How do I get more value from my Content Manager system?

By Nigel Carruthers-Taylor, iCognition

Several customers have asked us how they can change the way they manage records using Content Manager to get a better return on their investment. They tell us that they no longer want their Content Manager system to be the single source of truth. Why? Because staff are required to understand how and when to use Content Manager. That is, Content Manager is enforcing a centralised repository model, which means staff need to take extra steps in capturing, managing or searching for records – something they would rather avoid.

These extra steps of moving or capturing the records to Content Manager are onerous in a busy work environment where staff need to collaborate on information and use certain systems or repositories, such as M365 or network drives. Equally so, staff find it difficult to quickly find information within Content Manager. This is because they might not use it very often, can find the different search and navigation functionality difficult, or simply don’t want to navigate to a different system for information retrieval.

Can we overcome these issues using Content Manager? Or does this require a radical overhaul of the systems and processes for records and information management? Before I answer this question, let’s define what I’m talking about.

Who is Duranti and why should you care?

Content Manager drew inspiration from  Luciana Duranti’s model of records management; i.e. where records are collected together in a single system to be managed as an aggregate. Most traditional ECM systems took up Duranti’s model. They were designed with the focus of having all the organisation’s vital digital content stored in a single repository where it can be managed according to governance rules, including records management. Typically, they focused on a single repository accessed by a limited set of interfaces requiring users or processes to push content/records into the system. Users then need to understand the ECM structures and search paradigms to recall that content.

The key to Duranti’s model was the capture of content to clearly defined records structures. It has made EDRMS and ECMs, including Content Manager, largely successful for over 50 years. Using this model, Content Manager successfully evolved from a classic hardcopy records management system to an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS), and then into an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. More recently these models have evolved into Content Services Platforms (CSP), which is important, and I will come back to this in a moment.

Duranti’s model is not all bad but it’s limiting your approach.

Duranti’s model remains valid where there is a need for strong governance and a single point of access to information. However, this model is limiting organisation’s ability to keep up with the information explosion and seeking more innovation. Where there’s a large amount of content, or a need for users to work within their chosen applications and line-of-business systems without forcing them to find their information in a separate ECM repository, this model fails to keep up.

Records management by stealth.

To address this, we have seen the rise of the in-place records management model used by Microsoft and promoted by the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This attempts to hide records management or do ‘records management by stealth’ so that records are identified, auto classified, and managed ‘behind the scenes’ in the repository or system they are created.

While hiding records management aims to allow staff to just get on with their jobs in corporate applications, there are a few issues with in-place management. The key issue is that in-place management usually comes along well after the horse has bolted. That is, organisations have badly organised information repositories where content is stored in poorly defined structures. These may make sense to a small number of people at the time but certainly not when those people or the activity moves on. Often these structures also suffer from access control issues where access is limited to a few staff.

This is seen in organisations that try to implement in-place management after the Microsoft 365 or Google sprawl is out of control. All this results in poor navigation or discoverability, poor recall and re-use of information, compromised long-term preservation and disposal, and difficulties in delivering the right information at the right time.

So, circling back to the question of adapting Content Manager to overcome the issues of users not wanting to move content to another repository, the in-place model can unquestionably help to some extent. It can take away that burden by using automated methods of identifying and managing records, thus letting users just get on with their jobs in corporate applications.

Content Manager can certainly enable in-place management, with recent versions having some in-place management capability. More in-place capabilities are on their roadmap, and there are a bunch of exciting innovations that Micro Focus and third parties add to Content Manager for in-place management, such as File Analysis Suite and Power Automate solutions.

The in-place model by itself is not the answer.

Let’s look past the in-place model. I argue that staff do want to know about records management rather than it be hidden from them. Not because they care about it or want to do it, but because they want to be reassured that their records are valued and add to the overall corporate narrative. More importantly, they want to be confident that they are creating and using the source of truth within the organisation.

Essentially, it comes down to the age-old information management dictum – staff want to know they are ‘using the right information, at the right time, and in the right process’. Unfortunately, the in-place model fails at reassuring the user that they are using the right information at the right time, as it can result in replicated content across multiple repositories.

Certainly, in the short-term, allowing staff to operate in systems and repositories that they are familiar with achieves the immediate need. It meets the usual 2–3-week cycle of immediate information access requirements, but this is usually only for a small group of staff. What happens when the information access need exceeds these boundaries? For example, when a staff member needs access to information beyond their normal system and repository access, or when the information they need is older, or even when they are not sure what exactly they are looking for?

The in-place model does not reassure staff that they have the latest version or are getting the right information at the right time to do their job.  Even in local and well-known repositories versions can get out of control. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against in-place models. They have their place; especially when there is a larger volume of low to medium value content that needs to be managed automatically.

The aim, ideally, is to remove the burden from staff of moving or capturing records to Content Manager, as well as assuring staff that they are using the right information at the right time. Getting the right information at the right time goes well beyond ‘just search’. It goes to the heart of what is the trusted source of information, and how can I be assured that I am using the trusted source. A good search engine will find any information that matches your search criteria, but how do you know it’s the right version, the approved information, or even valid information?

