Content strategies for corporate survival

The SharePoint juggernaut is delivering a challenge to traditional enterprise content management (ECM) solutions providers, writes Jill Nehrybecki, as well as a rare opportunity.

Its popularity shows that business and government is realising that staff will work more productively and at a much lower cost if with the help of a good ECM platform. 

This has resulted in organisations both large and small acquiring SharePoint, with many taking the further step of adding expensive customisation to broaden its reach, for instance to handle file types not natively supported in SharePoint.

But is that enough to deliver a fully fledged ECM solution that will support your organisation as it evolves?

The answer depends heavily of a definition of ECM, which has been known by any number of acronyms and is severely misunderstood and generally under delivered. 

My company Innov8 delivers ECM solutions across many industries which means I am passionate about this topic.  However, the most important thing to take away from this article is that if you don’t have ECM, you will need it sometime soon to simply remain competitive against those that do. 

Your solution needs to work the way you do, meet all the rules you need to work by, and be flexible to change as you do.  It needs to be able to automate every data and document movement that can be replaced by technology in the hands of smart software engineers. 
Put simply, ECM takes your current systems processes and software platforms, works within the competencies of your staff, and applies the rules required by your regulators.  It then brings it all together and creates an operational environment that is the most productive it can be to deliver your product or service to market.

It relieves your staff and external parties from the burden of juggling information and pushing paper.  When choosing a system to make this happen, find one that as much as possible ensures that everyone involved in the process has the exact data or document at their fingertips, when they need it, wherever they are, in the exact context they can most efficiently make use of it.

Firstly, what is “content”? 

Your content is every file and every record in any number of internal and external databases that is available to you.  It may be MS office documents, CAD files, sound files, X-rays, GIS data, ultrasounds, recipes, photographs, emails, text, voicemail messages etc. 
Content is simply the result of the keying, capturing or as output from your existing systems.  It incorporates every type of communication to and from all external and internal parties and systems that create a physical piece of data, document, file or simply put “information” that is relevant to your business. 

The creators of this content are most often your staff, contractors, suppliers, regulators, competitors and customers. It is all in its own way valuable to your business and will cost you time, effort and money if it is not managed and protected.  Moreover, it needs to be made easily available in any context from creation to destruction for any reason your business may ever need to use.  

This content creation and collection process is continual and ever increasing. Content is spread across your entire organisation in any number of databases, external drives, on desktops, on PDAs USB keys, email personal folders or on home PCs. Wherever it is, very often you simply can’t get your hands on it just when you need to.

A study by IDC a few years back concluded that there are currently 281 billion Exabytes of information in the Digital Universe. An Exabyte is one million million megabytes and studies show that it this figure is growing exponentially. Further, IDC concluded that 30% of this information is business related and is poorly managed and controlled. 

Employees who say they are overwhelmed by the volume of information they must manage and who currently say they spend hours each day just dealing with email will need to manage much more in the near future.

 How will they handle this tidal wave?  Simply extrapolating the current tools and approaches to deal with this tidal wave will not solve the problem.  A new approach was needed and ECM was created to answer the call. 

What is ECM? At the most basic level, an ECM solution replaces any manual process, communication, transmission etc with code rather than key strokes.  It ensures that all content is captured, compliant, and made immediately available to those that need it in the exact context they need it.

ECM also involves application integration.  Simply put, this opens up the flow of information between all of your software platforms, ERP systems and databases that now exist as “silos” now in your organisation.  It makes them share information or “talk” to each other.
It applies the required security to ensure your IP is safe and can only be accessed by those you trust to make the best use of it with the least effort or cost to your business. Most importantly, ECM and its business process automation reduce the cost and risks of your operation dramatically.  It ensures that all document related processes are completed in the most productive and compliant way possible, and frees your already overburdened staff to do the specialised jobs they enjoy and were hired to do.

A good enterprise wide content management solution should very quickly return on its investment by its very nature in the areas of business productivity, risk, quality, and speed to market.

It is important to understand the real cost of mismanaging enterprise content.   

Each time a piece of data or a document is created, it usually has an intended purpose.  If you are regulated by any government or industry bodies the way it is used needs to follow strict rules and your own company policies would likely require specific approvals.
Most importantly, each file needs to be saved and stored in such a way that it is easily found and modified or reused as efficiently as possible.

Most of your documentation and records have specific retention requirements. For example, in a chemical plant a CAD drawing and all associated records relating to each part of the plant must be stored and available for the life of that plant plus 10 years.  If there is an accident and records relating to that area of the plant are not available and can’t prove that the necessary safety and compliance, was in place at the time of the incident, you may be fined or jailed. 

