The challenge of managing documents scattered across shared folders comes up in almost every ECM engagement that I work on. The shared file system provides a centralized location on the network where shared files can be stored. The idea is that users can use this shared space to collaborate on content development while also jointly accessing archived records. Shared folders lack much of the essential functionality that is required for organizations to effectively manage and leverage their business related documentation. ECM takes your organization from a largely unstructured means for digital storage and retrieval and replaces it with a secure and structured system to increase operational efficiency.
Below are five things to be mindful of when comparing shared folders and a true ECM solution:
- Security – You can secure a shared directory and its subdirectories to restrict access to stored records. The granular security model found in most ECM systems restricts the ability to edit, add, modify or delete a record. Even if you can view a document, distribution security restricts whether a user can email, export or even print a document. Even when editing a record is permitted, most systems provide an audit trail which tracks any changes and who made them.
- Taxonomy –There is no standardized naming convention and no opportunity to enforce the use of required field within shared folders. Without these, documents are filed by the user’s individual preferences which make finding the filed record a difficult proposition; especially if there is any turnover in staff.
- Search – A mixture of shared folders without having a means to centrally index and manage these documents means that search and retrieval of documents can be extremely time consuming and ineffectual. Searching for documents is limited to a full-text search (as there is no metadata available on documents to intelligently filter down the search) and also searches against old versions of documents.
- Revision control – ECM provides tools for checking documents in and out during collaborative processes and presenting only the most recent revision to your team. With the addition of publishing tools, ECM can also prevent a document from being viewed prematurely during the collaboration process.
- Duplication of documents – The widespread use of shared folders inevitably leads to significant duplication of documents across the organization. The result of such duplication is that people often access and read the wrong version or copy of a document, make decisions based on the wrong information and potentially release the wrong information which could have damaging effects in terms of costs and company reputation.
- Extensibility – The real value of managing content is not in its storage, it’s in what you can do with it before and after it is filed away. ECM provides tools like workflow automation which allow content to flow throughout your organization based on pre-set rules or events. It also allows for the automated capture of email, web forms and even print output in many cases.