Take a Content Services Approach
The IT Strategist’s Guide to Transforming ECM
Content services are the next-generation approach to enterprise content management (ECM), one that’s ideally suited to modern ways of working and delivering software solutions.
Content services platforms are open, modular, flexible, and cloud-ready. They include a set of content management features, tools, and repositories that you can use to maximize the use and value of enterprise content. The services for managing content—storage services, library services, workflow services, etc.—are lightweight and easily embedded into other systems via open APIs.
With a content services platform, you can provision content services quickly, cost-effectively, and across the many systems and devices that make up your IT environment. Developers have a powerful toolkit for building and deploying solutions that address a wide variety of content use cases. And users benefit from meaningful experiences that integrate content into their everyday work processes and applications.
Content services platforms deliver capabilities and benefits that extend well beyond legacy enterprise content management (ECM) systems. In fact, Forrester and Gartner have renamed the ECM technology category “content services” (or “content services platforms”) to reflect this transition in the market.
Here’s how the two technologies differ:
The open, modular, API-led architecture of content services platforms gives you the agility to address current realities, including the move to the cloud, the explosion in digital content, the rise in data-related regulations, the expectations of mobile, tech-savvy users, and the pressure to deliver fast, iterative innovation in support of digital transformation goals.
Legacy ECM solutions, with their decades’ old architecture, simply can’t keep pace with today’s dynamic business and computing environment.
Here are some specific ways you can use a content services approach to benefit business and IT alike:
Accelerate Solution Delivery
Take full advantage of modern software architectures and development practices that accelerate the pace of innovation. A modular content services platform that uses open APIs and is architected for the cloud can cut implementation time from many months to mere days. Content services are also well-suited to iterative software delivery methods, like Agile, so you can respond quickly to changing business needs.
Advance Your Cloud Strategy
Gain agility—and a great payback—by migrating your content services workload to the cloud. Content services really benefit from the cloud’s elastic scalability and low-cost storage resources. You can support mobile, geographically dispersed users as well as use cases that require sharing content with external partners or customers. And you have the flexibility to store content in a specific location for performance or compliance reasons.
Provide an Easily Consumed Shared Service
Encourage IT efficiency and responsiveness with centrally managed content services that teams across the company can tap into for their applications. Developers can focus on meeting business needs without worrying about back-end issues like scalability and resiliency. They can also upgrade their solutions without breaking content integration. This strategy also allows you to set up enterprise-wide rules to govern and secure content as it moves between locations, systems, and devices.
Develop Dedicated Application Experiences
Better meet users’ needs by avoiding a “one-experience-for-all” approach. With content services, you can deliver experiences tailored to specific use cases, applications, and content delivery channels. Some platforms feature a client-side application development framework, with pre-built content services components to speed solution delivery. Look for a platform that uses modern UX / UI technologies so you can build engaging, responsive applications across mobile, web, and desktop.
Build a Platform for Digital Business
Many progressive companies have assembled a set of functional capabilities into a digital business platform to power their digital transformation strategy. Content services are a core enabling technology, along with process and governance services. The solutions built on these next-generation platforms enhance customer experience, increase employee productivity, and digitize core business processes.
Like many forward-looking enterprises, this Fortune 100 insurance company is transforming its IT systems to enable a faster, more agile digital business.
Using the Alfresco platform, the insurer created a global, shared content service that runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS). “It’s a strategic solution because this is how we envision content and document services going forward,” says the insurer’s Director of ECM and IM Governance.
According to the Director, the global shared service “provides a flexible backbone that can be purely ‘plug and play’.” Internal customers from around the world can sign up for content services almost instantaneously—“just like you do with AWS.”
The first use case for shared content services was to streamline underwriting, a 24/7 operation spread across multiple regional offices. Looking ahead, the insurer sees opportunities to leverage content services in claims, broker, and back office applications.
Faster Time to Market
Increasing underwriting efficiency is valuable, but the Director says the big payoff for shared content services is accelerated time to market. “The speed with which we are getting to onboard new businesses and the document services they need is really the key.”
For example, the insurer took advantage of pre-built content services and Agile development methods to expedite the launch of a new insurance product in Australia. The local team designed, refined, and deployed the required IT systems in less than three months.
Agility of a Microservices Architecture
The rollout of shared content services is part of the insurer’s move to a microservices architecture, a shift that enables agile delivery and scalable deployment, especially in a cloud environment. The Director envisions an IT infrastructure with multiple, easily integrated components that perform a specific service and “fit in with six other services to provide an end-to-end process solution for users.”
“The end vision is to be competitively ahead in terms of our nimbleness and our agility,” the Director concludes.
Microservices are a flexible, efficient approach to developing and deploying modern applications. Rather than wrestle with a “big ball of mud,” you break a complex, monolithic system into smaller, self-contained microservices that provide a specific business capability. Then you connect independent microservices via well-defined API contracts to deliver a cohesive user experience.
Why Make the Move to Microservices?
Digital transformation, cloud migration, and the adoption of DevOps are driving the adoption of microservices patterns. Here’s what you gain:
Agility: Each microservice is built and operated independently. You can tweak, test, and do continuous delivery without putting the entire application at risk.
Speed: Microservices are functional building blocks that you can reuse to fast-track solution delivery. You accelerate the pace of innovation, while increasing IT efficiency.
Scale: You can scale individual microservices as needed. This optimizes the use of computing resources and gives you more flexibility in how you grow.
Flexibility: You can make design and deployment decisions based on the specific needs of the microservice and your team’s skills and preferences.
Focus: Developers and operations work hand-in-hand, and often with users, to solve a specific business problem. This focused approach can yield more successful software solutions.
Here are some basic considerations for maximizing your return from a content services approach:
Start by fleshing out the use case and how content fits in. Consider, for example, an enterprise sales process that moves from lead to opportunity to customer. What content is involved? What is its lifecycle? Who needs to access the content, and what will they do with it? What systems does the content flow between?
This is a modeling exercise that involves detailing all the interactions people have with content as part of an overall business process or user experience.
To define the scope of your microservices, draw boundaries around content and content flows within the use case. These should be discrete units of functionality that are powerful enough to solve a problem, and that you might want to scale and evolve independently. For instance, to support the sales process, you might create a microservice to manage the review and approval of proposals and another to manage customer onboarding and related documents. The goal here is to strike a balance between level of granularity and the overhead required to manage lots of individual microservices.
A key element of a microservice is its API. Think about how content interacts with other applications and parts of your infrastructure; this will determine what that API should look like. You want to create an interface that can be easily integrated, and that is flexible and long-lived.
With a well-designed interface in place, you can readily adjust to new business and technology needs. You can change where content is stored, for example, or scale out the implementation as user or content volumes grow.
One common approach for teams adopting microservices is to slowly replace functionality in a monolithic application. Carve out a non-critical capability that is fairly loosely coupled with the rest of the application. Build the microservice, give it an interface, and then plug it into the system.
In keeping with Agile development methods, you can test, learn, iterate, and expand from there.