Digital content management is so 20th century. Just as online marketing has given way to Web 2.0, digital content management has evolved into enterprise content management, or ECM.
ECM encompasses the technologies used to manage the complete lifecycle of information content: capturing, managing, storing, preserving, and delivering content and documents, thus allowing unstructured information to be better managed. Generally speaking, digital content management, also known as digital asset management, referred to capturing and storing digital files for front-end purposes such as catalog creative and product descriptions. ECM encompasses all that but has back-office applications as well.
For a multichannel merchant, ECM can help in the creation and maintenance of product descriptions, images, and prices so that the data can be repurposed for print catalogs, Websites, and retail collateral by the merchandising, creative, and fulfillment departments. ECM can also keep track of compliance-related issues, accounting documentation, and other internal processes.
“ECM is definitely applicable to merchants who want to coordinate product information and customer information among various departments,” says John Mancini, president of AIIM: The Enterprise Content Management Association.
Very large retailers were among the earliest adopters of ECM-related technology. “Some of them began using our Web content management technology as far back as 1996,” says Greg Dierickse, senior product marketing manager for EMC Corp., a Hopkinton, MA-based ECM software vendor. “Even back then, while they saw it as a cost savings, they saw it even more as a strategic revenue-generating advantage and a competitive advantage.”
Indeed, from a multichannel commerce perspective, ECM is nothing short of a godsend. “For example, for online merchants, a lot of Web content management technologies come under the umbrella of ECM,” says Mancini. One of these is creating dynamic, rather than static, Websites.
Without ECM, some relatively routine tasks remain a challenge — and an opportunity for errors. Mancini cites another example: “You have some information in one database. Someone changes the price over here, but the price doesn’t change on the Web. Without ECM, you have to rely on people’s memories to make all of the changes.”
ECM is just now beginning to reach critical mass, says Geoffrey Bock, whose Newton, MA-based consultancy, Bock & Co., specializes in strategies for collaboration and content management. “ECM gets everyone on the same page and gives them access to the same authoritative content, when and where they need it,” he explains. “End-to-end content management is technically doable with the current state of ECM technology.”
The idea of single-source, multichannel publishing has been around awhile. But until recently, the technology simply wasn’t able to address all of the needs. Now it is, Bock says. “And with the maturity of the XML revolution, we are seeing XML-based applications in a number of vertical industries, so people are getting much better at understanding and managing content,” he adds. (XML, or Extensible Markup Language, allows the creation of a common language for displaying documents of various formats.)
It slices! It dices!
Once you implement ECM, say proponents, you can achieve a return on your investment within a year, in large part because of the man-hours saved by using the same process to publish to multiple media.
And when we say “media,” we’re not talking just a print catalog and an e-commerce Website. “As companies try to engage their audiences more effectively, such as using personalized content delivery and rich-media content, such as video, it is important for them to be able to hold all of this content within a single repository,” says Patrick Cian, group product marketing manager for EMC Corp. “A lot of companies have content in a number of different formats, and much of it is available only in that specific format.”
In getting started with ECM as a product information management tool, Bock recommends beginning with text-oriented content, such as product descriptions. Then you can expand your efforts to include various kinds of digital and multimedia information and content, such as catalog and Web images. You may even be able to manage audio descriptions of the information, such as a 30-second radio spot, and video content, such as a 15-second TV spot.
“This can all be stored in a single environment,” Bock says. “Let’s say a catalog merchant is creating a new print catalog. They can access accurate product information, images, and prices. This can be compiled into an electronic print file and then sent off to a printer.”
The same information can then also be rendered in an online catalog, and in more detailed form if desired. So while you might use just one photo for your print catalog, you may want multiple photos on your Website, so that you can offer rotating 360-degree views, for instance.
“The technology can also be used to ensure clear, consistent, and current package labeling,” Bock adds.
“Another way retailers effectively use ECM technology and achieve a very high ROI is in automating their financial processes, such as accounts payable,” says AIIM’s Mancini. “If you can shave time from your accounts payable process by automating that process and not relying purely on paper, you are adding more money to the bottom line. In terms of accounts receivable, they may send out invoices in a standard form, but payments will probably arrive in a lot of disparate ways. Getting this into a rational and predictable process — instead of a disorganized ad hoc paper process — saves time and money.”
