What the Heck IS ECM?

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In elementary school, my daughter had to write about our family. She had little trouble explaining what her mom did: “My Mom is a Legal Secretary.” I presented a bit more of a problem, to say the least. She wrote, “I’m not sure what my Dad does, but he works with computers. He used to be a lawyer.”

Ah, well. Over the years, I have found that I can do little to improve on that explanation.

Nowadays, when I am asked what I do, I tell people (including my daughter, who now works in courts herself) that I write, speak and consult regarding Electronic Content Management (ECM) for courts and justice agencies. People may nod politely, but I always suspect they are thinking, “What the heck IS ECM, for crying out loud?”

Attempts at more detailed explanations usually result in a response along the lines of, “Oh, I get it — you mean ‘imaging’.” Sigh. And, I used to be a lawyer, too.

I have tried countless ways to explain what ECM is. In June I attended the ImageSoft Government Summit, a conference designed to help court and other government professionals share experiences and tips for planning, financing, implementing, deploying and managing ECM systems . Unable to attend all the sessions, I recently listened to a recorded session presented by Colleen Alber, a Product Evangelist with Hyland Software , who spoke on “The Skinny on OnBase.” OnBase is Hyland’s industry-leading ECM suite of products. Not surprisingly, Colleen had no problem explaining what ECM is. Although Colleen’s talk focused on new developments, by way of context, she gave the most succinct yet comprehensive description of ECM that I can remember hearing.

She explained that Hyland divides ECM into six Building Blocks:

1. Capture:

  • The ability to capture any file type from any physical location and automatically classify the documents.

2. Process:

  • Automate structured processes (workflow);
  • Consolidate unstructured information; and
  • Facilitate case management;

3. Access:

  • Provide access to documents and data quickly and easily, to everyone who needs and is entitled to access, easily, from anywhere, any time.

4. Integrate:

  • Seamless integration of documents and data with critical business applications, such as case management, docketing, office productivity (e.g., word processing, spread sheets, etc.), court recording, etc., with limited or no additional data entry.

5. Measure:

  • The ability to monitor and report on the information and activity within the ECM system, without involving IT or database administrators.

6. Store:

  • • Manage the security of the documents and their timely destruction according to court retention policy.My guess is that many, if not most, people who have not researched or had hands-on experience with ECM assume it involves only capture (and probably only the scanning portion of that) and storage (and probably only the elimination of paper aspect of that).So the next time someone who you’d like to have support your ECM initiative asks, “What the heck is ECM?”, don’t just say, “It lets us image our documents.” Instead, try something like, “It allows us to:
    1. Receive
    2. Use
    3. And provide and control access to documents
    4. While reducing or eliminating duplicate data entry across our systems
    5. All of which we can monitor for quality and productivity
    6. While keeping the documents secure and automatically purging them in a timely manner
      1. Capture
      2. Process
      3. Access
      4. Integrate
      5. Measure
      6. Store

    If my daughter ever asks again, I’m ready, thanks to Colleen.

2 thoughts on “What the Heck IS ECM?

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