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ECM moves on: managing the flow

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Continuous improvement

Established 80 years ago, STCU is a credit union based in Washington state; it has 124,000 members and $1.9 billion in assets. During the Y2K transition, STCU began exploring a content management solution that would be more than just a place to store information, one that would allow the organization to use the content actively.

STCU became aware of OnBase, a content management product from Hyland Software, through the reseller that was supplying its other enterprise software, and chose the product as its new solution. Sheri Deist, manager of information management at STCU, took on the challenge of owning and growing the OnBase system, starting in 1999. “I did not know a lot about IT at the time,” says Deist, “so we started slowly, with the mission of transferring the COLD [computer output on laser disc] reports from the optical drives to OnBase.”

The next step was to digitize signature cards, followed by capturing drivers’ licenses. “Paper versions of the signature cards were on file in every branch,” says Deist, “in every size and shape. We got all the backfile cards into the system and then moved forward with the new ones as they came in.” Having that information readily available through OnBase allowed timely verification of identity when members came to the credit union to carry out transactions.

Those initial steps were simple, but progress was steady over the years. STCU uses several modules for OnBase to enable numerous processes. One example is the home equity workflow, which involves sending all regulatory disclosures; obtaining, preparing and checking all loan documentation; and providing alerts for follow-ups at the appropriate times. Previously a paper-driven process subject to delays, the workflow is now an efficient digital process with automatic reminders, immediate visibility and paper consumption that is only 10 percent of the complete documentation package.

Achieving success

Initially, gaining acceptance for a new way of doing business was something of a challenge. Recently, however, Deist has detected a change in attitudes toward OnBase. “There has been a significant increase in the past year or so of people who want their information in OnBase,” she says. “Learning about what it can do and seeing what it has done in other departments—streamlining business processes and reducing paper—they want to join the movement.”

Deist attributes much of the success of the STCU implementation to the fact that she was able to create a single department that owns the solution. “In most organizations, different aspects of OnBase are owned by different departments,” she explains. “The administrative side would be handled by IT, the business side in another department and records management in a third. I have the luxury of owning all three under the IT division.”

At the same time, the process of implementing OnBase has been as much about building relationships as it has been about building applications. “I have had to be an educator and salesperson to convince people that OnBase can be used for more than storage, that processes are complementary to content,” Deist says. One of the heaviest areas of use is now in the workflow module. “Our focus isto drive workflow solutions and complement them with Integration for Microsoft Outlook 2010, OnBase Electronic Document Management, E-Forms and other applications,” she adds.

Part of the reason that STCU was able to grow with OnBase was that the product evolved over the years. “We have an annual update that ensures that we stay relevant,” says Glenn Gibson, product marketing manager at Hyland. “For example, we began adding mobile capability four years ago. Our primary goal is to support workers so they can keep business processes rolling, to capture and use information.”

Hyland is also taking a case management approach, building solutions based on a wide spectrum of information—both data and documents—that employees need to complete knowledge work. “OnBase offers a rapid application development platform that captures and coordinates information around a process, an exception or a task-related conversation,” explains Gibson. “The technology has been there all along, but we are now solving a different kind of problem and supporting a different kind of user.”

The changing role of ECM

“Today’s information world is not just a repository,” says Peter Smerald, executive director of products for EMC Information Intelligence Group, “but a cycle that begins with a customer need, and then moves to an environment in which a response is provided, which initiates a process.” Everyone along the way has to understand all that has occurred before, in context. “The information needs to capture the essence of the discussion,” Smerald adds, “and then facilitate the next round of discussion, capture metadata, send a copy to someone and grab a piece of aligned content.”

The controlled ECM is still also used as a repository, but in that context is being regarded as an enterprise library. “There is definitely a role for a source of reference information where you can look at items related to areas you are researching,” Smerald continues, “but it is not the whole story.” Documentum, EMC’s flagship enterprise content management platform, is geared toward keeping a set of related information such as FDA submissions together. EMC’s xCP software embeds process with content and an interface that guides the user through the means to interact with the content.

The biggest barrier to effective use of content in a process environment is having the proper discussion between ?process people and content people. “The process owners say, ‘Give me the documents,’ and view the world as an image that moves through a process, and the content owners had trouble understanding the line-of-business process conversation.” Each group needs to sit down and explain clearly what the other does, according to Smerald, before the two can work in synch.

Another element sorely needed in ECM today, according to Mark Gilbert, research VP at Gartner, is user engagement. “ECM systems have often been criticized as being too hard to use. It’s important to focus on users, and see how the content can help them in their daily work,” he says. Some of the challenge is in making a system built 10 or 15 years ago look and feel current. “Many users today are almost constantly updating the apps they use on their smart phones and tablets, searching for something that is cool, easy to use, and exploits the capabilities of their smart phone,” Gilbert says. “Developers and business planners would be wise to take a page from the app store playbook, and think in terms of ease of use and modern interfaces.”


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