ECM: Streamlining and Improving Business Workflow and Practices

Business Woman Climbing a Pile of Files

How Terrus Real Estate Got a Leg-Up in Their Industry By Implementing A Software Solution

Like many other real estate and property management companies, Terrus Real Estate in Des Moines, Iowa, constantly strives to simplify their file management and streamline their business processes.

As an early adopter of enterprise content management (ECM), Terrus recognized significant process efficiencies and better information control because critical business records were electronic from the moment they entered Terrus’ possession and the system automatically routed records through review and approval processes.

As a result, Terrus now saves more than 1,100 hours of management productivity annually and the business is not only saving money, but also turning a profit via their ECM system.

So What Exactly is ECM?

ECM systems improve the ways in which businesses can manage a variety of information by capturing, managing, storing, preserving, and delivering content related to organizational processes.

ECM includes applications that convert paper documents to electronic files and systems to manage and deliver electronic records using keyword or full-text search. In addition, ECM systems may include the ability to manage email, forms, and COLD/ERM data. ECM systems can also automatically route documents through business workflow and protect records from accidental deletion prior to a retention deadline.

ECM systems are available as on-premise software that is implemented on a company’s network or cloud-based services that can be securely accessed through an internet connection.

How ECM Works for Terrus

The Backstory:

Prior to the implementation of an ECM system, all of Terrus’s documentation was processed by hand, including the 20,000 annual invoices.

Employees had to enter information twice: once into the accounting program and then again into the document management system. Paper documents were passed by hand for review and approval and managers spent up to five minutes verifying and approving each invoice.

Occasionally, invoices were simply lost during the process, and staff members would spend hours tracking information down when vendors called. Multiple copies of leases were kept in onsite filing cabinets and offsite storage and were often impossible to keep up to date.

In 2006, Terrus began searching for an ECM system that would allow the business to route invoices through standard processes, expedite approvals, and integrate with their current accounting software. As they learned more about available products, it became important to them that their ECM offer a fully integrated workflow function.

The Solution

Terrus determined that it wanted a cloud-based ECM service, so that they could avoid the hassle and expense of implementing software on their corporate network.

Terrus worked with Imagetek, a local ECM reseller, to scan and index 21,000 pages of lease documentation from its existing files and then began actively scanning its own incoming paper files in December 2006. The scanned documents are automatically uploaded to their cloud-based ECM service, which kicks off the workflow engine to identify document types and send them through the appropriate approval processes.

How Terrus Makes ECM Work For Them

For Terrus, operating with an ECM application provides more control and better security for documents. Property managers no longer keep individual lease copies in their desks. Instead, they log into the ECM to retrieve electronic documents online, without risk.

Invoices and accounting records are also managed electronically, and the workflow system automatically initiates approval processes and reports on progress. Invoices are never lost, and managers can leave electronic comments on invoice files using annotations or textual notes that might explain any reason for delay in approval processes.

Now, when clients ask for electronic access to documents, Terrus can immediately serve their needs. The cloud-based ECM service they chose allows them to create an unlimited number of users, so Terrus also allows clients to login and securely access their own data online.

The Savings and Money-Maker

This process improvement has saved management 1,150 hours annually and has resulted in a 30% productivity improvement for staff. Further improvement results from a custom integration Terrus wrote between its ECM and accounting applications, which makes double-entry a thing of the past. These efficiency boosts have allowed the company to grow its client base without adding additional staff—a savings measured at $75,000 annually.

So how does Terrus make money on its ECM implementation? The business authored integration between ImageSilo (their cloud ECM service) and Sage300 (their accounting application). Additionally, another property management firm in the Des Moines area needed the same benefit, so Terrus was able to sell them their custom integration.

Lessons Learned

Terrus Real Estate has learned many lessons as a result of being an early adopter of ECM to improve document management and automated processes. Most importantly, Terrus recommends that ECM buyers pay attention to the following:

  • Electronic documents are more secure than paper-based files. Choose a system that allows you to convert paper files into electronic records and then puts both paper and existing electronic files into a single database for retrieval.
  • Work with a software manufacturer that offers both cloud and on-premise software options and that makes it easy to switch from one to the other. You don’t know how your business needs may change with time.
  • Integrate business process management technologies. Automated workflow dramatically boosted efficiency gains at Terrus by eliminating lost documents and streamlining access to supporting documentation needed for invoice approvals.
  • Integrate the ECM application with other systems, such as accounting, that require similar data and will benefit from the supporting documentation kept in the ECM.


Real estate and property management companies depend on smoothly flowing information to keep their businesses efficient and profitable, making an investment in ECM a “must-have.” Using ECM, Terrus Real Estate keeps the water flowing and the electricity buzzing for more than 700 Des Moines-area clients.

Properly implemented, ECM has converted paper to electronic the moment the document enters the business and then simplifies and automates the routing of information to meet every need along the way.

Ultimately, personnel are focused on customer service, so they’re streamlining efficiency, boosting information control and saving money using ECM.

Image: iStockphoto

About The Author

Phil Akason is the Chief Financial Officer for Terrus Real Estate. Visit to learn more about Terrus Real Estate and their custom integration between ImageSilo and Sage300.