The IT Strategist’s Guide to Transforming ECM
7 habits that help you unlock the value of enterprise content
Integrate Content and Process
What is Information Flow?
Applications that merge process and content can fuel your digital transformation. You’ll elevate the value of content while running core business operations faster, more efficiently, and with greater agility.
What is the relationship between process and content?
Content creation, content sharing, and content management often occur as part of a process. Just think of all the documents that are produced, distributed, and reviewed in the process of applying for a loan, filing an insurance claim, or receiving medical treatment. In such case management scenarios, content and process really are two sides of the same coin.
Why are process and content frequently disconnected?
All too often, companies run one system to execute a business process and a separate system to manage related content. Content is managed as the output of a process, rather than as an integral part of the collaboration and decision-making that happens during a process.
How can process and content work better together?
When you build solutions that integrate process and content, you can orchestrate intelligent, dynamic information flows that automatically present content within the user’s business context. People can quickly make a decision or complete the task at hand because they have precisely the information they need, when they need it, in their application environment. You can even use the data in content to take simple decisions, freeing people to focus on more complex issues.
Wrapping process around content also ensures that valuable business assets are properly controlled and managed, and that the right information is captured and reviewed before decisions are made. To see this in action, watch this product demo video that illustrates how content and process work together to create positive customer experiences.
What is required to tightly integrate process and content?
Here are some of the capabilities needed in this new generation of integrated business solutions:
Intelligent capture and/or digitization of content from multiple sources
Contextualization of content with metadata that supports specific processes
Business rules to automate content distribution and hand-offs
Integration with line-of-business apps so content is delivered in the user’s context
Mobile support so people can view content and complete tasks while on the go
External collaboration so processes can include trusted outside partners
Indexing of all actions taken on content at every stage of the process
Governance services so content and process history can be preserved as records
How can this integrated approach accelerate digital transformation?
Combining process and content services can advance many digital transformation priorities,
- Operational excellence: Reduce cycle times and costs with streamlined processes, and increase capacity for future growth
- Engaged, productive employees: Make the user’s daily life easier and eliminate non-value-added work like re-keying information or copying files from place to place
- Enhanced decision making: Improve process outcomes by making relevant, up-to-date content instantly available at every decision point
- Better customer experience: Increase service speed and quality with a 360-degree view of customer content and interactions
- Stronger compliance: Ensure adherence with policies and regulations, and demonstrate compliance with complete process auditability
Expert Interview: Lessons Learned in Information Management
Q & A with George Parapadakis, Alfresco’s Director of Business Solutions Strategy. George has more than two decades of experience designing solutions that integrate process, content, and information governance. He is a Certified Information Professional (CIP) and has been awarded the AIIM Fellowship for his contributions to the Information Management industry.
Q: Integrating process and content is all about creating seamless information flows. What are the most common roadblocks to achieving this?
Most organizations have a messy mix of disconnected systems and repositories, built up over years of deploying tactical or departmental solutions. It’s extremely fragmented. You’ve got silos of information in closed or incomplete content stores and process gaps that are being plugged with manual workarounds. Every disconnect is a point of frustration, cost, and delay.
Q: You’ve been involved in countless business transformation projects. What are some of the biggest drivers for developing solutions to improve content-intensive processes?
Challenges with user adoption are a major driver. “People won’t use the system” is a complaint I hear over and over. Most of the time, it’s because the content repository is an add-on that isn’t tied into the users’ daily work context. People are forced to take an extra step whenever they need to find or save a file. Another typical scenario occurs when there is a directive to cut costs and the business needs help optimizing processes so it can do more with less. New regulatory requirements are also a trigger. Organizations realize that they can’t satisfy new compliance obligations with their current processes.
Q: What use cases benefit most from the integration of process and content?
Companies should focus on processes that require moving content through multiple steps, people, and departments. The more documents and interaction points, the better. Look for processes with lots of manual, repetitive tasks or that involve people outside the company: customers, vendors, partners.
