Image by: ConstantinosZ, ©2017 Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk about the change in enterprise content management (ECM). There’s change in the name of ECM: One camp wants to call it “Content Services” and another “Intelligent Information Management,” while holdouts want it to stay the same. There’s change in the vendor landscape, as OpenText buys Documentum, Hyland buys ImageNow, and other vendors move to fill in the void. There’s change in technology, with enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) grabbing a foothold, cloud solutions becoming more popular, and content-specific solutions taking ownership of business process.

The one thing that is not changing is how documents are managed. Yet, for some reason, vendors are not addressing these basic features. It’s as if the entire history of the last 25 years doesn’t matter. Yet, it does.

Why the Past Matters

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By June 2017, a federal judge in Miami ruled against a grocery chain for violations against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The grocery store didn’t act in malice; they simply forgot the lessons learned over time about compliance. According to the court documents, the company never even discussed ADA compliance of their new site. It was a hard refresher course on compliance.

The Case for Managing Documents

The biggest change that happened to the document was the move from file cabinets to electronic document management. In the days of paper, it was common for a document "to go missing." The act of spending months and months looking for a single document among hundreds of thousands of folders stored in hundreds of locations was rarely done. Back then, courts would allow a “went missing” defense, because it would place an “undue burden” on a company to hunt for a document that may or may not exist. Certain documents were required to be maintained by law, but for a large majority of documents, there were no rules.

"A solid document management strategy addresses not only the storage and access of documents but also the requirements around documents."

With the emergence of electronic documents, all of this changed. The late 1990s saw a series of court cases that were lost due to the inability to produce documents. The concept that it was a burden to produce a known document, like a standard operating policy, was going away. This led to some of the first major sales of document management systems. With ENRON and the passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), ECM or document management systems have become commonplace for managing documents in publicly traded companies. As e-discovery and other technologies continue to emerge, how documents need to be maintained to comply with regulations and address legal precedence will continue to evolve. Right now, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a common concern in business.

Base Content Functionality Matters

Document management differs from file management on a network share, and it is not just the ability to manage versions. With file management, a file can be secured, shared, or deleted. With document management, the fact that a particular file has business value matters. Sure, there are files that could be classified redundant, obsolete, or trivial (ROT) inside most document management or ECM systems, but a majority of the content stored has business value. This means it has retention requirements. The documents may have evidentiary value and be subject to holds. These and other features have evolved into ECM and document management systems over the last 25 years.

EFSS platforms, business content solutions, and custom document management cannot forget these past lessons. What happens if your company becomes a party to a court case? Will you be able to perform e-discovery against your EFSS solutions? Can you place a hold on contracts in your contract life cycle management or employee file management solution? Did the custom solution you built include these capabilities? These are just some of the questions you should be asking of the platform into which you will be storing your corporate documents. These features should not be assumed in any solution where corporate documents will be stored.

Where Documents Are Stored Is a Business Decision

Where a company stores its business documents is a business decision, but that does not change how those documents may be needed. Documents should be stored in a system that meets regulatory, compliance, and judicial standards. A solid document management strategy addresses not only the storage and access of documents but also the requirements around documents. This is part of information governance. However, a platform that does not address these core requirements is a risk that some companies may be willing to take.

Just remember a common civil court saying, “Ignorantia juris non excusat” or “ignorance of law excuses no one.”

Marko Sillanpaa is co-founder of the blog Big Men On Content and the founder of BMO Consulting. He has been working in ECM for over 18 years for vendors like Documentum, EMC, Hyland, and SDL Trados and systems integrators like CSC and Accenture. Follow him on Twitter @MSillanpaaBMOC.