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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Perfect ECM Architecture - Part 2

Hopefully you enjoyed Part 1 of this article and had a giggle at the analogy!

How should an organisation execute on their ECM requirements - well, to draw upon a similar analogy you need a vehicle and visit your local showroom. You are shown a real-vehicle, go for a test-drive, negotiate the price and when you get to the delivery day - the vehicle you selected is waiting for you with a full-tank of petrol ready to drive away. All you have to do is tune in your favourite radio stations, put the drivers-seat in the right position and set the mirrors correctly. Buying an ECM solution should be as straight-forward - the solution architecture you get should be like the car you buy from a dealer - the parts come from one manufacturer, have been designed to work together seamlessly from day-1 and all you need to do is configure it to your requirements. There should be no need to bolt the solution together and hope it all works, you shouldn't need to spend time and money with 3rd party suppliers to help you get it running!

We believe that the perfect ECM architecture should look something like this....

So, how should this all work???

The ECM solution should provide the ability to manage ALL of your unstructured information as easily as you manage your structured information. Managing unstructured data across a relational database AND a file-store(s) AND an index is painful, time-consuming and costly. Managing unstructured data WITHIN a relational database is easy, cheap and occurs using the common database management tools and processes you have already developed and deployed for managing structured data. Unstructured data should be stored, managed and protected within the repository and able to be leveraged by other systems including enterprise search using a common set of open-standards tools and APIs.

The ECM platform should be singular in its architecture and approach. You should not have to use different tools and interfaces for managing different types of unstructured data. It should be easy and seamless to create a new HR policy, for example, through MS-WORD (and SharePoint?) review and approve the policy using a template-driven workflow, convert to PDF (or HTML), publish to your portal, intranet or extranet, apply a retention policy appropriate to the document-type and its context and apply digital-rights all through a single solution.

The ability to archive any information from any system should be a component of the ECM solution. A lot of data exists in file and email systems for example. The ability to ingest this data, leaving a 'stub' of metadata is a deliverable that most IT managers will be interested in as it provides back-end benefits. Integrations with ERP and CRM systems to archive data and deliver data is crucial in the improvement of business processes - an example of this is Accounts Payable/Receivable where delivering a digitised image of an invoice, for example, reduces organisational risk and speeds up the payment process. This is driven by image capture, which is ideally also provided as a part of the ECM solution and delivers the ability to acquire (the process that occurs immediately after capture/scanning/eFax-delivery) physical information, tag/categorise/classify, and ingest into the repository.

Underpinning a deployment of Microsoft SharePoint is another area where a complete ECM solution will provide real benefits to an organisation. We all know what SharePoint is good at and most organisations are rapidly becoming aware of its limitations. As a user-interface supporting office-level collaboration SharePoint is great. However, for a larger organisation - its deployability presents some concerns, typically around the number of repositories it can create to support scalability. Providing a true-enterprise repository to support these multiple silos of unstructured data means that common and consistent records and storage policies can be applied and that data can be shared and leveraged by the organisation as a whole.

An organisation may already have tier-2 or tier-3 solutions in place to manage components of ECM such as records or web-content. A complete ECM solution will provide the capability to integrate with these environment to perform one or more of the following functions. Migration, easily support the rapid migration of unstructured information into the enterprise repository enabling the legacy solution to be decommissioned. Federating ECM functionality, such as unified records management, into the legacy repository enabling the application of common and consistent records policies to be applied to unstructured data without the need to migrate information. Leveraging the legacy solution through enterprise search enabling the organisation to find unstructured and structured data through a single search regardless of the repository where data is stored.

Finally, end-user content consumption and interaction through the organisational web-presence environments is becoming a key-focus for businesses around the world. Recent reports have highlighted that in order for a organisation to be successful in the current and projected economic climate, a closer relationship with its customers and partners needs to be established. This occurs in two key ways - publish and interaction.

The first of these, Publish, predominately supports the Internet or any other web-presence where content-consumption is the lead requirement. Content is created and managed within the ECM solution and then, as a part of its lifecycle, published to a website. End-users access the site and either navigate or search for information and land at the published content. In order for this to be successful and for the organisation NOT to end up with a management overhead because they selected a separate app-server/portal-server and ECM solution from different vendors - the ideal solution is to have a single solution in place. This enables the website and the ECM solution to be integrated in such a way that management and administation occurs once. New content, with potentially new categorisation resulting in a change to naviagation, is created, managed and published and ALL changes required around the content occur naturally and automatically. New classification results in the navigation hierarchy being modified - the user, or administrator, does NOT need to create a new 'node' on the menu manually.

The second, interaction, enables multi-directional web-based communication between an organisation and its customers and partners. Recent developments in web-technologies resulting in the adoption of Web2.0 and the popularity of social-networking sites such as FaceBook and mySpace have raised questions with organisations around how this can be of real-benefit to the business. Qualification has taken place around the investments required to return value to the business and organisation like Oracle have invested in initiatives like SocialCRM and its Enterprise 2.0 offerings. The interactive environment will allow employees, customers and partners to consume and contribute information within an easy-to-use (i.e. minimal training required) environment and is totally integrated with the ECM solution. Information from varying systems should be accessible through this single environment - allowing the mashing together of data, e.g. from the ERP, CRM and ECM environment to provide better context around information and participation within the creation and review process.

All of this functionality and capability is available from a handful of tier-1 ECM vendors including Oracle. Tier-2 and tier-3 ECM vendors can offer part of the overall ECM requirement but do so through an imperfect architecture - often requiring multiple UI's or repositories to be deployed or compromising on functionality or capability in some way.

I look forward to reading your questions and comments about this article - I'm sure it will raise many amongst our readership.


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