The need for ECM (or Content Services) systems

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Dear colleagues, it surely happens to many that your organizations/customers are working on Business Process Automation (BPM) projects. A weakness I usually find, is the little importance concerning to the digital archiving of documents and information generated in the execution of these processes, which typically end up in a conventional file system or in proprietary data schemas of these solutions, typically isolated from other documents and information of the organization. This produces processes that eventually have a high impact on the efficiency and goals of the organization, but which in turn become generators of information silos.

I am investigating sources of information and points of view that, from this perspective, help me better support the need for ECM (or Content Services) systems. I would greatly appreciate receiving comments and links about it. Thank you very much.

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Alvaro Zelasco
Consultant BPM/ECM
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Hi Alvaro

Isn’t this more about an organisations policies around information management?  I mean, if the organisation has a policy that certain information falls under a stated IM model then these situations should generally be avoidable.  If not then of course these issues you outline will repeat themselves across all forms of information creation and management.

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Alister Grigg
Fastman
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Thank you Alister, I agree with you, it´s about having organizational policies that clearly establish the use of a central repository of documents with which any initiative or new project should interact with.

The issue is that in most real organizations I’ve seen, those policies are not established, or are not clear, or are not enforced / audited, at least from my experience! (I am in Perú – South America, although I imagine that everywhere this occurs to a lesser or greater extent). This is because the little importance given to the management of this important asset.

My search is about the arguments or strategies to achieve (and maintain) a high level of priority over the importance of having a single platform for the entire organization document management.

Going a little further, not only is about the content being entered into the document management platform either way, but in a way aligned to a metadata design strategy for proper use by all stakeholders of such information, not only useful for the users of the process that generated it.

Regards
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Alvaro Zelasco
Principal Consultant BPM/ECM
Polysistemas Corp SAC
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Alvaro,

At the end of the day, the only 2 strategies/arguments I have encountered, or heard of working, to “achieve (and maintain) a high level of priority over the importance of having a single platform for the entire organization document management” are:

  • Risk reduction (this includes compliance gains obviously)
  • Efficiency gains (that can actually be measured)

Most often it is a mix of the 2 to greater/lesser degrees.  The ONLY organization I have heard of that has been successful selling any other idea, and it took them years and really significant marketing and sales resources, is Microsoft with “collaboration”.  And, while that seems to have done an admirable job of selling their software, it really didn’t do so much for the underlying ECM/RM/IM/Content Services (choose your own desired label) goals. IMHO, of course (and I’m mostly a “SharePoint guy!”).

Now, that said, in SOME organizations currently, if the right person says it, at the right time, in the right way, to the right people (yeah, I know), there may be the opportunity to push the agenda under either/both of:

  • Digital transformation
  • Digital workplace

Aria
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Thank you Lorne. Regards.

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Alvaro Zelasco
Principal Consultant BPM/ECM
Polysistemas Corp SAC
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No problem Alvaro.  We work with some very large organisations, both private and public sector, and many of them are geographically distributed so these issues are ones they inevitably address.  You are right, the concept of a single platform for those types of organisations is challenging.

One of our public sector customers has several hundred thousand users across 100+ departments and does have a policy and program to deploy a common platform, not one instance but a common platform.  They have many departments running their own instance of the platform, which is necessary to meet differing operational and process requirements.  In their case the policy is tightly controlled mainly via budget means.  Is it successful?  To some extent.  Some departments are on other platforms, mainly legacy systems that they don’t want or can’t move off easily.

Outside that we have another customer that we have worked with for nearly 20 years that has run the same IM system for most of that period, they have 2,000 licensed users and the organisation is quasi public sector (a Govt owned incorporated water utility).  We deployed that system in 2001/2 and have maintained and expanded it over the years.  It started as a central electronic plan management system, and quickly grew into their corporate document and records management platform.  It’s ingrained into their operating culture, started as a system specific to that one business need but was always seen as a platform they could build on. Again it’s the leadership team that understood and embraced their responsibilities around information governance and set in place the policies and processes needed to support that.

After we migrated RM to that system I asked their CIO to explain in one simple sentence why he (and the organisation) had just spent x months and several millions of dollars doing that.  He turned to his PC, opened Outlook, dragged an email to a managed location and simply said “there, my obligation to save this email as a record is complete and it’s that easy for all staff”.  Of course I paraphrase here a little but that’s the essence of it, and I ask that same question of most clients.  The answer is generally similar.