Compliance is another area where ECM can make life easier. “Retailers have all of the same kinds of compliance and risk-based concerns that other companies have,” points out Mancini. “For example, if you get into litigation involving a customer, ECM allows you to recover all of the information related to that customer in a timely fashion.”
According to Mancini, recent changes in the rules of discovery and litigation, especially those related to electronic information, require companies to be able to access information related to potential legal action sooner rather than later. “You need access to all of the information,” he emphasizes. Did the customer send a letter? Did the customer make a comment on the Website? Is there a paper document contract related to that customer? ECM can make it much easier for you to get your hands on the necessary documents.
If you have a small business with a limited number of products and don’t have to manage a lot of information, ECM technology might be overkill, Mancini says. But most organizations get to the point of complexity rather quickly, he adds, “especially if they have products that have a lot of technical specifications associated with them, and/or complicated product parts and numbers.” When you add up the costs associated with how you currently manage this information, you may find that investing in ECM to be cost-effective.
|Spoiled for choice|
There are a variety of ways to access ECM technology. “Five or ten years ago, about the only choice was to buy a vendor’s [digital content management] software and install it in your own system,” Mancini recalls. “Today you can outsource it, where someone does it for you, and the information and images are available to your staff over the Web.” With this approach, you have easy access, without having to worry about the actual management of the technology. You can also access ECM using software as a service (SaaS), a hosted model in which you don’t buy the software but rather buy the use of the software. (See “Sizing up SaaS” in the February issue of Multichannel Merchant.)
“Your decision should be based on how large you are, how large is the process you are managing, how ‘deep’ your IT resources are, and how dispersed the set of people is who will be using the technology,” says Mancini. If you operate a small company and have limited internal IT expertise, it generally makes more sense to outsource.
“Companies should implement ECM in a way that is congruent with their overall information architecture and overall enterprise architecture,” Bock says. “The hosted model has an appeal for merchants that want to get up and running quickly and have limited up-front resources. For merchants that have already made an investment in an enterprise application, such as a CRM system, then adding an ECM solution is a smart way to go.”
It is difficult to generalize on costs and ROI, because each situation, need, and environment is different. “Cost depends on how much you want to use ECM for,” says AIIM’s Mancini. “If you use it just for catalog management, that’s one cost. However, if you expand it to HR processes, compliance processes, and finance processes, it becomes more expensive.”
To estimate how long it will take to achieve a return on your investment, Mancini recommends first understanding how you’re handling the processes right now. Next, decide what you want to accomplish, and why.
“Do this before you delve into the technology side,” Mancini says, “because you can’t get a sense of determining the benefits until you find out how much what you are currently doing is costing you.”
There are two ways to consider the technology’s ROI, according to Bock. One is by looking at ECM as a means of continuing to do what you need to do, but better and faster. The other is to look at ECM as enabling you to expand your offerings and your presence in the marketplace much more quickly. Bock says he recently worked with a company in the consumer electronics industry that needed to ramp up its online channel in a hurry.
“The company was selling to the big-box retailers, and these retailers wanted a series of pictures and all of the product information available online. This company thus had to adopt an ECM system to meet its customers’ demands,” Bock explains.
While ECM implementation should obviously improve efficiency, “other ROIs are more difficult to measure,” Dierickse says. “Getting a promotion onto the Web quickly can be very important, especially if a competitor has just done so,” he notes, but it’s difficult to quantify the result. The same holds true for improved communications with customers and better security of intellectual property information retention.
Making your move
When most companies think about implementing ECM, the first step they consider is selecting a vendor. But Mancini says the first step should be “to understand the current process, understand the strategy in terms of business goals, and then define the appropriate technology requirements that are matched up against those business requirements. Once you do this, you can start looking around for a vendor.”
Mancini admits that implementing ECM can be disruptive from a process perspective. Companies that implement ECM mention change management as being the most significant challenge, “especially as it relates to employee issues.” So when implementing ECM, focus as much attention on the people side as on the technology side.
“Make sure you spend enough time on the back end educating and training people about the technology,” he says. “The process doesn’t stop once the technology is hooked up.”
Bock offers an additional recommendation: Start small. “Map out an end-to-end perspective of what your current problems are and then what you want to accomplish,” he suggests. Then go after the low-hanging fruit. Break the project up into discrete, bite-size chunks.
