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Enterprise Content Management: A Detailed Guide to ECM

Content is the energy that drives a business forward, powers its departments, ensures efficient data exchange, and serves as a link to the outside world. Content is any type of information a company generates, from spreadsheets in accounting to product photos in marketing, from HR job descriptions to investor presentations. Statistics from Qumulo, indicate that large businesses store an average of 7.5 to 17.5 petabytes (millions of gigabytes) of information.

This statistic is impressive, but the really shocking fact is provided by G2 — from 50 to 90% of this data is not structured! It is stored as a bunch of files and folders, most of which do not even have informative names or filled-in metadata. As a result, you can spend hours searching for the documents you need. This time is used unproductively, which negatively affects both the speed of task completion and financial results. 

Such a large-scale problem requires an immediate response. And the solution is an enterprise content management (ECM) system. It becomes the core of order amidst the chaos of data storages. With it, you can sort folders and documents, gradually forming a clear and logical folder and reducing unproductive time. Let's find out how enterprise content management works. 

What is ECM

The enterprise content management definition is a set of methods, workflows, and technologies that help create, collect, store, sort, use, and distribute valuable information. Almost all data is vital to a business, so this definition applies to all incoming and outgoing data flows — customer orders, tax reports, survey forms, archives with graphic elements from contractors, texts for web pages, etc. The users of this data can be employees, managers, investors, and company owners, as well as clients, partners, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and so on. 

An enterprise content management system is built in accordance with the company's strategic goals and development plans. It can be launched in one specific division, but in most cases, it is gradually expanded to cover all departments — from sales to logistics, from financial audit to production. Content management solutions involve automating certain workflows, controlling access to sensitive information and quickly finding the necessary data. 

ECM is a very large category. It includes both specialized enterprise content management software and a set of simple organizational techniques for sorting and organizing files in existing storage. When choosing the best solution, you should consider the following issues: 1:

  • Volume of content;
  • The way the data is used;
  • Number of external users of information — clients, contractors, partners;
  • The complexity of workflows;
  • Typical number of iterations in content processing;
  • Number of employees in the company;
  • Intensity of information exchange between departments. 

How ECM Software Works

The idea behind an enterprise content management platform is simple. It is quick access to information that will be used in specific work processes. Convenient data sorting reduces unproductive time — Gitnux reports that the average employee of an American corporation spends up to 1.5 hours a day searching for documents in unstructured storage. ECM software allows you to generate higher revenue, make important management decisions faster, respond flexibly to changes in the market environment, avoid critical errors when publishing content, and improve communication between company departments. 

Speaking of what is enterprise content management, we should also mention document sharing. Such software allows several company employees to simultaneously connect to a centralized repository to work with one file version. This helps to avoid using outdated drafts by mistake, exchange ideas while working on projects, and track the contributions of each participant in the workflow. 

Enterprise content management tools allow you to completely eliminate paperwork — or almost completely, if the law still requires certain reporting in physical form. Moreover, ECM reduces the load on the company's IT infrastructure. A centralized repository with a convenient document sorting function allows you to get rid of duplicate files, outdated file versions, and unnecessary content. This significantly reduces the need for storage space and the computing power of hardware. 

Top 5 ECM Elements

Each company has its rules for organizing critical data used when creating a software platform or choosing a ready-made service. However, there are basic enterprise content management requirements that any application in this field must meet. Let's talk about each of them in detail. 

1. Storing Documents Digitally

Paper documents have many disadvantages. They can be damaged or lost, require considerable effort to copy and share, and can take hours or even days to transfer to other departments and branches of a company. That's why any modern business strives to create a fully digital, paperless document management system. The following methods are used for this purpose

  • Generating exclusively digital content — text documents, photos, drawings, 3D models, videos, etc.
  • Collecting information through electronic forms, which allows you to receive essential data from customers, contractors, and partners.
  • Digitizing paper documents by scanning and photographing them. Using OCR applications, you can even recognize text, tables, and graphs in them.
  • Automatic downloading of data from shared storages. This method allows several participants in the workflow to combine their content libraries, automatically organizing them according to a certain set of rules. 

