ECM Applications in Manufacturing

In our consulting practice, Doculabs has worked with a wide range of manufacturing organizations, including discrete and process manufacturing companies.

Manufacturing organizations have a number of business processes that remain heavily paper-intensive. These range from product development, to quality control, to supply management, to health and safety or shipping. Paper-based processes are particularly the case at small- to mid-sized manufacturers, which are less likely to make the sizable investment in technology that would be required to automate their processes.

One of the challenges for these organizations is the geographically dispersed nature of manufacturing operations. While products may be conceived and commercialized at corporate headquarters, they are generally developed, manufactured, and shipped from remote sites.

A further challenge is that certain manufacturing operations are initiated with paper documents that originate outside the organization. Timely receipt and distribution can greatly improve the efficiency of these processes, resulting in a range of benefits, including shortened approval cycles and faster time to market.

If your organization is in manufacturing and you’re developing your enterprise content management (ECM) strategy, it’s a good bet that you should target the following primary benefits: improve production efficiency, shorten production life cycle, provide management better visibility into operations, and increase the effectiveness of sales channels. Following are three common applications for ECM in manufacturing organizations: Product Development, Technical Documentation Management and Distribution, and Maintenance, Repairs, and Operations.

Product Development

The product development function identifies new products for the marketplace and ensures the effective commercialization of those products. Product development also identifies and develops new processes to enable the manufacturer to produce its products more profitably. At many organizations, product development is project-based: i.e. the creation of a new product is considered a discrete project, with its own assigned team, its own timelines and goals, and its work generates project files containing communications and documentation relevant to that project.

Most manufacturers have a defined product development process which specifies the deliverables that are to be produced at each stage of the product deployment process, as well as the endorsements or approvals that must be obtained before a project can move on to the next stage in the process. The process also specifies the roles and responsibilities of the various teams involved at each stage. Depending on the stage in the product development process, this could involve representatives from a wide range of departments: Research, Engineering, Logistics, Marketing, Finance, Product Development, and Manufacturing Operations.

Other groups potentially involved at certain junctures of the product development process include Regulatory Compliance, Patents, and Legal, as well as materials suppliers and other contractors external to the organization. The critical requirements for managing the documentation associated with Product Development include dynamic document management functions (authoring, approval cycle, version control), dynamic library functions for compound documents, retrieval and distribution capabilities, workflow, and security. The Product Development function may also require capture and ingestion into a secure repository.

Technical Documentation Management and Distribution

One of the most common ECM applications within manufacturing organizations is the management and distribution of technical documentation. Maintaining complex systems (like aircraft or refineries) requires complex documentation, instructions, and maintenance and operational checklists.

A manufacturer or facility must produce compound documents for such complex systems, which may be highly customized per system, and which may require modifications and updates over time. Technical documentation applications require the ability to assemble a variety of generic static documents and to incorporate interactive content (e.g. checklists).

Technical documentation management and distribution requires secure repository management for such documents, as well as the ability to provide various levels of access. Key requirements for Technical Documentation Management and Distribution include dynamic document management functions (authoring, approval cycle) and dynamic library functions for compound documents. Technical Document Management and Distribution also requires content management capabilities such as capture and ingestion into a secure repository, some workflow, retrieval and distribution, and security.

Maintenance, Repairs, and Operations (MRO)

Another common ECM application for manufacturing organizations is the management of documentation associated with maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO). Manufacturing organizations tend to manage the ordering, procuring, and contracting for direct goods through specialized applications using EDI, and thus do not typically require ECM for these processes.

However, many manufacturers also need to contract for, order, procure, and manage a wide range of indirect goods – i.e. the goods needed in maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO). These indirect goods are the types of items needed to operate the business (such as office equipment, supplies, and furniture), but which are not critical to manufacturing or other such processes. Money is lost if contracts are not properly negotiated and tracked for compliance with service level agreements and other requirements. MRO-related processes include the processes involved in contracting, ordering, inventory management, and service level tracking. When these processes are paper-based, they are inefficient – a good reason to enable them with ECM. Many organizations are now looking for ways to push the entire process to the web (for process automation, availability information, etc.).

The primary business drivers for using ECM in MRO-related processes include streamlining the contracting/negotiation process, ensuring that purchases and service levels adhere to contractual terms, providing leverage for contract renegotiation or alternative sourcing, and eliminating redundant or unnecessary purchasing. The ECM capabilities involved in MRO-related processes are forms processing, dynamic document management and library services, workflow, archiving, online access, and advanced full-text search (to cherry-pick language from multiple documents when creating new documents, etc.). In an upcoming post, I’ll take a look at the pharmaceutical industry as a subset of manufacturing, one that has very particular ECM requirements. 


Rich Medina
Rich Medina
I’m a Principal Consultant and co-founder of Doculabs, and the resident expert in using ECM for information lifecycle management.