Enterprise Content Management vs. a Shared File System

While Enterprise Content Management is being increasingly embraced throughout all vertical markets, the same timeless question still seems to come up periodically: What is the real advantage of ECM over my shared file system? What is the real advantage of ECM over my shared file system?

The shared file system or H: Drive as it is commonly referred to in many organizations 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 that have been scanned as PDF files.

In principle it sounds like an inexpensive way to increase communication and collaboration, much like what an ECM solution has to offer. In fact the shared file system is the first step towards embracing a true content management system in many cases, but this system is not without its limits.

Below are five key differences to consider but the list certainly does not stop here.

1. Security – you can certainly secure a shared directory and its subdirectories to restrict access to stored records. With ECM however this is only where it begins. 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.

2. Taxonomy – Storing documents to the shared file system is typically straight forward especially when managing internally developed content. Finding it is another story. That’s because unlike ECM, there is no standardized naming convention and no opportunity to enforce the use of required fields. 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.

3. Revision Control – What happens when multiple people are working on the same document or when a document evolves over time? How can you be sure that your team is always working off the most recent version? 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.

4. Capture – Scanning an ad hoc document to the shared file system is simple enough but what happens when 50-100 (or more) documents are being captured daily like the case with Purchase Orders or Sales Orders. A complete ECM solution provides tools for automating the capture of transactional documents in batches. Tools like Optical Character Recognition (OCR), Page Separation and Auto Import make scanning geometrically more efficient while enhancing the functionality of your existing office equipment.

5. 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.

These are just a few examples of the differences between a utilizing a true ECM solution versus placing your documents in a shared file system. 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.

What difficulties have you come across using a shared file network?

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