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ECM: an evolving process

This article appears in the issue June 2015 [Volume 24, Issue 6]
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In its “Global Enterprise Content Management Market, 2014-2018”report, TechNavio describes enterprise content management (ECM) as “a set of tools used to manage critical business content in an organization,” including the “ingestion, archiving and management of content that can be easily integrated with third-party systems within a content workflow.” In other words, ECM is not a static repository but a part of information flow.

“We see ECM as moving toward being more integrated with business processes,” says Amrita Choudhury, lead analyst at TechNavio, a technology research and advisory company. TechNavio predicts a healthy 12 percent growth rate over that time period. “This growth will be sustained by the need for storage and traceability, of an increasing volume of information,” adds Choudhury. The global market is expected to reach over $9 billion by 2018, with leading sectors being banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI), along with government, healthcare, education and legal.

Universal Forest Products Inc. (UFP) is a supplier of wood products, composites and other building materials for retail, construction and industrial markets. Founded 60 years ago, the company has 80 facilities throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. To ensure that its manufacturing processes are compliant with environmental regulations in the many locations in which it operates, UFP regularly tests storm water runoff that flows near its facilities.

Up until a few years ago, the procedures were being tracked manually. “One of our employees in the legal department was responsible for ensuring that information was being collected and submitted from each facility,” says Sean Lemon, national project manager at UFP. “Paper forms were filled out, collected and then reviewed by the environmental department.”

Case management framework

Since random audits are conducted by state regulatory agencies, UFP always had to be prepared to document its compliance, but collecting the required forms could be a challenge. “There are a lot of ways to lose paper in a manufacturing facility,” says Tiffany Bangma, director of business systems at UFP. “They are exposed to the elements and handled through a number of steps for the preparation and review process.”

UFP decided to move to a digital process for managing the documents that support the storm water compliance process. The company had been using OnBase by Hyland Software for a variety of document-centric business processes, so it was a logical choice. “We developed this application inside of OnBase’s case management framework,” Lemon explains. “The configuration time was only 16 hours—to design, develop and configure.” It was not necessary to write any code; business analysts familiar with the required documentation and workflow were able to configure the entire process.

Employees who collect the storm water data now receive an e-mail two weeks before their reporting deadline. The e-mail has a link to the form they need to fill out, and the data is entered online. If an employee does not submit the form by the deadline, a reminder is sent and then the case escalates to a supervisor. “Previously, considerable follow-up was sometimes required to ensure that deadlines were met,” Lemon says. “With the OnBase system, our first contact completion rate has increased from 60 percent to 99 percent.”

The system was so successful that the team of employees collecting storm water data wanted to use the same method for other compliance-related activities. “The storm water system was broadened to become an environmental compliance system,” Lemon says. “It handles another half-dozen forms or so, including soil testing and hazardous waste.”

Now, when regulators arrive to audit UFP for environmental compliance, they can access the OnBase system directly and have the same visibility that UFP has. The process is quicker and more efficient, saving time for both the regulators and employees. UFP knows it will always be prepared for the audits despite the fact that the visits are unpredictable in terms of timing and that little advance notice is provided.

Intermediaries bridge gap

Digitizing has had many other benefits, including disaster recovery and better integration with partners and suppliers. “We have not lost any information to tornadoes or other natural disasters,” says Bangma. In addition, information from external sources can go directly into the content management system. “Many of our suppliers are small companies that do not have technology resources,” she says. “For example, we purchase lumber from members of the Amish community. When they bring paper documents, we scan them in right away and they become a part of our system.”

One critical ingredient of success has been the role played by Lemon and Bangma in the development of the environmental applications. “We help design and roll out the enterprise applications,” Bangma explains, “including those in HR, payroll and accounting.” On Lemon’s team are project managers geared toward specific programs such as OnBase or SharePoint.

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