It’s Not Your Grandad’s BPM Anymore

Enterprise content management has gotten really complicated. No longer simply a way to send one document to the next person and the next person, ECM is now the central motor driving business processes. And to make it MORE complicated, a new kid on the block, case management, (or “adaptive case management,” if you must) has entered the scene and created a new venue for content managers to moderate business problems.

I spoke with two very knowledgeable creators of case, ECM and knowledge management recently, and I’ll take them in turn. First is Dave Jones, solution marketing manager for cloud and architecture at Hyland, creator of OnBase. He’s based in the UK, and gallantly worked with me even though he was in the middle of jury duty. Do they still wear powdered wigs for that? I wonder. (Thanks, Dave.)

Next up is Bob Ragsdale. vice president, marketing for MicroPact, a really interesting company based in Virginia and serving primarily the Federal government market. Both are well spoken and smooth characters, so I will let their comments stand for themselves.

I start with Dave:

ANDY: “This might be atheistic to the hard-core technology freaks out there, but I’ve often said that there is no such thing as an ‘ECM product.’ ECM is, to me, better described as a strategy of aligning departmental content management systems under an overlying strategy. Is that a correct assessment, do you think?”

DAVE: “To a degree. For me ECM is both a strategy and a number of tools to execute against that strategy. In the past that has typically been tools focused on specific ‘ECM’ functionality areas such as capture, workflow, redaction, retention and so on. However, moving forward I firmly believe that ECM has moved from being a series of tools to standing on the verge of being the foundational platform that all business-related applications and software can be built on and/or into. However more recently, with the introduction of case management functionality, ECM has changed from being a tool or a solution to being an application-creation platform, allowing users to create, often completely code-free, specific business applications. These case management applications can make use of not only the unstructured content (documents, images, etc) typically stored in ECM solutions but also structured data created by any of the applications. This centralized application development from a single content source, still with the ability to integrate to external applications, is a powerful platform—especially on the basis that regular business teams are the developers. For me, this is the perfect symbiosis of strategic and tactical, with those defining ECM strategy within an organization being able to directly specify and craft custom tools to deliver against their exact needs. For me this is the future of ECM and a defining moment in the history of the industry.”

ANDY: “Everyone agrees that a content management vision and strategy must be aligned with the organization’s business imperatives and processes. Question: Whose job is it to create and articulate that vision? And if it’s truly an enterprisewide strategy, how can it be translated into the various departmental ‘lingos’ that have to be addressed?”

DAVE: “I think this links back to the first question. Having one overriding, enterprisewide strategy is very difficult to define, let alone deliver—somewhat due to the departmental lingos, but more to the fact that different parts of the business tend to have very different business requirements when it comes to ECM. In my experience, often a more effective way of approaching a content management vision and strategy is from the ground-up as well as top-down. By that I mean by exploring the various departments’ requirements before defining an overall strategy or preferred ECM toolset. This allows a full picture of requirements, content types and volumes, associated external applications to be integrated to and key processes to be fully evaluated and then combined with the overarching requirements of the business from a compliance and regulatory viewpoint.

“With regards to who is responsible for this within an organization? That, of course, depends on the organization. Ideally a VP of content management would exist with sufficient teeth to be able to action such a strategic review and execution. But, in reality, they don’t exist.

“Therefore, let me define the requirements for the role. It requires the ability to work independently of departmental politics, essentially surfing all departments to serve them all equally well. It requires the ability to work with the C-suite as well as understanding information coming from the back-office staff. It requires understanding of ECM technology, content structures AND how the business works. Combine all of these aspects with the structure of a project manager, the diplomacy of a UN peacekeeper and the patience of a saint and you may well have the perfect person!

“Seriously though, you do need someone with sufficient authority within an organization to, at least champion but ideally, run this project. Getting the content management vision and strategy defined AND working within an organization is challenging and is certainly not a quick task. It is a long-term commitment to do things properly, but those getting it right will have a significant competitive advantage over those that don’t.”

ANDY: So I had to ask Dave about value versus efficiencies. “Everyone likes to stress ‘value’ creation,” I asked. “But don’t you find that customers look to ECM more as a ‘defensive’ cost-saving initiative? Or perhaps that’s the initial justification, and the way to get the project funded, while the ‘value prop’ comes later.”

DAVE: “Those that see ECM as a defensive, cost-saving initiative are likely to never see true benefit from their ECM deployment. They will constantly be focusing on cutting costs, reducing inefficiencies and the more ‘defensive’ aspects of what ECM can do. However, those that come into an ECM project with a more positive, progressive—some would say ‘innovative’—mindset are more likely to achieve greater value. Yes, ECM can optimize areas such as accounts processing—and there are significant benefits to be had there. But look at areas such as remote or mobile access to content for field workers, the ability to interact with processes quicker and from wherever you happen to be, integrating to key line of business applications to reduce data rekeying and enhanced access, and many more. These areas are where multiple value propositions can be defined for each and every ECM deployment. Move beyond that into the use of ECM as an application development platform and every single excel spreadsheet based ‘tool’ within the business can be re-imagined in a more effective, robust and integrated manner. So if like Sun Tzu in his seminal piece The Art of War, you use defense as a means to attack then yes, ECM is a defensive measure—but in all other interpretations ECM should be seen as a strategic, forward-thinking decision with the number and type of value propositions only being limited by the imagination of the deploying organization.

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