For a pharmaceutical plant, unless during an audit you can provide the actual documents that prove compliance to FDA regulations for each batch, you may be shut down to have your plant and processes revalidated and face huge fines and production delay. 

How long would you say you spent last month searching for documents, email attachments, or for your USB in the bottom of your bag or under the seat in the car?  Let’s say it was just an hour per week (although numerous studies place the number much higher than that). 
Now multiply it by the amount of people in your organisation, your contractors, vendors and all of those that pass their time costs onto your business regardless of their use of it. Now you may begin to see the real cost of lost documents.

There are also costs to pay for poor revision/version control. How many times have you opened a document only to find that you didn’t save it after making your last changes?  Have you ever sent out a document to a client only to find that you had sent the wrong one and they had received a quote that was meant for their direct competitor?

How did it go when you tried to explain the error to your client when they discovered they were paying more?  Did you discount further, or even lose that client to your own competitor?

 If you are an engineering business, have you ever issued a CAD drawing out for construction only to find that you had sent out the wrong revision?  In your maintenance area, have you ever ordered parts and labour but later found that you had ordered from the wrong drawing, job card or BOM? 

All of these examples are likely to have a significant cost to your business and market reputation right now that are often hard to quantifying.  All can be eradicated by ECM.     

Among the bottom line benefits of going “electronic” are direct and immediate cost savings on paper and shipping and increased process effectiveness and efficiency. There is the potential to fully integrate field staff and offices into the information capabilities of the organisation rather than relying on daily overnight mail.

The amount of content is ever increasing and so are the costs and risks of mismanagement if you are still relying on manual processes. 
Imagine being able to see the last saved version of every document that is being worked on at any point in time (if you have the right security privileges)? 

How secure would you feel if you knew that every document with a specific deadline will follow an automated workflow to completion and most likely be completed on time.  Imagine that you will be automatically notified if it is likely to miss that deadline and allow you plenty of time to reroute the work, or take any other appropriate action.

Many organisations have survived the first wave of the information revolution by assembling a patchwork quilt of technology and manual systems. 

SharePoint is making great strides in the enterprise and many regard it as an ECM solution. Gartner even has it in their “magic quadrant”.  However I don’t believe SharePoint is ECM in itself. 

SharePoint does incorporate a number of ECM elements and has its place in making documentation available to your organisation.  However in order to make SharePoint  replicate your specific business processes, enforce compliance to the regulations you must adhere to, and to manage much more than the MS Office document types, you will need to add customisation. 

If your organisation is unable to employ a specialist SharePoint developer, you will be locked into the third party vendor that does the customisation for you.

Most traditional ECM vendors recognise that SharePoint is being widely adopted and each has developed modules to allow their own systems to “talk” to SharePoint. 

Of course, SharePoint is only part of the drive to place corporate-hardened collaboration and social media tools on the desktop. 
In addition to SharePoint, other products like Lotus Quickr, EMC’s CenterStage and Open Text’s LiveLink are sweeping through organisations, placing extraordinarily powerful collaboration and content creation tools in the hands of individual knowledge workers and project teams.  Google’s Wave is also now looming on the horizon.

Moreover, as many organisations are growing by merger and acquisition, your CIO is facing a moving landscape of collaborative & electronic control requirements.

Often, all this deployment is without a heck of a lot of governance or planning.  According to an AIIM survey, 57% of organisations lack any type of executive-endorsed plan for where SharePoint will be used and how.  And I’m sure the same % would likely apply to deployment of the other tools listed above.

Let’s see.  This all sounds somewhat familiar.  What does it remind me of?  Oh yeah, 15 years ago we all deployed the most powerful document creation tools the world has ever seen to every desktop, without any thought whatsoever about what we wanted to come out the other end. 

The end product for most organisations is a mess of shared drives and non-existent file structures and taxonomies.

So a key part of creating an information management strategy for the next decade is thinking through what you are trying to do with all this collaborative capability, how it will fit together with the other information systems in your organisation, how you will find stuff across these systems, and how you will eventually get rid of everything that you don’t need to keep.

The viability of this strategy will increasingly be in question as the volume of information that must be managed increases.  We are rapidly approaching the point at which only additional technology to automate information ingestion and digestion can solve the problem. 

Jill Nehrybecki  is a specialist consultant in all of the major areas of Enterprise Document, Data & CAD Drawing Management & Business Process. Her company, Innov8 Asia Pacific Pty is an Australian partner for BlueCielo Engineering Content Management and Application Integration solutions.