Burn Those Filing Cabinets, ECM Is Here

Tuesday 2nd August, 2016

As we gradually see the 1980’s vision of a paperless office being realised, the question arises of how a company can ensure they get the best value from those “virtualised” documents. Regardless of the industry sector there will always be a payroll and HR department who, despite being the original business drivers at the dawn of IT, can still be a paper intensive part of your business. Whilst we are gradually seeing modernisation in the likes of HMRC, online pay slips for example, there are still opportunities to improve internal corporate solutions.

So with a multitude of software products and cloud storage solutions what is the right answer?  That is exactly the challenge we help our clients with.  Most have already seen a proliferation of EDM solutions as people exploit “free” cloud storage offerings to meet their immediate need.  Ignoring the security implications of your data being out in an unapproved public cloud, how do you get access and exploit that valuable data. In our modern connected era, data is the new “coin” of a corporation. Not to manage and exploit that valuable data asset means you are losing market value and competitive edge.

We recommend you start with three fundamental, yet common sense questions:

  1. What do we already have, the ‘AS IS’?
  2. Why do we have it, why was one tool picked over another?
  3. What are our key business drivers? Be honest and don’t get lost in the glamour of the product.

In my experience the answers typical fall into three key decision categories.

  1. Simple to use and provision.
  2. External access for collaboration with people outside your company.
  3. Security, access and audit controls.

You will hear many terms but essentially the topic boils down to two acronyms:

  • ECM* (Enterprise Content Management) – The wider architectural conversation of what to do with all of your company data.  
  • EDM   (Electronic Document Management) – How you manage your individual documents.

Now this is where it gets interesting… EDM tools typically come with most software solutions, be it a project collaboration or scanned document management solution.  For these situations the architectural conversation tends to start with where are you storing my data and finish with how can you leverage the data into a “big data” solution. This flags a practical consideration of how the data is stored and the ability to access it. Now this is where your overall ECM strategy from your Enterprise Architecture team or an equivalent in your organisation should come into play. The ECM strategy should give a framework to ensure any product decision is validated against existing solutions (service catalogue) and confirmed as fitting into the “big picture”.  Failure to do so means you potentially start building inaccessible data islands.

Don’t fall into the trap of believing that a new shiny toy is needed when a simple upgrade of the existing may bring that modern gleam you are looking for. If a new tool is needed don’t compromise in funding the closure of the old one.  You avoid both building up a backlog of unused solutions you need to maintain and over time making your data landscape a complex nightmare. We all appreciate it is easy to reduce the funding request of a new service to get that board approval but it will cost you more in the long term.

Don’t be fooled into thinking, from the vendors sales hype, that there is a “one size fits all” solution. Your HR department for example are looking to associate documents and emails to employees, linking the tool into an existing HR work flow process. However your project delivery teams will be focused on project life cycles and linking in associated documents. There are companies that will claim to provide a single solution, but in my experience there are major compromises/customisations to make it fit everything. By applying rigor and business need into your decisions, typically you end up picking specialist products in some cases.  This then reinforces the need to have that coherent corporate data strategy.

Now let’s look at the “pink elephant” in the room…. file sharing!  

In a recent whitepaper from AIIM (sponsored by Capita) amongst many interesting findings from their survey was one little nugget “… 62% are still strongly reliant on their file-share …”. Whilst this is not a revelation to me, it is rare to see it in print. If you look at this from the perspective of the end-user you can understand why they are looking for simple solutions to address situations the standard tool does not support.  There are many private consumer solutions on the market, some free, which end-users have become accustomed to. These products tend to offer simple/transparent use with synchronicity of data into cloud storage for multi-platforms. Now that your end-users expectations have been set, the enterprise solution needs to offer that same seamless experience or you face poor adoption and/or unsanctioned private solutions.    

Whilst it would be great to live in a world where data strategies are understood and followed by end-users, the reality is people find the simplest, familiar solution to their problem. Not a revelation I know but sometimes it is hard to overcome that corporate inertia to remove those rose tinted glasses. So you can either live in an ivory tower or provide them with a solution they use because it’s both simple and familiar. A lot of those private consumer products your end-users are familiar with also provide enterprise versions (for a fee of course). These seamlessly address the corporate needs but maintain that familiar simple end-user experience. So be brave and embrace the simple reality that you will need a file sharing solution that combines the end-users expectations with the need to have the corporate safe guards.

As you can tell from the blog, what should be a simple topic about storing documents, can become very complicated if it is not part of a coherent data strategy. This is where Coeus is helping our customers build strategic operational models, architectural frameworks and the associated business cases to make an “unsexy” topic relevant to their stakeholders.

So now you have a coherent and accessible data model… the next thing to do is exploit it.  Follow Coeus on LinkedIn for other blogs around “big data” and ways to exploit and monetise your data lake.

*ECM definition was defined by AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management)organisation back in 2000