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ECM: What’s your angle?

This article appears in the issue October 2010, [Vol 19, Issue 9]
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If you still think that an enterprise content management (ECM) system is a repository of documents and an interface through which to access them, it’s time to update your image. Like many things in life, ECM is what you make of it. In some cases, the mission-critical function is workflow, in others it’s change management, and in still others, it’s collaboration. ECM can take on many roles, and is increasingly able to be tailored to meet users’ requirements.

Cengage Learning, which publishes educational and reference material for academic, library and professional markets, is using ECM to improve its workflow. One of its brands is the well-known Gale series of reference books, among them a 17-volume encyclopedia called Grzimek’s Animal Life. Originally published in Germany in 1967 with Bernard Grzimek as editor, the encyclopedia covers more than 4,000 species of animals. In 2003, Gale published the first revised and updated version, and in 2009, the first digital version.

Publishing workflow

Each new entry is carefully reviewed by a subject matter expert and a series of editors. Up until several years ago, entries were routed in electronic form to reviewers via e-mail. However, the process was still manual, and significant resources were required to track the progress of each entry from the subject matter expert to the subject matter editors and then to the managing editor.

In 2009, Cengage Learning began using Nuxeo to manage the review process for entries planned for inclusion in Grzimek’s. Nuxeo is an open source ECM platform designed for enterprise applications. “We are using Nuxeo’s workflow to automate the process of routing excerpts to the subject matter experts and to the editors,” says Michael Seiler, eCMS architect. “We have 60 experts who curate the content that is submitted by authors, and Nuxeo is configured to route the content to reviewers according to their area of expertise.” In addition, Cengage uses Nuxeo for versioning, security and access control.

For most subject areas, the entry can be reviewed by one of several experts. The first individual to download the entry from the queue takes on the review. However, if the reviewer does not complete the process within a specified amount of time, the entry is placed back into the queue. Reviewers are also limited in the number of entries they may have out at one time.

“We want to keep the reviews moving along,” says Seiler, “and our automated process ensures a predictable schedule for the steps.” After being reviewed by the subject matter expert, the entry is sent to the copy editor, a managing editor for that subject area and then the managing editor for Grzimek’s portal products.

The impact on the publication process has been substantial. “Previously, we were in a three-month publishing cycle,” Seiler explains. “One person orchestrated the cycle and pushed content through the system. But if a reviewer was not available, the entry would have to wait.” Now, the review process can sometimes be completed in as little as a few days, but the typical time is about two weeks.

One appealing aspect of Nuxeo for Cengage was that the software is open source. “We needed interoperability and flexibility, and with open source software, if it didn’t do exactly what we needed, we could modify the code,” Seiler explains. Cengage wanted to use the products it believed were best of breed for other functions such as storage, and therefore required easy integration, which they have found is the case for Nuxeo.

Cengage does not use Nuxeo for storing its documents because that capability was already provided by its existing content vault. “We have 170 million assets stored in our repositories,” says Seiler, “We use a mix of proprietary databases and commercial products. Our focus for developing the Nuxeo application was on the publication process, and not so much on the storage issue.”

Most of Gale’s portal products going forward will use the Nuxeo content management platform. “Retrofitting other data into the system is a lower priority,” Seiler says. “If the content is archived, it’s not going to change so we don’t need the workflow. We will re-evaluate our approach as each new edition is published.”

Change management

Leading ECM products such as Open Text Enterprise Content Management Suite, IBM FileNet and OnBase from Hyland Software have developed vertical applications that are geared toward the needs of specific industries. Typical solutions include legal, healthcare, government and education. Those products are customized for the types of content and processes most often needed in the industries. In addition, some ECM products were developed from the start around a specific industry and work with a variety of native applications to provide special capabilities.

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) supplies electricity to New York City and surrounding areas. It owns 17 power generating facilities and employs more than 1,600 individuals. The physical infrastructure that sustains this system requires an extensive set of engineering drawings to support maintenance and the development of new projects. The projects are complex, with frequent modifications as they progress. Information is stored at five sites and often needs to be shared by workers in different locations.

In the heavily regulated utilities industry, being able to manage and verify changes is essential. To organize its documents and keep track of changes in facilities and in ongoing projects, NYPA deployed BlueCielo Meridian Enterprise, a content management system from BlueCielo ECM Solutions. Meridian Enterprise specializes in managing engineering data. A viewer in the product allows users to see the drawings even if they do not have the native application. It enables users to “redline” engineering documents and keep both the original and revised versions.

Using Meridian Enterprise, NYPA can document changes to its project drawings and share information among workers at different sites. Now, the engineers can be assured that they have access to all relevant documents and are seeing the latest version of the design. Workflow has also been standardized and streamlined. In addition, key attributes of files can be imported into each site’s database even if the structure of the databases differs.

Meridian Enterprise is designed to work with major ECM products as a specialized vertical. “Our product interoperates with the ECM systems,” says Tom Pappas, global marketing director for BlueCielo. “It provides the extended capability to work with technical documents, which standard ECM systems cannot do.” One trend that Pappas has noted is the increasing use of SharePoint to store engineering documents. “SharePoint is a good collaboration platform, but it is not designed for managing technical drawings,” says Pappas. “We work in conjunction with SharePoint to solve that problem.”

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