What is Enterprise Content Management?

Enterprise content management (ECM) systems have evolved with technology and the changing needs of businesses.

The driving force behind ECM systems is to do business better. Whether you manage large commercial supply chains or are a municipal government clerk, chances are you have content that needs managing.

Here is a basic description of ECM systems and how they can help organizations increase productivity.

First, this article will describe the content ECM systems manage, next, what it means to manage content and, lastly, where the enterprise comes into play when managing content.


Content describes any document or record that is created, captured, stored, shared or archived by an organization. A few examples of content include:

Traditionally, these types of content have taken paper form—but from its earliest days, ECM systems have housed digital content, such as emails, PDFs, photos, scanned images and more.


Managing content refers to how content is organized and how it moves through the necessary steps of an organization’s operations. For example, purchase orders must be signed, records must be archived and employee vacation requests must be either approved or denied.

While traditional methods of content management rely on paper documents and manual business processes to get work done, enterprise content management systems increase productivity for organizations by:


In an organizational context, enterprise means more than one department. It refers to systems and processes that span across an entire organization.

Enterprise transforms a disparate collection of departments, goals, budgets and processes into one cohesive business structure. For example, implementing one document management system that can benefit multiple departments and staff members is an enterprise approach to improving operations. It allows organizations to:

  • Leverage economies of scale
  • Share resources between departments
  • Benefit from the knowledge and skillsets of multiple employees
  • Instantly access documents through a shared repository
  • Improve information accuracy through centralized document storage

How “Enterprise,” “Content,” and “Management” Come Together

In short, content is the “what” of an organization—the information that it uses to accomplish larger goals.Management represents the “how,” or the methods by which an organization handles that information.Enterprise answers the “why”—or why an organization should manage its content in a certain way.

How Do ECM Systems Work?

The following four actions are essential to an ECM system:

  1. Capture
  2. Store
  3. Retrieve
  4. Automate
  5. Secure


Managing an organization's content begins with capture- the process of importing information into the repository. A few methods of capturing documents include:

  • Using electronic forms to make documents digital from the point of creation
  • Scanning paper documents, which can be filed in a digital repository by most ECM systems. Differences between systems can be found in how easily they perform this function.
  • Capturing digital documents, including PDFs and images

During the capture process, it is important to use an ECM system that efficiently and accurately generates document metadata. Doing so allows organizations to instantly search for any document across the enterprise using information such as:

  • Invoice reference number
  • Document creation date
  • Vendor name
  • and more


With robust ECM systems, organizations can easily store any business-critical document in a digital repository, allowing users to:

  • View or make edits to any document in the repository, depending on user access rights
  • View information about each document, which is called metadata
  • Organize documents within a logical folder structure


Once an organization’s records have been securely stored, it can:

  • Find any document using an ECM system that offers full-text search
  • Identify specific words or phrases within document text, metadata, annotations and entry names
  • Use preset search options to search by document creation date, the names of users who checked out documents and other metadata


Automation helps organizations achieve greater results with fewer resources. Some ECM systems have digital automation features that can:

  • Diagram the steps of a business process using a drag-and-drop workflow designer
  • Automatically route documents to the right people at the right time
  • Recognize errors before any extraneous work can be done


A trusted and proven ECM system allows for customizable security settings that allow organizations to protect information from unauthorized access or modification. For example, some ECM systems allow IT departments to:

  • Restrict access to folders, documents, fields, annotations and other granular document properties as needed
  • Monitor system login and logout, document creation and destruction, password changes and more
  • Protect sensitive metadata by controlling information access down to individual folders, templates and fields

What to Look for When Choosing an ECM System

The five things to look for when evaluating ECM systems include:

  1. Recordkeeping standards that are DoD 5015.2-compliant
  2. Electronic forms that are fully integrated into the software suite
  3. The ability to diagram work processes using an intuitive drag-and-drop interface
  4. Fully integrated zone OCR functionality—or the ability to generate text from a specified area of a document or image
  5. The ability to conduct full-text document searches across the entire repository