The explosion of unstructured data is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. The quantities of documents, images, email, Web content, audio and video are all growing at an astonishing rate. Within corporations, unstructured data currently accounts for the majority of a company's overall data.

Effective information management is key for an organization to achieve high performance; yet the sheer abundance of unstructured data causes a number of challenges. The cost of data management has increased, finding the right information is difficult, information is not well leveraged among partners and it is not coming together in ways that would yield useful new insights.

To solve these problems, many businesses are turning to enterprise content management (ECM), a suite of technologies used to create, manage and exploit business insights from an organization's unstructured content. ECM encompasses imaging (which emerged in the 1980s), document management and Web content management (which came on the scene in the 1990s) and since 2000, compliance, records management, integrated search, digital assets and desktop content management.

Organizations across all industries are benefiting from improved ECM. Direct cost reductions are the easiest value to quantify. An ECM initiative can improve the efficiency with which people create, maintain and use data. Accenture recently estimated ROI improvements from improved ECM for a typical client based on client surveys. We found:

  • Cost savings from a reduction in the time required to find content, valued at $2,280,000 per year;
  • A reduction in document creation costs would save an estimated $2,100,000 per year;
  • Time saved in report submissions was valued at $82,080 per year;
  • Other workflow benefits were worth $1,368,000 per year; and
  • Total yearly savings: $5,830,080 - almost $6 million.

Harder to quantify but equally real are the economic benefits from improved product development and delivery, enhanced competitive positioning, and increased knowledge capture and sharing. For example, a telecommunications company had duplicate and sometimes conflicting content in each region, handicapping its ability to increase product delivery and internal knowledge sharing. Creating a content management solution enabled the company to consolidate its internal methods and procedures knowledge into a single source.
For many businesses, the most important reason to focus on ECM is to enable regulatory compliance. This is a pressing concern for executives who are personally responsible for the accuracy of critical corporate information.

Organizations that have completed ECM implementations report positive impacts on their corporate ROI. A recent market study found that more than 70 percent of surveyed business leaders believe their ECM implementations met or exceeded expectations. Results were positive and consistent across organizations of all sizes.1

Until recently, ECM solutions have been delivered as a part of vertical applications. For example, the newspaper industry sought out complex Web content management systems as it rushed to create online versions of its existing capabilities combined with complex digital and video capabilities. Digital and video capabilities led to the development of a separate digital rights management system. In the last 12 months, a major change has been occurring in the ECM software market. In response to a growing corporate demand for more consolidated solutions that can address businesses' unstructured content needs in a holistic manner, large vendors have responded by acquiring small niche providers or extending their products to provide comprehensive end-to-end solutions.

Equally important is the rise of service-oriented architecture (SOA) as a next-generation architectural model, which enables disparate applications to communicate and share information more readily. SOA has the potential to reduce the cost of implementing ECM, especially data migration and data conversion. SOA will enable cross-application content access and sharing more easily than ever before.

The result is an emerging concept of "ECM as infrastructure." The goal is to make ECM technology less visible but more easily available to everyone in the enterprise. ECM solutions seek to consolidate access to unstructured content so companies can reduce data hardware and software costs as well as integrate information in ways that will reveal new insights.

ECM is thus becoming a part of the core IT infrastructure investment. ECM will be essential: centrally funded, supported and deployed; operating with enterprise-class scale, availability and reliability; and capable of delivering core service capabilities that can be leveraged to support specific application requirements.

In the future, leading businesses will operate with one or two corporate ECM platforms, virtualized data sources and loosely coupled content and applications, with content accessed via open Web-based standards. Those conditions will enable high performance. The future is coming quickly.

Content - especially unstructured data - will continue its explosive growth. The need to manage data for regulatory compliance and business advantage becomes more pressing daily. ECM initiatives already deliver impressive ROI. Technology platforms and vendors are maturing. For businesses that aspire to high performance, it is time to begin planning for ECM as infrastructure.  


  1. John F. Mancini. "ECM Implementation Trends: From Plans to Projects: How ECM Technologies Get Implemented." AIIM - the ECM Association, 2005.

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