Leica Geosystems AG Selects Alfresco for Document Management and Integrates Solution with SAP and Lotus Notes

Reliability as a value - quality as a commitment - precision as a passion. As part of the HEXAGON Group, a leading provider of the integrated design, measurement and visualization technologies, Leica Geosystems, based in Heerbrugg (Switzerland), which was founded in 1819, is a world leader in solutions and technologies for detecting and processing spatial information. Over 3,700 employees in more than 120 countries are committed to meeting the challenging requirements of our customers - regardless of whether reliable measurement solutions or geo-Information services in construction or civil engineering, in agriculture, forestry or industry are involved. Leica Geosystems technologies were used, for example, for monitoring the construction of the Viaduc de Millau (Montpellier), the world's tallest bridge, mapping of high-resolution images of melting glaciers in the Alps, as well as the construction of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Numerous awards, such as the FinOvation Award, thereby underline the outstanding skills in the field of the spatial information solutions. 

 

Challenge

Due to the global orientation and work in international teams, efficient and goal- oriented collaboration is of particular importance. Their IT-based optimization, with all its possibilities, was the basis of the ECM initiative at Leica Geosystems. There were different systems for managing documents and information in the company. Content silos and related applications worked independently and did not constitute a centralized content repository. Goal-oriented cooperation in project groups was hardly possible under these circumstances. Basic functions of a document management system for avoiding duplication of work were completely missing. The requirements based on these problems set by the Research & Development department were the initial starting point for the evaluation of an enterprise content management system: Improvement of the (world-wide) project cooperation, information sharing possibilities, independent management of the project documentation, an cross-company search and provision of functions, such as versioning and check-in/out to avoid simultaneous processing of a document.

Furthermore, heterogeneous system landscape should be consolidated to integrate the vital functions of a document management system (DMS) for the connected departments, to reduce costs, to minimize administration efforts, to provide a central document repository in the medium term, as well as to make it extremely user-friendly.

The solution aims to implement the key requirements of the Research & Development department in the first step. Other criteria, particularly those geared to achieve a high degree of user acceptance, included ease of use, the ability to be integrated into already known surfaces (e.g., Email client, Windows interface or SAP), and the use of content via mobile devices. Documents should be edited offline and can be synchronized with the DMS automatically. In order to ensure worldwide access to information and documents, easy access via a web browser on the system should be ensured. 

Solution

Drawing on the requirements, in a multistage selection process, Leica Geosystems opted for Alfresco as a central content management system in 2012. The decisive factors included:

  • Extensive functionality and ease of use.
  • Support of open standards and the related excellent integration capabilities.
  • Good price-performance ratio.
  • The compelling vision pursued by Alfresco.

All requirements for the system can be implemented using Alfresco. In order to ensure integration, Westernacher Products & Services AG, a long-standing Alfresco Platinum Partner, was commissioned as a system integrator due to its extensive experience and excellent skills in the ECM environment. The clearly defined business case of the R&D department was a priority in the implementation process. The consolidation of other departments will be carried out successively and is currently underway. 

Alfresco repository is the key component that can be accessed from any browser interfaces and devices worldwide. Currently, over 1,000 internal Leica employees, external service providers and development partners are working via Alfresco. All project documentation from the R&D, Marketing, IT departments, etc. are managed via Alfresco. Team sites are available for all departments, which can be managed independently by the IT department – the respective project manager administrates the authorization system, both at the site and folder levels. This ensures that each user can only access the information needed for his/her own project work. Different departments are assigned to demand-dependent, predefined templates. These templates are then used for template- based assignment of the new project and team sites to fixed folder structures, wikis and documents. They are ready for use and can be used immediately after generation. In addition, the solution supports the document versioning requirements and the use of the check-in /-out feature. These functionalities provide the basis to avoid duplication of work, and thus fulfill one of the key requirements for Alfresco. 

To facilitate cooperation with external service providers and development partners, Alfresco Cloud was integrated, which allows to make the relevant documents available in the cloud, and to automatically synchronize with the Alfresco system via Enterprise Cloud Sync. All data is always available in-house.

The integration of SAP with Alfresco is a key component, since a large part of documents (up to 10,000 per day) reach Alfresco via SAP. Therefore, SAP and Alfresco have a bidirectional sync via the SAP and Alfresco certified software solution, connexas (provided by the Alfresco Technology Partner, pernexas GmbH), in order to make information available from both systems. The end users accessing SAP have the option to store, browse and redisplay documents in their familiar SAP-GUI environment, which are managed in Alfresco. 

To make specific metadata from SAP also available in Alfresco, a customized interface extension was developed together with pernexas GmbH, which is dynamically configurable via an XML file. This interface extension can be used to determine, for example, the file names and metadata per document, depending on the document types.

Long-term archiving: Integration with SAP is the first application case for the long-term archiving business need. A flexible framework was set up together with pernexas GmbH and Westernacher Products & Services AG, which enables automated, structured archiving within Alfresco, while simultaneously managing the physical storage systems. In the future, this framework will be extended to other applications.

User acceptance: In order to achieve maximum user acceptance, an opportunity was provided to use Alfresco via various, already known interfaces. In addition to the aforementioned SAP integration, Alfresco can be integrated directly into the directory tree of the file system and can therefore be used as a standard network drive. The communication takes place via the WebDAV protocol. Another possibility is offered by the deployment of the Lotus Notes Email Manager developed by Westernacher, through which Alfresco is used directly in the email client. Alfresco Explorer integrated into the interface can be used to send emails, store documents, find documents directly in Alfresco and start workflows using the Drag & Drop feature, without having to switch to the native Alfresco interface. In all cases, the end user does not realize that he/she is working with Enterprise Content Management, but still has access to all the features of the professional, robust solution. 

 

Results

With the launch of Alfresco, the productivity of the project work has increased considerably and the possibilities of cross-company collaboration in teams offered by Alfresco allowed Leica to reduce the process flows, and to increase the quality of deliverables.

Costs have been noticeably reduced by avoiding duplication of work, and will continue to decrease over the long term as Alfresco gets used across many departments.

Further application scenarios for Alfresco are underway:

  • Replacement of long-term archive solution by an Alfresco-based solution.
  • Integration of the scanning process to Alfresco, in order to classify scanned documents and to store them automatically in the Alfresco repository.
  • Use of Alfresco as a media asset management system, especially for the marketing department.
  • Expansion of support for mobile access to documents and information.