All men (and women!) may be created equal, but not all ECM applications are. Some ECM applications offer extensibility, i.e., features that can help you “hyperscale your ROI” in the future. As you evaluate ECM options, pay attention to these 7 features that could help you get more bang for your buck in the long run:
This is the fourth article in a five-part series: Moving Beyond Cost Reduction as a Driver for ECM Implementation. Be sure to read the first three articles in the series:
- Part 1: There’s No Doubt About It—ECM Implementation Is a Great Way to Save Money
- Part 2: The Top 5 ECM Advantages That Go Way Beyond Cost Reduction
- Part 3: Feeling the Burden of Compliance and Risk Management? ECM to the Rescue
- Intelligent capture with AI and OCR. One of the business processes to which ECM solutions are most often applied is Accounts Payable. If an organization is processing hundreds or thousands or even millions of invoices a year, intelligent capture solutions should be seriously considered. Intelligent capture solutions built with technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and optical character recognition (OCR) enable the ECM system to not only create images of documents but actually pull information off of the physical paper document and put that information in data sets without any human interaction.
- Preconfigured solutions. Organizations with smaller budgets who need to address fairly standard processes such as AP automation or contract management should look closely at ECM platforms that offer pre-configured solutions for those use cases. Rather than starting from scratch, you may be able to begin with a relatively inexpensive pre-configured solution and then bring in someone to help you customize that solution for your business process.
- APIs and integration. By far the most important features you should seek in an ECM solution are APIs and integration. The penultimate value in these ECM solutions comes from their ability to sit on top of and integrate just about any application in use in organizations today. Let’s face it: very rarely do you have a company that uses one application and one application only across the entire company. An ECM solution with APIs can not only integrate with the multitude of applications at use in a company, but also can give them additional functionality that they weren’t “born with.” For example, you may want to quickly code an invoice for processing and payment in SAP. You could import the invoice into your ECM’s AI capture software. This would pull all relevant vendor and GL coding information from the invoice automatically. The information is sent back to SAP and the invoice is ready for posting and payment. These kind of workflows can include multi-level invoice approvals and images of the invoice itself linked in SAP.
- Cloud-based solutions. Another ECM feature to be highly valued is a cloud-based solution as opposed to a solution that resides on your own server. Frankly, not every company has sufficient IT infrastructure to host their own ECM solution, and a cloud-based solution is necessary for supporting modern business realities such as the need for mobile access. Most organizations today have executives on the road who need to be able to quickly and securely access and act upon information. A CFO, for example, may need to review and edit an invoice for a million-dollar piece of business, but if that CFO is traveling, a lack of access to a computer could delay this key business transaction. With a cloud-based solution, the CFO can whip out a phone and take care of business.
- Case management solutions. Look for an ECM system that goes beyond managing simple workflows and has ‘portfolio management’ capabilities. You may envision this as multiple workflows branching off of one single case and ultimately coming back together to complete a single portfolio. A simple example is an HR portfolio for a new employee. Workflows spout off in different directions to go grab all the I-9’s, W-4’s and other personnel information you need, and then they all come back together after approvals and after being checked, completing all the data needed in a portfolio for this employee. The case management capability is particularly helpful for getting buy-in and support that will be needed from internal users to establish and harden new workflows.
- Free online training. Surprisingly, not many companies place a high priority on training capabilities when evaluating ECM solutions, and this is to their detriment in the long term. After all, you will pay a lot for your consultants, they will supply a lot of training and documentation for you, and what will become of that investment? Where will you and your employees turn if you want to keep learning about the product?
You definitely want to choose an ECM solution that offers abundant and free online content and training. You may also want to consider systems sold by companies that offer their own certification programs; such programs allow users to master the functionality of their applications at an extremely high level, which is valuable to the organization and also a marketable skill the user can add to their resume.
- Point-and-click coding functionality. Finally, look for an ECM solution that will allow you to create new processes and tweak workflows in-house without requiring formal coding or hiring consultants. What you are looking for is a user friendly point-and-click or drag-and-drop process design feature that does not require your mastery of SQL coding. You should be able to simply select a rule and indicate “if I do this, I want this to happen.” This feature is available only in a few solutions on the market, but it is one well worth searching for.
Remember, when choosing an ECM platform, it’s important to look beyond your immediate need and consider features of the platform that may be beneficial to you in the future. Of course, you will want to weigh those potential benefits against the increased costs to acquire, implement, and operate the platform. A wise choice of ECM platform today will help you achieve much greater returns on your ECM investment in the long term.
Next in this series: Avoid These Pitfalls to Maximize ECM ROI
Authored by Dale Hopkins