Bridging the Gap Between ERP and ECM Systems

Deliver End-to-End Business Process Automation and Eliminate the Pain in Your Existing Processes

July 28, 2016

Today, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems are the workhorse that controls the finance and resource management of the business, with structured transactional databases at their heart. ERP systems control the goods (produced and procured), people (employees, suppliers and partners) and the network of interactions among them that both drive and characterize the business.

In parallel, many businesses have turned to enterprise content management systems (ECM) to manage unstructured data within their organizations, including scanned paper and other digital files, with workflow, reporting and automation to support the communication, collaboration and compliance activities within the organization.

Few businesses today can imagine functioning without an ERP system. Those that have invested in ECM solutions most often achieve a return on their investments within a year and similarly view those systems as critical to their business operations.

Unfortunately, however, even with both systems in place, few organizations are satisfied with the results they have achieved because of persistent inefficiencies due to manual process gaps, combined with a lack of end-to-end process visibility.

The Real Opportunity for Innovation

According to a 2015 Document Process Intelligence Survey conducted by AIIM, when asked about their current tool sets, 45% of respondents indicated they were less than satisfactory or needed to be replaced. Only 10% indicated they are very or extremely satisfied.

The problem (an opportunity) for many organization MAY lie in replacing those systems. But it’s equally or more likely that the potential for true business transformation lies in bridging the gap between the systems that manage structured data (ERPs) and unstructured content (ECMs). After all, MOST business processes depend upon BOTH to achieve their ends.

Uniting Data, Documents and Decisions

There are well-established reasons for why separate systems exist to manage structured enterprise data and unstructured enterprise content. There are few good reasons, however, for those systems to be siloed, considering that they both contribute to supporting the majority of business decisions and transactions. Basically, any decision or transaction that relies on data and documents will encounter inefficiencies when relying on disparate ERP and ECM systems. Often, the solution, rather than integrated the two, becomes “the two-screen solution,” where staff members manually monitor, review and interact with each system independently on two monitors—and all too often manually re-key information from one system into the other, exposing processes to manual data entry errors and all kinds of potential compliance risks.

One solution to the two-screen problem is to leverage the documents capture by ECM systems more intelligently, relying on automation to identify data within an unstructured document or file source that conforms to data in structured ERP databases. Modern intelligent capture platforms can actually learn how to identify relevant data within a document like a vendor name or invoice amount. Integrating an ECM solution with an ERP allows intelligent capture platforms to validate the information they discover, essentially relying on the ERP as the system of record to ensure that any information in the document is correct.

ECM and ERP Systems Working Together

Extracting data from ECM documents allows organizations to automate routine processes like three-way matching of purchase orders/invoices/receipts, supporting an automated straight-through-process for AP approvals that results in automatic transaction entries in the ERP WITHOUT any manual data entry. The process begins with the document in the ECM, data is extracted and validated against the ERP, matched transactions are automatically entered in the ERP. Exceptions are routed for appropriate review and intervention. Everything happens seamlessly, with ERP and ECM systems working together and interacting intelligently to achieve the desired end result.

The Rise of the Cloud and the Drive to Innovate

Since 2013, the rise in interest in cloud ERPs has prompted companies to evaluate their existing systems and processes to determine how to lower costs and achieve their business objectives more efficiently and effectively. As highlighted in our recent two-part blog on cloud ERPs, the main driver has been innovation rather than costs savings.

In reality, any organization that chooses to evaluate cloud ERPs has chosen to look for a better way to manage their business. Any company that truly wishes to achieve greater productivity will have to look at the gaps in their existing systems and processes. ALL of them are likely to find that manual data entry, manual document routing and manual process monitoring is creating process bottlenecks, introducing potential error and compliance risk and limiting visibility to the overall process due to siloed systems.

The Results are In—and Integration Wins

According to AIIM’s 2015 survey, for companies that have bridged the gap between their data, documents and decisions, the expectation among users is that they will achieve ROI within 12 months (53%). The reality, according to the same survey, is that results are usually better than that, with 63% achieving ROI within 12 months.

Benefits of ECM/ERP systems with intelligent capture include:

  • Reduced ERP manual data entry inefficiencies

  • Reduced manual document sorting and classification inefficiencies

  • Resolved data entry errors with automated validation

  • Targeted and resolved workflow bottlenecks with automated routing

  • Greater transparency with real time data, document and decision access

  • Scalability to adapt to business growth without adding staff

  • Reallocation of personnel to more strategic, valued-added work