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6 enterprise content management best practices for deployment

A successful ECM deployment requires planning. Content managers should consider their organization's content lifecycle, security and compliance needs before deployment.

Although enterprise content management deployment is a large undertaking, organizations can follow best practices to avoid common pitfalls.

A well-thought-out enterprise content management (ECM) system can increase an organization's efficiency, as it optimizes workflows, aids document findability and more. Before deployment, content managers should consider key elements of their organization, such as its long-term goals, content lifecycles, and specific security, compliance and user needs. Whether an organization deploys its first ECM system as part of a digital transformation initiative or migrates from an existing system to another, the following best practices can enable successful deployments.

1. Start with a content strategy

An ECM deployment should start with a plan. Content managers should consider their organization's long-term goals to determine which ECM features, such as AI and machine learning algorithms, to include in the plan.

Organizations can combine these plans with digital transformation initiatives, which can benefit companies that want to digitize documents. Digitization can turn paper documents into electronic documents. Digital documents are easy to search, use and process compared to physical paper. For example, the project could aim to implement a system that can scan paper records and use AI with optical character recognition to gather data about customer contacts or contract expiration dates. The system can then make that data searchable or start a customer engagement or renewal process.

Ultimately, a content strategy depends on an organization's specific needs and vision. Content managers without a strategy could waste time and money on systems that don't benefit their organizations.

2. Consider the content lifecycle

A content lifecycle is a multi-stage process that business documents undergo from creation to retirement. Content managers should examine the workflows and processes within their organization's content lifecycle to decide how an ECM system could optimize them.

Chart of six best practices for enterprise content management deployment
Discover six best practices to deploy an ECM system.

Key content lifecycle questions to consider include the following:

  • Should documents go through authoring or approval workflows?
  • Do documents require digital signatures?
  • Do external apps need to process the content before migration? If so, for what reason?
  • Do business rules automatically remove content from the system to reduce clutter and redundant, outdated or trivial data?

An ECM system can offer all these features, among others. The above questions help organizations find a system suited to a specific content lifecycle, which can optimize document workflows and save employees' time. Content managers should define the content lifecycle, system integrations and workflows before they choose a system.

3. Build security in from the beginning

Organizations manage documents with sensitive information from employees and customers, so they require ECM systems with built-in security measures to prevent cybersecurity attacks like data breaches. As content managers devise an ECM strategy, they should consider which measures can best protect their organization's information.

Whether an organization stores content on premises or in cloud environments, they can use adjustable settings to improve content security. For example, security features can limit who can access content by document or content type, which keeps sensitive information in fewer hands. Also, systems can encrypt data in motion and at rest.

Content managers should build in security from the beginning. However, they must balance security measures so they can protect information but not inhibit ease of use.

4. Focus on user experience

ECM system deployments that focus on people as much as technology can pay off in user adoption. Content managers should consider all potential users and determine how the new systems and processes may differ from their old ones.

Also, organizations should tune performance during development and early rollout to ensure users can quickly find relevant content in the system. An ECM system's search engine should retrieve information employees need without frustration. Although full-text search improves content findability, tuning with metadata, synonyms and predictive analytics can optimize the search process and its results.

5. Build in compliance

An organization's specific compliance needs vary based on industry and location, but all ECM systems should follow compliance guidelines.

Some organizations may need to comply with standards and government regulations such as ISO-9001, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPAA or GDPR. All organizations must comply with e-discovery and litigation hold requirements.

If an organization must provide documents in response to a subpoena or other court order, it must ensure that users and automated data purging processes can't delete those files. Other information organizations may need in this scenario include content metadata, user access and editing audit trails, and possibly multiple versions of document edits.

Before ECM deployment, content managers should confer with their organization's legal and records management teams, along with any other compliance professionals, to learn what compliance requirements the system must meet.

6. Consult developers

ECM deployments are complex projects that serve multiple business teams, so organizations should involve developers as they plan for deployment. Often, developers use Agile methodologies to release features in small increments. This approach can limit the risk of rework for ECM deployments, as each iteration and sprint lets developers make changes and learn from user experiences and feedback.

These best practices can help content managers deploy a system that meets their organization's specific workflow, user, security and compliance needs. ECM system deployments without a plan may require expensive rework or extensive, unplanned changes.

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