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ECM: Collaboration rules!

This article appears in the issue October 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 9]
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Enterprise content management (ECM) is becoming increasingly "socialized," with more Web 2.0 functions being incorporated into it.

"We are seeing a refocusing on collaboration through the intersection of content and social media," says Leonor Ciarlone, senior analyst at Gilbane. "Content management infrastructure provides the core environment to make collaboration information-centric and is now adding blogs, ratings and other social media."

R.V. Anderson Associates (RVA) is a consulting engineering firm with more than 200 employees and a broad range of projects oriented around multidisciplinary engineering. Serving primarily eastern Canada and India, its offices are geographically dispersed. Information resources were similarly scattered across different sections of the company, and were not easy to find when needed. Also, a number of senior associates were planning to retire, and RVA did not want to lose track of the intellectual capital those staff members had contributed.

Some documents were stored in TextWorks, a document management product from Inmagic. It had been used for many years to manage marketing material, such as information used in generating proposals. However, RVA wanted to extend its document storage and retrieval capabilities to all its divisions, including technical, administrative and marketing. Moreover, RVA wanted to develop a more collaborative work environment. Although the company looked at a half-dozen software products, the best fit turned out to be Presto, another product from Inmagic.

Appealing capabilities

"We found that Inmagic’s Presto 2.0 brought exactly the new capabilities we were seeking," says Terri Zimmer, supervisor of information management at RVA. "We wanted something that had Web 2.0 features such as RSS feeds, and that needed very little support from the IT department."

The .NET infrastructure provided the flexibility and ease of development that now allows the company to bring together those diverse pieces and form communities around the information. Previous experience with Inmagic convinced Zimmer that backend support for Presto would be easy, and their longstanding working relationship was also a big asset. "We quickly arrived at a ‘go-forward’ moment," Zimmer says.

"Our usage rate is about 90 percent," she adds, "which we attribute to both the value of our content and the ease of use of Presto."

Finding detailed information on previous projects, or contact information for references, now takes a matter of seconds. Searches can be done using metadata that is assigned when the document is saved.

"For contact information, we wanted resumes to come up first on the list," Zimmer explains, "so we set up the coding system to make sure that happens." Users like the full-text search as well, because they can type in a word or phrase and receive all the information without having to be exact in their search requirements.

Employees can request notification if new documents are published on a particular topic. "The availability of RSS feeds means that our workers don’t have to constantly check knowledge repositories for new information," Zimmer adds.

At present, RVA has a separate Web content management (WCM) system but plans to use Presto as the source of some of the information to minimize duplicate storage and ensure consistency. The imminent launch of the next version of Presto, which will have functions that Inmagic describes as "social knowledge management," has generated considerable interest at RVA.

Social knowledge networking

"The junior engineers are especially eager to use those new tools," says Zimmer. "Blogs and wikis are part of their lives outside of the office, and it’s very beneficial in terms of collaboration to have them available in a corporate setting."

Zimmer expects that the new resources will help build bridges between workers in different locations and provide a broad base for ongoing collaboration.

"We did not want to have to use different software products for blogs, wikis and content management," she emphasizes. "We wanted an integrated environment for creating, storing, searching and using the information."

Social knowledge networking differs from social networking in that it is geared toward "enhancing content by connecting people," as Inmagic states. The basic premise of Presto is to combine a knowledge repository with an interactive community.

"People are connected by the issues and problems they need to address, not by the departments they are in," says Phil Green, CTO of Inmagic. "The one-way model of ‘publish and they will consume’ no longer applies. We believe that tightly integrating content and community in a robust environment will produce a rich and relevant knowledge repository that helps people solve problems more effectively."

Putting a human touch into ECM through Web 2.0 may make the applications more interesting to work with, but clear value will have to be derived from those additions in order to be justified.

"There is certainly exciting potential for integrating content repositories with social media," says Gilbane’s Ciarlone. "The real test of incorporating Web 2.0 functions into KM, however, is whether it increases enterprise productivity. Adding social features such as ratings for content will have to drive productivity and revenue streams in order to be justified."

It’s too soon to tell whether that goal will be achieved, but the trend deserves close monitoring.

Collaboration through process for SMBs

Completion of a business task often entails moving documents through a workflow process. In the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market, options for both content management and workflow have been limited because vendors initially focused on large enterprises, but some products are now targeted specifically to that market. Cabinet NG (CNG) provides file management, workflow, application integration and retention for organizations with just a few employees or as many as 500.

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