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ECM: How to Do More With Documents Than Just File Them Away

Enterprise content management systems present banks with an opportunities to create competitive advantage by leveraging data as an asset. But defining business goals is critical to realizing ECM's value.

Whether it's in the name of going green, saving money, improving collaboration or meeting compliance goals, banks increasingly are going paperless. And while each of these drivers is a worthy reason for the shift, the strategy is impossible without a means to organize and manage the influx of now-electronic documents and data.

Enter: enterprise content management. ECM encompasses several facets of data management. At its base, enterprise content management is merely a structured system of classifying, arranging and storing electronic documents and other information. More advanced ECM capabilities, however, include automated workflow, image recognition and cleanup, document preservation and distribution, and even information security.

Despite the fact that not all ECM systems are created equal, a financial firm can create a competitive advantage by leveraging its system's capabilities smartly, stresses Ron Ruckh, managing director of financial services for Devon, Pa.-based global expert services and consulting group LECG. "The wave of the future is not that we're going to build all this new technology," he says. "The wave of the future is that we're going to use this technology to help us do things better. That's where innovation comes from."

Ruckh says he believes a better understanding of data as an asset -- and not the ECM technology itself -- will lead the next evolution in enterprise content management. While in the past it has been a race to deploy the best system for document capture, management, workflow, delivery and storage, today it's a matter of knowing what to do with the documents and data now that it's all electronic, he asserts. "It's not just a technology project," Ruckh says. "It's a business project."

Getting Started: Defining Goals

Whereas implementation of an ECM solution depends on a bank's IT organization, Ruckh continues, it's up to the institution's business leaders to define content and how to use it to create value. "So from a business perspective, that end user has more of a stake in what's going to happen," he emphasizes.

Westfield Bank, a community bank with $1.2 billion in assets, formed this sort of IT department-bank management partnership over the past several years. Andrew Weibel, assistant vice president of information systems, was charged with deploying an ECM system across the bank's 11 branches and Westfield, Mass.-based corporate headquarters. In order to accomplish the bank's goals for the content management system, he says, his IT department "had to have the cooperation and buy-in from senior management and staff from all of our departments."

Deploying Westlake, Ohio-based Hyland Software's OnBase solution across the enterprise, Weibel relates, wasn't simply a matter of plugging in the software and dictating how the bank was going to use it; rather, it was a collaborative process between Westfield Bank's IT department and each of the bank's business units to model the solution so it would meet specific business needs.

"The business needs to understand that," LECG's Ruckh says. "And that's the projection the technology side needs to make: 'We've got all the tools -- we can be very innovative in what we build. But we need to build a product that actually makes sense.'"

In Westfield Bank's case, the solution that made sense purely for the organizational elements of its ECM strategy was technology that gave each department access to a system that electronically mimicked many of the bank's preexisting paper file management and storage systems. While it might not sound like the most innovative technology, Weibel says, in terms of document organization, the system worked for the bank's staff.

"The system isn't the bottleneck," he stresses, supporting LECG's Ruckh's assertion that defining business goals for the technology is more important than the specific ECM system. "Mostly," Weibel adds, "[the challenge] is determining how staff wants to use it."

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