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ECM: solutions for diverse content

This article appears in the issue June 2012 [Volume 21, Issue 6]
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Content used to be a lot simpler. It consisted of documents and data.  Together, those two categories encompassed most of the digital information used in organizations. Now, not only the volume but also the variety of data has increased to include videos, digital audio, wikis, blogs and little snippets of microblogging content. The information is also beaing accessed for a much wider variety of purposes, including compliance and e-discovery, sentiment analysis and customer relationship management.

Given that proliferation, it is not surprising that the enterprise content management (ECM) software market is growing despite a relatively sluggish global economy. Gartner predicts annual growth of about 11 percent through 2015. "We attribute this resilience to the productivity gains offered by ECM, including improvements in process and data quality, and support in achieving compliance," says Mark Gilbert, research VP at Gartner.

The new content

The burgeoning volume of social media content is particularly important, because it can be difficult to capture and manage. "This is the challenge that many organizations face," says Ken Bisconti, VP of products and strategy for IBM's enterprise content management products. "They recognize that there is a tremendous breadth of information that they have to manage for legal risk requirements, to discover insight from, activate for business processes and provide to users so they can collaborate."

One result of this influx is that many organizations are reinventing themselves to create and utilize different information streams. "Increasingly, organizations are investing in systems of engagement to complement systems of record," says Bisconti. "In the past, content was focused on recording transactions, providing a single source of the truth and maintaining records." With the advent of the consumer Web and social media, organizations want to involve the new content that did not exist just five years ago. "Rather than looking at a simple search," Bisconti says, "organizations want a rich analytic experience that draws upon many sources."

The issue of finding data among many diverse repositories points to the need for a federated search strategy. "Organizations need to make tools available so their users can find what they need," says Gilbert, "no matter where the information is." The search process should be as intuitive as possible, but users may need to be trained in order to understand the information resources that are available.

Social software in action

CEMEX, based in Mexico, is a producer of cement, aggregates and other construction materials. With more than 40,000 employees working in 20 countries, CEMEX wanted to create a collaborative environment to foster interaction and innovation. It selected IBM Connections, a social business software product, to help enable that goal. IBM Connections offers many of the features of consumer social software, including profiles and microblogging, as well as the ability to create topic-based activity streams.

From an initial base of several hundred employees, usage has expanded to more than 18,000, or nearly half the workforce. Contractors and employees can now "follow" each other in networks based on areas of interest and expertise. Participation in blogs and in comments has been increasing, and more than 350 communities of interest have been established. One "idea jam" conducted using IBM Connections generated 100 ideas, some of which are now being implemented at CEMEX.

IBM Connections runs as a standalone social business product and can also be bundled with IBM FileNet as IBM Connections Enterprise Content Edition. The latter product allows content to be stored in the FileNet repository, and integrated with content analytics and enterprise search. In addition, it can invoke business process management or case management support and apply classification, record management and e-discovery. "Integrating social content with all the other content in an enterprise allows greater versatility," Bisconti says, "including federated search from within IBM Connections that encompasses all the enterprise content."

ECM has become a global market. "Gartner views the expansion of ECM use as a major trend," Gilbert says. "We are seeing significant interest from organizations throughout the world, including China, Brazil and Europe." The technology has matured and understanding of it has increased. ECM also has become more affordable for small and midsize businesses.

Transformation of a team

The Ventura County print center had been a longtime user of printers from Xerox when it began an initiative to improve its document management process to better manage customers' order experience and history. The department first launched DocuShare to expedite the process for submitting and routing the document to print. "We used a homegrown Web submission page to build an interface for the job ticket," says Steve Nelles, document manager for Ventura County. "We began routing the document electronically and reduced transit time substantially."

A second driver for moving into document management mode was the need to expedite the process for managing agendas for board of supervisors meetings. "As a public institution, we are obligated to post agendas so they are visible on our website," Nelles says. The department developed a workflow design for the review and approval process. "We use DocuShare as a way to internally move and route the documents, posting the final version via a Web service and using DocuShare as the backend repository," he adds.

Most recently, the department has made a more formal shift from a print-oriented shop to a document management services team. "We wanted the county to view us as workflow specialists," Nelles explains. "We manage content through the whole document lifecycle, not just in print but designing material, managing mailings, and finally storing and archiving." Over time, the team refocused its business mission to document creation and management.

E-forms

"Like many organizations, we have been charged to do more work with fewer people," Nelles says. "The power of document management allows us to find, retrieve and handle many more documents than we formerly did." In addition, the team now can design for multichannel output, including print, tablet and Web delivery.

Another area into which the department has expanded is the development of e-forms, which capture content entered by users into an electronic form in DocuShare. "When we design an e-form, we set it up so that employees can use lookup tables to access data in other systems, to make the form more usable and quicker to fill out," Nelles says. "By using the right design, we can have the form—for example, an inventory form-—show just the necessary information rather than a comprehensive list."

To do that effectively, according to Nelles, staff must have the right combination of skills-an understanding of design, workflow and databases. "There has been a skill gap between traditional designers and the workflow," he says. "Creating document flow with routing and automation is fundamental to moving our business forward."

Sharing newfound expertise

As of today, what used to be the Ventura County print shop has successfully evolved into an application development group. "This is where content managers need to be," Nelles says. "We recently gave a document management presentation to our county hospital group. Hospitals get audited all the time, and it can have a big impact on their funding. A critical issue is patient safety, and document management has a big impact on ensuring that document version control and distribution are in place. Design must be linked to output, whether electronic or print. If you are a document designer, you need to be precise—elements such as abbreviations and dosage measurements are critical, and the document must be properly routed and easily accessible by the hospital."

Having become workflow and electronic document experts, Nelles' team can also advise medical professionals on transitioning to electronic health records (EHR), how to index and categorize them, and how to create the best workflow. "We have had some doctors now say they do not want to work with paper at all," he says. "We are helping to prepare for that transition. We want the medical team to view us as partners, and we want to work with them to evolve."

The DocuShare content management system has its roots in the conversion of paper to electronic documents. "Major recent enhancements center around process automation," says Brian Lincoln, senior product line manager for DocuShare. "We now have advanced scanning centered around ABBYY's recognition technology and have integrated eForms as part of the workflow."

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