Often you’re solving a case management problem. A case is opened; content is collected, shared, and reviewed; a resolution is reached and documented; and the case is closed. These use cases benefit from centralized information access and better process control and tracking. Correspondence management is another popular use case category.
Q: Can you give some specific examples?
Sure, they’re all over the enterprise: employee onboarding, supplier credentialing, incident resolution in a call center. Think about the process of activating a new customer or the review, approval, and distribution of marketing assets.
That’s the horizontal view. From a vertical perspective, we’re working with healthcare trusts to enhance the flow of patient information across the care continuum. In the financial services industry, conversations center around loan origination and fraud management. Insurers want to speed up underwriting and claims processing. For government organizations, there are opportunities to improve the handling of citizen inquiries, FOIA/FOI requests, law enforcement cases, and more.
Q: What advice do you have for enterprise architects who want to improve information flows?
TIP #1: Give content the attention it deserves. Business solutions typically focus on databases and line-of-business apps. All too often, content is treated as an afterthought and content stores become dumping grounds. Yet so many business processes revolve around content. Bringing content into the work context is a great opportunity to deliver more value to the business.
TIP #2: Make content smarter. Enterprise Architects who want to build the next generation of business solutions should use metadata and artificial intelligence to contextualize content. This is how you intelligently drive a process so that the right information gets to the right person at the right time. For more on content modeling and metadata, see Leverage the Data in Content.
TIP #3: Get ECM and BPM teams talking to each other. Most ECM projects have a process component, and many BPM projects have a content component. A joined-up approach is the best way to support a modern business and technology architecture.
7 Steps to Improving Information Flow
- Inventory Content Silos
Compile a list of disconnected content storage locations and systems across the enterprise. Understand what’s in each “silo” and the business processes the content is used in. Are you spending good money storing content that doesn’t add value to the business? How can you activate that content so that it moves through one or more processes? There are a variety of tools that automate the discovery and classification of content.
- Map Information Flows
Diagram the major information flows in your organization. Map information flows from end to end—across the entire customer journey, for example—and include any external partners. Identify the intersection points between departments and processes, and note where the disconnects, delays, and dead ends are. These are the impediments to fast, efficient information flow.
- Prioritize a Problem to Solve
Is there an information flow that’s critical to a department or digital transformation initiative? What matters most to the business and its future strategy? Consider the difficulty of the fix versus its potential impact. If you can, start small for a quick win and then iterate. It’s a good idea to break complex processes into smaller component pieces to reduce risk and accelerate results.
- Align with Business Goals
Tie the project to business outcomes. Will a streamlined information flow save time or money? Increase capacity or employee productivity? Reduce exceptions, error rates, or inconsistencies? Perhaps the solution improves customer experience or regulatory compliance, or enables a new way of working. Agreeing on metrics and goals like these will help you secure a budget and buy-in from the business.
- Engage Users in Solution Development
Start solution design with users, not an architectural blueprint. Sit down with users; watch their work process and how they interact with content. What systems do they use? What workarounds have they improvised? What slows them down or wastes their time? Taking a user-centric, design thinking approach will reveal what the solution can automate, eliminate, and simplify to improve information flow. Learn more about design thinking in the Prioritize User Experience habit.
- Address Compliance Requirements
Most processes—and the content that flows through them—have compliance requirements. Identify what’s needed in terms of records declaration and management, process tracking and auditability, and security and compliance controls. Aim for “invisible” information governance and embed these capabilities in the solution from the get-go. For more on information governance, see the Build-in Information Governance habit.
- Build on an Open, Integrated Platform
Accelerate solution delivery and time to value with a next-generation platform that fully integrates process, content, and governance services. This will be months faster than stitching together several best-of-breed products. An open platform makes it easier to orchestrate information flows between systems. Closed or proprietary products just perpetuate process and content silos.