“In other words, it may be a three- to five-year initiative, but you should attack it in terms of six- to nine-month deliverables,” Bock explains. “Then take advantage of the learning that occurs at each phase.”
Finally, be prepared for new opportunities that will be coming down the pike. For example, Bock knows of one consumer electronics company that is adding a “green quotient” to its product descriptions — explaining how eco-friendly its products are. ECM technology can make these additions much easier to include.
William Atkinson, a freelance writer based in Carterville, IL, has written for Apparel and Risk Management magazines, among other publications.
|CONTENT MANAGEMENT IN ACTION|
Even if you don’t see the need for a content management solution to handle documentation throughout your company, if you’re a multichannel merchant you could probably benefit from digital asset management (DAM) software.
Kichler Lighting certainly did. “For a number of years, we had our digital assets scattered around the company, including desktops and several servers,” recalls Joe Propri, business systems analyst for the Cleveland-based distributor. “There was no one central location or one file that contained the ‘truth.’ In addition, it was difficult to search and find any images on the databases that existed at the time.”
To deal with these challenges, Kichler selected the Artesia Digital Asset Management solution from Open Text. “We sat down with various people in the organization and determined how to categorize our assets and what metadata would be used to identify those assets, in order to make them unique and easy to search and find,” Propri says. “Once we made the decisions, Artesia made it easy for us to work the decisions into the software.”
This was just the first phase of product data management for Kichler, though. The second phase, says Propri, will be even larger. The goal will be to use the Open Text project management tool to streamline the company’s catalog process from beginning to end. For instance, the solution will help plan the tasks for all of the product managers, designers, and other pertinent staff.
“The software will also help us develop all of our layouts,” Propri says. “We will be able to build the entire catalog with this tool.”
|THE FOUR C’S OF ECM APPLICATIONS|
According to AIIM: The Enterprise Content Management Association, ECM can help to manage issues related to compliance, collaboration, continuity, and costs. Silver Spring, MD-based AIIM has for the past 60 years helped users understand the challenges associated with managing documents, content, records, and business processes.
Compliance: Complying with regulations is a chore, but if done right, compliance can improve business practices. When set up properly in records management and as part of business process management, ECM can help coordinate the activities related to complying with all relevant regulations. Properly implemented, ECM can help ensure that the correct business practices are followed and that the content is properly captured, stored, managed, and disposed of at the appropriate legal time.
Collaboration: There are a number of kinds of collaboration, according to AIIM. One is communication channel facilitiation, which applies to short-lived interactions such as chat and instant messaging. Another is content lifecycle management, which manages content objects within a business process. A third is project facilitation, which organizes and simplifies the way people work toward a common goal. ECM helps businesses manage and keep track of records of these various forms of collaboration.
Continuity: Business continuity planning is designed to keep a company operating following a disaster. ECM’s part in this is to provide a centralized repository for vital corporate documents and other information — for instance, off-site backup tapes and mirrored Websites in multiple locations.
Costs: While ECM is not inexpensive, not implementing it can cost you even more, according to AIIM. Costs can arise from legal proceedings, loss of business due to the inability to meet customer expectations, and expenses associated with inefficient or delayed work processes. In sum, ECM can make a business more efficient and reduce the costs associated with doing business.
|A FEW ECM VENDORS|
ECM product: Alfresco Enterprise
Description: Alfresco is an open-source alternative for ECM, providing enterprise-class document management, collaboration, records management, knowledge management, Web content management, and imaging.
Cost: No license cost; maintenance and support costs are $15,000-$20,000 per CPU. No per-user or per-location fees.
ECM product: EMC Documentum
Description: Focuses on three processes: media repository technology, process automation, and multichannel publishing.
ECM product: OnBase
Description: OnBase is a modular suite of ECM applications that include document imaging, workflow, electronic document management, and records management.
ECM products: Interwoven Brand Management, Interwoven Segmentation & Analytics, Interwoven Collaborative Document Management, and Interwoven WorkSite NT.
OPEN TEXT CORP.
ECM product: Livelink ECM Suite
Description: Livelink is a suite of collaboration and content management software for global organizations.
Cost: The license fees for core Livelink ECM start at $100,000 for the first 100 users; 1,000 named users is about $340 per user, and more than 10,000 named users costs about $160/user.
ECM product: Vignette Next-Generation Web
Description: Enables organizations to bring content under management and control.