It’s actually digital transformation.

This is where your information management problem is actually a digital transformation problem. That is, to consider how we make the right content accessible at the right time in the right process, we need to understand the processes and systems that we are trying to support. To address this, we need to understand what service we are providing, what the expected outcome is, and what information is vital to that process. Once we understand that, we will understand where and how to manage the information. Subsequently, we can investigate whether the Duranti model, the in-place model, or indeed a hybrid approach is best placed to support the desired outcome.

It is a matter of making sure the horse is before the cart. Information managers need to understand what digital transformation looks like: an organisation-wide culture of automated processes, customer-centric services and agile, seamless information flows. Digital transformation is redesigning the way that a service is provided to make experiences and lives better and investing in technologies and processes that enable an effective and satisfying service experience.

Delivering on a digital transformation strategy requires a flexible architecture, where the users’ preferred applications can provide the right content, agnostic of the repository or technology. A flexible architecture is also a more complex one, so a Content Services Platform (CSP) that can orchestrate an integrated ecosystem of different information sources and formats is required. This platform needs to identify, classify and tag information so it can be found and retrieved by services and applications. The issue of how you aggregate and manage that content is then based on what the information needs are within the processes and services, and ensuring users have the best experience in accessing this information. Answering that question is critical to solving how to manage all this information.

Here is where we answer how to re-purpose your Content Manager system. Essentially, we need to apply this CSP approach to flip Content Manager usage on its head. Content Manager is no longer a central repository for all information; it will be one of the sources of truth but importantly, it will hold a central index to where information is stored. Content Manager becomes a compliance authority in this model, holding the central policies on classification and retention, and using these to classify and tag content across multiple repositories.

To get the most out of your Content Manager system (or any traditional ECM, for that matter), you need to take it along the digital transformation journey and make it become part of your Content Services Platform. By doing so, where information is held is recorded (like a central index) – whether in Content Manager or some other repository – and assists in delivering the right information into the right business processes within business applications.

Making Content Manager part of your CSP.

Content Services Platform is a term that has been around for some time; Gartner replaced the term ECM with Content Services Platform back in December 2016, defining it as “a set of services and micro services, embodied either as an integrated product suite or as separate applications that share common APIs and repositories, to exploit diverse content types and to serve multiple constituencies and numerous use cases across an organization.”

Let’s simplify that definition: CSPs are the next generation of ECM based on APIs and integration capabilities that manage and provide access to content in multiple endpoints. It connects information sources and systems, allowing users to access relevant content. Significantly it needs to know where important information is and needs to assure the user they are using the trusted source. Understanding this last point will help you decide if the Duranti model or the in-place model best suits your outcome, and thus how to best use your Content Manager system to achieve that outcome.

How to deliver the right information at the right time?

While there’s no doubt that Content Manager can fill this need, it may need a few other technologies added to ensure it provides a comprehensive Content Services Platform. For example, you need an integration framework that allows you to ensure the access to information in Content Manager blends into the corporate application, making it look like it’s just part of the application.

Adding Artificial Intelligence (AI) smarts to your CSP is also important. AI will allow the CSP to automate classification, automate capturing, extract metadata, get rid of duplicates, secure the content, redact things like personal identification information, and a lot more. Once content is known and validated, you will also need non-code or low-code full graphical workflow with advanced capabilities to quickly automate processes, access and route content across different stakeholders.

From that point, the ability to deliver the right information at the right time in the context of your service design is ready. The underlying records management models and information architecture become part of that design to deliver on specific service outcomes. Even simple search and find of the right information across multiple repositories becomes reasonably easy.

Conclusion? Make Content Manager part of your service delivery.

In conclusion, to change the way you manage records using Content Manager and to get a better return on your investment, flip the problem on its head. Begin by asking yourself what services are we transforming? How do we redesign the way that our services are provided to make experiences and lives better? Then ask yourself what information is vital to that process. Once you understand that, consider how this information will be delivered within the service. That will lead to how to manage it to ensure it is the trusted source, select the appropriate records management model to apply, and position Content Manager to fulfill that need.

By making Content Manager part of your Content Service Platform within your Digital Transformation program you will achieve your desired outcome. Content Manager has the capability and the technology to achieve this outcome; it has the API and integration requirements to fit with other complimentary technologies within your enterprise platforms to ensure services are delivered effectively. Re-purposing Content Manager in this way will achieve a greater return on investment for years to come.

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Nigel Carruthers-Taylor is Principal and Executive Director of Information Management and Governance (IMG) specialists iCognition. Nigel has over 25 years’ experience in delivering enterprise IMG strategies, solutions and services to organisations which manage information as a vital corporate asset. He has helped organisations develop IMG Strategic Plans, define solution requirements, and transition to iCognition’s Content Manager cloud (EDRMSaaS).