Content management technology gaining cachet in the enterprise

As the assistant director of Academic Technology at Montreal’s Concordia University, Aaron Brauer concedes that building a business case for enterprise content management (ECM) involves a variety of intangibles. But since the university’s new content management system now enables Concordia to access electronic information in minutes — that which used to take hours, even days — Brauer wouldn’t have it any other way.

With over 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 400 faculty members, Concordia stores a lot of data. In the dean’s office of the faculty of Arts and Sciences alone, Brauer notes that between workload letters, contracts, sabbatical applications and performance review and curriculum vitae, the school stores approximately one million pages of faculty dossiers.

Concordia initially developed a content management system (a Documentum/Xerox solution) back in 1998. And as an early adopter of content management, Concordia has seen the technology evolve from a thick desktop client to a Web-based interface.

Clearly defined, ECM enables organizations to capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. Concordia needed a system that would allow staff to find faculty documents in a much more efficient manner. The school chose Documentum because, at the time, it provided the best performance of and functionality, Brauer said.

Previously, the dean’s office captured information which was duplicated in the faculty personnel office. But when it was time for tasks such as contract renewal for tenure track members, or when faculty was applying for tenure or annual workload assignment, to be completed the entire dossier would have to be pulled so that documents could be found. Given that some faculty members have been at the school more than 25 years this created an enormous task, Brauer said.

Rich Buchheim, senior director of content management for Oracle Corp. said the company is interested in the ability of the database to become a management tool for unstructured content. “The database historically has grown to be the tool of choice for transactional data, decision support analysis and dealing with data that appropriately lines up in tables and rows,” Buchheim said. Oracle has been looking at the database to manage all that other information, Buchheim said, which for most enterprises represents 70 to 80 per cent of all data.

ECM vendors are also moving to integrate content management and portal technology. A combination of regulatory, governance, and compliance challenges, along with the desire to leverage enterprise content across a variety of applications, is driving interest.

In particular, Stamford, Conn.-based The Yankee Group Inc. noted that in 2005 ECM vendors are expected to add functionality such as project-based collaboration with external parties and Web-service integration across subsystems and application suites.

Energy and transmission provider Hydro-Quebec recently implemented an ECM solution to update and maintain its more than 500 intranet sites. Claude Malaison, intranet coordinator for Hydro-Quebec, said the technology provides the Montreal-based firm with enhanced and detailed workflow along with the ability to publish in different formats such as XML. After conducting a broad survey on the market, Hydro-Quebec decided on RedDot XCMS.

According to Detlef Kamps, president of RedDot Solutions, the XCMS enterprise content mid-market offering allows for enterprise management of all unstructured content using a single sign-on user interface. The XCMS product also provides online collaboration and business process automation, Kamps said, adding that this ensures that organizations comply with industry standards and regulatory requirements.

Hydro-Quebec needed for a tool that was simple enough for non-technical users to use, Malaison said. In addition, there was the need for workflow processes that would force approvals on the appropriate pages, Malaison noted, with the ability for content to be updated quickly by content owners rather than waiting for updates from IT.

But before rushing to implementation, enterprises should first evaluate the current state of its policies, business processes and information systems. Case in point: Concordia ultimately decided to convert the entire faculty of Arts and Science records (more than two million pieces of paper) into electronic forms to store on a content management server. This was a huge undertaking. In hindsight the school should have stored the most current articles first, Brauer said, and archive the historical data on a gradual basis.

As a result the entire process took a couple of years and required a permanent archivist to manage to project of converting the records into electronic form.

In offering advice to organizations, Brauer notes “start with what you have today and don’t go back.” Overall, Brauer estimates that retrieving and searching physical dossiers was costing the school more than 1,500 hours annually in lost staff productivity. On top of this, documents were often scattered across multiple offices which compounded the need for a central data repository, he added. Not to mention that this process was prone to human errors, Brauer said, adding that the data duplication problem meant staff spent even more time, after retrieving information from the dossier, in order to ensure it was the most current version.

The plan was to streamline processes by storing documents centrally and electronically, which would be then filed by name and document type. The system organizes data intuitively in a logical folder structure, Brauer said. Presently, the school no longer relies on paper-based records. Paper documents are scanned and immediately archived offsite, Brauer said. Documents are accessed electronically; faculty can access the Documentum repository from their desktop PC.

The technology enables Concordia fast access to documents and the ability to query the repository on the basis of file attributes. As a result the entire process is now completed in seconds with a few mouse clicks, and complex searches are further simplified because all documents are filed by attribute, Brauer said.

The system has now been rolled out to four faculties at Concordia to handles the day-to-day content management needs. Content comes in and gets stored in the repository where it is accessible and can be queried and the paper goes to archive hopefully never to be needed, Brauer said, adding that the school is in the process of putting the entire student registration and application process online. For Concordia, the goal was not in being a totally paperless environment, but to streamline processes that took too long when stored exclusively on paper, Brauer said. The Documentum solution allows Concordia to not only store information in a repository but also provide a database to query attributes about the content as well, he added.

According to Whitney Tidmarsh, vice-president, content management for EMC Documentum, advances in ECM technology means that it is becoming easier capture documents and to integrate them into enterprise-wide ERP and CRM applications.

Decision makers at Concordia about admissions now have electronic access to all of the supporting documents, Brauer said. For example, admission counselors can access, from the desktop, the complete record of all of the documents that make up the dossier, Brauer said.

In the end, building a business case for enterprise content management isn’t necessarily about hard figures, Brauer said, “rather, it’s about the intangibles.”

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