2. Using a Centralized Repository

Almost all enterprise content management solutions involve the use of a single repository. The only exceptions may be systems with separate drives for storing particularly sensitive information in encrypted form. 

A centralized cloud repository is convenient. Company employees should not think about where exactly the content they need is stored. All crucial data is available in a few clicks. 

Cloud repository is fast — search functions allow you to find files and folders in seconds and minutes instead of hours. It's cost-effective — increasing the amount of storage in one cloud storage is always cheaper than connecting additional services and buying network disks. And finally, centralized storage is secure — the cloud allows you to flexibly configure access rights to documents for users and work groups. 

3. Data is Available at Any Time

By using cloud storage instead of local storage, you can solve the problem of physical accessibility of information. To view, edit, and download files, you don't need to work with a specific computer or even connect to the office network. You only need a stable Internet connection and authorization tools such as a login with a password or a link. This is especially convenient for large corporations with separate branches, as well as for businesses that motivate employees to work remotely or opt for flexible workplaces. 

All enterprise content management tool solutions also feature document search based on the following attributes: 

  • Dates of creation and last modification;
  • Keywords in the title, description, or text;
  • The name of the author or current owner;
  • Location in specific folders. 

The best enterprise content management software has an AI-based search engine. It allows you to form requests in simple words and natural sentences, for example: "Please select all Excel documents of financial statements for the 3rd quarter of 2023." Integrated AI usage greatly simplifies the familiarization of employees with the platform and reduces training time. 

All ECMs have automation features in the sense that they eliminate the need to physically copy and transfer paper documents. However, the best enterprise content management systems go further by offering the following:

  • Automatic notifications when new documents are uploaded or existing ones are changed;
  • Alerting responsible persons about approving edits or adding a digital signature, etc.;
  • Recognizing errors that can slow down or interrupt important workflows. 

Such software solutions optimize the lifecycle of commercial content. They reduce time and resources at all stages — from setting a task to publishing, reusing, archiving, and final deleting. 

5. Protecting Sensitive Information

Some information is useful to share with everyone, and other is better kept within the company. That's why most services in the enterprise content management market offer effective data protection tools. They include:

  • Secure vaults inside public storages. They use two-factor authentication or biometric keys (fingerprints, face photos).
  • Setting up access rights to digital assets. You can usually grant users permission to view, comment, and edit documents.
  • Prohibiting users from downloading or sharing files. The program can send notifications to managers or administrators if somebody tries to bypass it.
  • Setting access rights to use additional functions, such as editing metadata or automatic document processing. 

ECM Use Cases

To demonstrate the effectiveness of using such software platforms in real-life scenarios, we will look at several enterprise content management system examples:

  • Remote Work

Despite restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic being lifted, many companies continue to maintain remote or hybrid workplaces. To maximize productivity, they need to provide all employees with access to centralized document repositories. They can do it conveniently with the help of ECM systems — enterprise content management.

  • Marketing

Creating successful advertising campaigns is usually the result of the work of many specialists. To perform at their best, they must share digital assets — photos, spreadsheets, graphic design elements, etc. ECM can be used to organize this process.

  • Logistics

Quite often, accompanying documents are lost during transportation. In this case, a cloud enterprise content management system becomes indispensable. It allows you to find all related materials in the repository and get the necessary information.

  • HR Department

This department remains one of the most bureaucratized divisions of large businesses. It deals with a huge volume of documents daily, such as employment contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and job descriptions. Centralized access and group editing tools significantly reduce the time and effort to find those documents.

  • Sales

Time is money, especially when it comes to discussing commercial offers with clients. Often, sales representatives need to provide additional materials, such as product presentations, reviews, or detailed photos. An enterprise video content management system for video and other multimedia files will help you find the right files quickly and without errors to make a strong argument in negotiations.

