Photo: Ministry of Information, Singapore; William Cho

The term “enterprise information management” seems to capture the whole world, right? But this term applies to the indexing, searching and compilation of information (not necessarily data) from all of the places in your enterprise where documents might reside.

Gartner defines EIM as “an integrative discipline for structuring, describing and governing information assets across organizational and technological boundaries to improve efficiency, promote transparency and enable business insight.”

It’s hard to tell where document/information management leaves off and (data or information) analytics begins. This is part of the mashing up of software functionality that is going on in the market today.

Information is everywhere – in emails, presentations, documents stored on a company’s server, individual user hard drives, servers in the cloud, etc. So traditional search software is somewhat ineffective, because it expects data or documents to be neatly organized inside a box where it can simply sort through data and return matches to your query.

Modern enterprise information management (EIM) software is different because it can search multiple and geographically and systematically separate sources according to terms defined by the user. It does this usually through a web browser.

The market for these tools arose because companies generated tons of documents without any “filing” standards, other than placing them on a corporate shared drive or on people’s PC hard drives. As a result, it was almost impossible to assemble all documents within a company’s four walls related to a particular customer, vendor, product, project, formula or activity. The ability to perform this type of search is especially important to legal professionals, who must respond to government inquiries or parties involved in litigation. This type of search is referred to as e-discovery.

Just a few years ago, I worked on a project like this, except it was referred to at that time as a records retention project, and we installed software from vendor L. The software was basically a search tool for the company’s numerous internal file directories, and required the indexing of every file according to pre-established criteria, and the establishment of a document hierarchy and permission levels. It also assumed that all of the company’s 1,200 employees would store all of their documents on the company’s shared drives, and no longer use their PC hard drives to store files (this was not realistic).

Today, the company that used vendor L is implementing a different system that is capable of locating files anywhere within the company’s network – shared drives, hard drives, emails. In less than 24 months, software that cost over $1 million to implement was rendered obsolete.

EIM usually includes e-discovery tools, and tools for managing content or knowledge, such as user guides, formulas, troubleshooting guides, business process steps or standard operating procedures, system diagrams, and documents critical to retaining official records.

Clearwell Systems, acquired in 2011 by Symantec, is a leader in the e-discovery field. Symantec also offers other EIM solutions. The Symantec web site says this about the Clearwell e-discovery application: “The Clearwell eDiscovery Platform, nominated as a Leader in Gartner’s 2012 Magic Quadrant for eDiscovery, provides users with one seamless application to automate the legal hold process, collect data in a forensically sound manner, cull-down down data by up to 90%, and reduce review costs by up to 98% through the use of Transparent Predictive Coding.”

My advice with this type of software is 1) like any software, garbage in = garbage out, so make it easy for users to do what they need to do for compliance; otherwise users will invent ways to work around your application, not use it; 2) whatever you are archiving must be important so put it in a secure environment with a redundant backup; and 3) as soon as you index, categorize, and digitize your enterprise information you will think of new ways of using it so pick a vendor with a wide range of services and solutions.