If I’ve gone off track please excuse me but you ask what strategies and arguments work here.  Is a single platform necessary or even possible?  I do believe Lorne makes a valid point, and these days the way information flows between people makes it much harder to compartmentalize what we have grown to know as a record.   So a single platform is harder to achieve but hopefully the above couple of examples provide a little help.

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Alister Grigg
Fastman
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Thank you very much Alister, your comments are really very illustrative! Also I agree that the user experience is very important. On the other hand, I understand that in a large organization there could eventually be more than one instance or repository, the important thing is to maintain management standards and unique criteria, through corporate document management policies.

If we maintain an adequate metadata design for example, we can always map documents regardless of the platform they are.

As for legacy systems, they are indeed a difficulty.

(translated with google translator help)

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Alvaro Zelasco
Principal Consultant BPM/ECM
Polysistemas Corp SAC
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Hi Alvaro.

To set my response, I have been working in both ECM and BPM since my beginning.  I say that because to me content and process always intercept.  IN my experience I see the disconnect from the BPM side as the focus being solely on process and the document “being something that is needed as some point”.  Whereas many times it is critical to the specific work being performed.  Then if brought in it is treated more like second class data and missing the aspects of ECM, like checkin\checout and permissions, etc.

I will say in recent years this perception has been changing and many straight BPM vendors supported CMIS to help in the integration, which was a big step forward.

A short answer (which I am terrible at) is ECM is the management around your documents.  Documents are key to many processes and supportive in the rest.  Treat it like a data element within the process.  Know who needs it, when they need it, even permissions around it.  View only, vs edit.  And then edit document properties or the content itself.  Honestly the majority is viewing the document or even specific data within the document.  (think document bookmarks)

I wish I could help on the artilce part.  I have read so many over the years but I do not have any links readily available that address this.  Look at ECM\BPM vendors as they typically give thier marketing hype around it.  A good place to take the points and create your own specific reasoning.  IBM, OpenText, Hyland are all ECM products that have workflow and workflow products that use documents.  So a good place to start if you are looking for business justification.

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Mike Prentice
Senior Solution Architect
enChoice
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Thank you very much Mike. It happens to me that in many organizations that I visit their main problem is the scattered information, and what they need is a really very simple idea: to consult it in a centralized and simple way. Looking a little at the problem always (or almost always) we find processes that generate that scattered information, and needless to say, the design of the metadata is either non-existent or chaotic.

It would have been good to start these projects well, under a single document management platform for the entire organization, and aligned to an appropriate metadata design strategy.

Not only do users of the process need those documents, there are also many stakeholders of that information, which are typically those who have problems later to access it.

That´s why my search is about the arguments or strategies to achieve (and maintain) a high level of priority over the importance of having a single platform for the entire organization document management.

Thank you and Regards.

(translated with the help of google translator)

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Alvaro Zelasco
Principal Consultant BPM/ECM
Polysistemas Corp SAC
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I do understand that.  One thing that is becoming more common is the single enterprise content repository is not feasible in many cases.  Each department will have their own thing and\or there are pockets of different products.  Sadly CMIS is no longer a support standard which would help address this.  These disparate system also impede creating a governance or even a Records Management policy easily adopted.  An orchestration process can address this.  But all of this is outside your initial comment.

What makes a document different that “just data” is it has a lifecycle\versions and a larger meaning and purpose.  You  approve a document, you submit a document for review.  What about a document package.  This is where just adding documents can create additional complexity within a process only approach.  It can be handled and addressed, if you have some knowledge of hte concepts.

AIIM is a good source of information on the topic you are researching.  Trying to get implementation knowledge is harder as the variable of a project and the client and make any simple guideline irrelevant or invalid.

Honestly the use of AI and ML against a document is also changing the conversation and thought process on what a document is and how it can be used.

One simple answer is regardless of anything, you do need to have these documents in some sort of repository to facilitate any process.  Using them on a FileShare is not a good approach for a variety of reasons.  Even if you have more than one, you can “code around it”.  But yes, you have to start there.

They have data in a database, right?  Not in a text file on a fileshare.  Same association.  We need some control\security\access mechanism around the documents.

I hope I am helping Alvaro.

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Mike Prentice
Senior Solution Architect
enChoice
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Thank you Mike. I have found a lot of information about this, and I have included as much of my own experience. I hope to recopy all this information and share it very soon. Regards.

(translated with google translator help)

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Alvaro Zelasco
Principal Consultant BPM/ECM
Polysistemas Corp SAC
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