapping in ways that meet the business objectives of the organization -- traditionally, this includes a hierarchical file plan where files are stored within folders and based on predefined file naming conventions;
  • takes stock of approaches to virtual filing -- consider when content is moved to and/or mapped within physical storage devices;
  • supports access controls and permissions to create, read, update and delete files within the repository;
  • supports library services for document checkout/check-in and procedures for resolving file update conflicts;
  • provides metadata management capabilities to tag files by predefined keywords, as well as automatically generated attributes, such as date/time values;
  • provides extensive and flexible security capabilities that utilize the existing enterprise security architecture of an organization wherever possible;
  • provides easy interoperability between an ECM platform's other back-office systems, such as customer relationship management (CRM), ERP and sales force automation (SFA) applications; and
  • provides capabilities to search content by keywords, document descriptors and other predefined attributes.

If records management is a priority, look for an ECM platform that:

  • supports all relevant document security, governance and operational standards a company needs to adhere to, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act for financial services or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act for healthcare;
  • manages content retention at the document level and, within a compound document, at the individual file (or section) level;
  • maintains files within the ECM repository and/or moves them into a special-purpose records management repository;
  • supports a rules engine for content distribution, archiving and disposition;
  • includes an audit log to help verify document processing throughout its lifecycle;
  • provides alerts that signals steps throughout the lifecycle of content;
  • supports an enterprise search engine to enable content retrieval based on predefined keywords, tags and labels that describe individual files; and
  • enables users to create metadata tags for records to be cataloged according to business rules.

If workflow is a priority, you need an ECM platform that:

  • provides a workflow engine that pushes documents through a series of sequential steps designed to support formally defined business processes;
  • provides capabilities for document review and approval and then passes off to the next step in the process -- this includes commenting capabilities to explain decisions, as well as routing steps when the document is not approved;
  • presents workflow steps within the context of familiar work environments -- for example, approval requests may be presented in a web browser, within a Microsoft Office app, within email or within a desktop client experience;
  • supports mobile experiences on smartphones and tablets;
  • provides an administrative dashboard so that process owners can track the status of items within workflow processes; and
  • provides a workflow design environment for specifying the steps and content sources when defining the business processes; wherever possible includes capabilities for nontechnical users -- those who are familiar with the application and can specify workflow steps without having programming skills.

If web publishing is a priority, you should expect ECM to:

  • produce content for internal intranets or external (customer- and partner-facing) websites;
  • provide capabilities to automatically convert files stored within the shared repository to native web-based formats, such as converting Word to HTML;
  • ensure that content is rendered correctly and in its full fidelity when displayed within a web browser; and
  • provide automated tools for publishing updates on a scheduled and/or event-based basis.

Integration requirements

If integration among ECM applications from multiple vendors and/or other enterprise applications is important, must-have capabilities should include:

Finally, make a list of must-haves for deployment, performance and administration:

  • provides the deployment capabilities to run either on premises or in the cloud, including public, private and hybrid cloud infrastructures;
  • scales up or down to adjust to your changing business needs;
  • enables automatic backup of content;
  • provides a retrieval time that's suitable to company needs when it needs to restore backed-up content;
  • includes scripting tools and enables scheduled execution of script;
  • includes tools to monitor and manage disk space; and
  • provides administration tools that make it easy to design and manage workflows, to configure content lifecycles and to define access control lists.

Once a company identifies a list of must-have features, the next step is to create an RFP and then look at the market-leading products to identify the ones that best meet the business's specific requirements.

Geoff Bock contributed to this report.

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