June 24, 2009, 11:55 AM — I grew up in the age of paper. During those ancient times, if I wanted to correspond with someone I would write a letter. If I wanted to learn specific information about a topic, I went to my local library and either checked out books on the subject or parked myself in front of a set of encyclopedias. I did all of my shopping in stores. In college, my social security number was emblazoned proudly on my student ID card—visible and available to anyone who requested to see my information. The idea that a small, portable phone might someday serve as a camera, a radio, and an encyclopedia seemed like science fiction.
Since computers entered the mainstream, we’ve all seen a lot of changes. So many that it is easy to take for granted the planning that was necessary to implement our modern technological infrastructure. In many instances, it seems that technology has progressed so quickly that the business world is struggling to adapt. Contemporary technologies are rapidly replacing paperbased processes. Management can be extremely complicated as businesses are tasked with organizing back files, electronic correspondence, paper records, e-mail, and other types of documents. Unstructured information is increasing, and compliance requirements are becoming more stringent with each passing year.
A high-performance enterprise content management (ECM) system can help you organize and control your records, regardless of their diverse formats. Scanned archival paper records, PDFs, email messages, faxes, JPEG files, and other documents can all be stored in a single, searchable electronic repository. With the implementation of workflow and automation technologies, ECM software allows you to process more work in less time. It also helps connect you to information stored in legacy systems to further expedite processing.
An ECM system has the added benefit of helping you address compliance directives. Regardless of your industry, there are specific areas where ECM can provide significant improvements to your compliance efforts as well as to your business processes. Four of these areas are highlighted below:
1. Ensuring privacy
A transition to electronic processes demonstrates that you are taking steps to ensure the privacy of both your customer base and your employees. By definition, an ECM system gives you a degree of built-in security that you just can’t achieve with paper. An ECM system that supports redaction can guarantee that your customers’ personal information is not accessible to processing staff. Under a system that is paper-based, it is impossible to guarantee that records are not accessed by unauthorized viewers. Even the most secure system is prone to sabotage.
An ECM system allows you to establish exactly who has permission to access, view, and annotate a document. Furthermore, strict monitoring capabilities support customized reporting. You have verifiable evidence that shows who has accessed your documents (and when). If your company is audited for any reason, ECM provides you with the tools to demonstrate that you have taken every effort to enact privacy measures and secure your information.
2. Demonstrating accountability with governance strategies
Information transparency is at the heart of Sarbanes-Oxley and other compliance measures. Your organization should be able to demonstrate to your constituents that you are enacting governance and accountability measures. This starts with the implementation of controls that foster strict adherence to industry standards for the collection, management, and distribution of your company records and other sensitive documents.
A robust ECM system provides you with specialized tools that help you to better control the flow of your information throughout your enterprise. In addition to improving your processing turnaround, these tools allow you to designate which staff will process specific work. Workflow—one such tool—allows you to automate routine processing tasks by electronically routing materials to the right person at the right time. Workflow overcomes the limitations that are associated with paper processing and allows you to optimize your efficiency. Automation removes the potential for human error from much of your processing, and provides you with auditing tools to establish accountability.
3. Managing records
Organizations report that one of their biggest compliance challenges is maintaining control of their records. Archival information, email messages, electronic documents, JPEGs, voice files, PDA correspondence—all of these have to be managed. Difficulties can be compounded if you have multiple storage repositories or legacy software systems. You can address these difficulties by using ECM software to integrate your entire operation. ECM allows you to consolidate your information to help simplify your management strategy.
There is far more to records management than simply digitizing your information, however. A highperformance ECM system allows you to automate the retention and disposition of your records. This ensures that records are not kept beyond the time period that is mandated by law. It also prevents records from being destroyed prematurely. ECM also provides your organization with disaster recovery options that are unavailable to organizations whose processes are paper-driven.
4. Offering the ability to produce information on demand
No matter what your size, there is a great likelihood that you will at some point be required to produce information on demand. Audits, assessments, subpoenas, eDiscovery requests, and right-to-know laws mandate strict financial penalties if organizations are unable to provide records when they are requested. Under a paper-based system, such requests can bankrupt a company. You need to know what information you have, and you need to know how to locate it.
The right ECM system gives you the ability to develop an indexing scheme that is meaningful to operations across your enterprise. This ensures that records retrieval is effortless, regardless of which department is looking for information. The checks and balances that are associated with ECM can provide you with a system that allows your administrators—as opposed to your users—to configure records management policies.
ECM allows your records management strategies to be proactive as opposed to reactive. The ability to create electronic documents within your ECM system allows you to control how those documents will be managed throughout their life cycles.
Compliance throughout your enterprise
It’s been said that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. The monitoring and reporting capabilities that ECM offers can provide you with dashboards, which offer—in graphical representation—a real-time picture of your system performance. The ability to assess your operations at a glance allows you to increase business intelligence. Ultimately, this leads to better decision-making and improved information management.
An ECM system can provide your organization with the functionality to increase throughput, decrease turnaround time, and enhance overall efficiency. Its benefits go well beyond storage. And in using your ECM system to incorporate a compliance strategy that resonates throughout your enterprise, you will be implementing an essential component for business success—regardless of your size or your industry.
(Note: This article originally appeared in a November 2008 publication of Document eNotes)