ECM Implementation

The first step is to choose the best software platform. All solutions in this area can be divided into three groups:

  • Enterprise web content management systems. They work only with materials intended for publication on the Internet. Only a small group of employees responsible for online communications has access to them. These services are ideal for companies with large networks of complex web resources and a clear brand policy.
  • Collaborative ECM systems. They are designed to share a certain group of documents, such as marketing, financial, or logistics documents. They allow you to connect many participants to workflows, including external ones. Suitable for companies that outsource some tasks.
  • Transactional systems are considered the best enterprise content management systems. They are involved in absolutely all workflows of the company without exception. They are used to work with various documents — graphic and text, paper and digital. It is the best choice for large corporations with complex organizational structures. 

When comparing enterprise content management vendors, you should also evaluate them by functionality. The best software platforms should be able to:

  • process files in different formats, automatically sort and classify them;
  • quickly distribute documents and transfer them to other corporate applications;
  • search for materials by key features such as date, location, title, and author;
  • protect sensitive information by restricting access to it for certain users or categories of users;
  • report on the effectiveness of content use. 

Key Steps in ECM Implementation

After choosing one of the top enterprise content management systems, you can proceed to the following steps:

  1. Coordinate the solution with all stakeholders, such as the company's management and regular partners. At this stage, you can engage vendors that provide enterprise content management consulting. This will help demonstrate the benefits of the decision and provide the necessary statistics.
  2. Form a project team. It should include representatives of all departments that will use the new platform, IT staff, and at least one senior manager who will take on the project coordination function.
  3. Create a roadmap. It is vital to answer the question of where the implementation of the enterprise content management system in the company will begin, when the main goals will be achieved, and how to determine the project's success. Therefore, you will need a step-by-step plan with clear timeframes, goals, and performance criteria.
  4. Create policies and procedures. It's not enough to connect enterprise content management services — you need to integrate them into your workflows. To do this, you will need instructions that will describe the rules for using documents, protocols for protecting sensitive information, and ways to distribute digital assets to other users.
  5. Train your staff. When the first version is ready, project team members will be able to pass on their knowledge first to the platform administrators and then to key users, such as department heads. They will be responsible for instructing their subordinates and solving current problems.
  6. Test and customize. Even the best enterprise web content management system can have minor flaws, including those related to integration with existing software systems. Therefore, before the final launch, you need to test it to identify possible problems and solve them. IT department employees or the most qualified representatives of each department usually do this. But you can also hire an external information consulting service.
  7. Launch the system. After the launch, you need to maintain the service, monitor the correct use of enterprise content management features, add new features as needed, and assign user responsibilities. These are also crucial tasks that can be assigned to the IT department or individual program administrators. 

Manage Digital Content with Pics.io

Pics.io is a digital asset management platform created specifically for the needs of businesses of all scales — from small startups to large corporations. By choosing this product, you can use either Pics.io's storage or other clouds, such as Google Drive and Amazon S3. In addition, you have access to out-of-the-box integrations with dozens of desktop applications and web services, including image and text editors, corporate messengers, productivity systems, and more. 

Pics.io also offers convenient enterprise metadata management tools. You can tag different files with metadata and then search for them using custom metadata fields. 

Among other features that will be useful in enterprise content management:

  • Setting up access rights for individual users and workgroups;
  • Saving, comparing, and switching between different versions of digital assets;
  • Sharing and receiving files via branded portals with flexible settings;
  • Approval and commenting tools with notifications in Slack and email. 


Today, an enterprise content management system is a mandatory part of a business's information infrastructure. It not only simplifies processes and ensures the convenience of employees involved. It increases the efficiency of working time, improves financial results, and makes the company more competitive. In addition, such a platform makes a business more mobile and flexible, allowing it to respond quickly to changes in the market environment. 

Each company may have its own requirements for an ECM system. But in general, such a service should work with different types of digital assets, provide quick access to them in any circumstances, protect sensitive information, and automate processes that use electronic documents. Its implementation requires clear planning, coordination with all stakeholders, appointment of responsible employees, training, and thorough testing. After the launch, you will also need to maintain the platform and resolve ongoing issues. 

Did you enjoy this article? Give Pics.io a try — or book a demo with us, and we'll be happy to answer any of your questions.

Pics.io Team
Welcome to Pics.io blog, where you'll get useful tips, resources & best practices on how digital asset management can help your business to manage & distribute digital content on top of cloud storage.