It starts simply enough. Your company needs a system for managing its contracts process. The finance department goes out and purchases a contracts system. Being forward thinking, they pick one that is cloud-based so they don’t have to maintain the infrastructure. Things are going well until…
- The ability to track supporting documents from within the system is identified shortly after launch
- After finance loads supporting documents, those documents are now stored in multiple locations
- Nobody knows which version is the current version any longer
- Groups outside of finance need access to the contracts but licenses are limited
- Contracts need to be linked to their CRM and ERP records but nobody can figure out how
The contracts process may be working well but information is trapped in a system that is closed-off from the rest of the organization. The only way to have information everywhere it is needed is to duplicate it which leads to complications in managing information.
This is a common problem in organizations. Whether it is contracts, FOIA processing, investigations, or team collaboration, there are a multiple systems containing content and information needed by other business processes. The existence of shared information conflicts with the reality that many processes are best solved with different solutions.
As the world becomes digital, there is an increasing expectation for information to be available when it’s needed, where it’s needed, and that the information being viewed is the correct information. Content is everywhere but successful content-centric solutions are usually stand-alone systems, not platforms. The last couple decades are full of projects that have tried to implement enterprise content management (ECM) as a platform. Most have failed.
Because those projects tried to tackle too much at a time without directly solving business problems. Imagine buying an Oracle database and then immediately expecting every spreadsheet and Access database to be eliminated within a year after training staff in SQL. While ECM systems have easier to use interfaces than your typical database system, unrealistic expectations are continuously created.
Organizations deploy ECM and expect magic to happen. Instead, there needs to be a focus on developing focused business solutions that are open and connected to the rest of the enterprise. Having all solutions share a common ECM platform is useful but the more important goal is having business solutions that work.
When buying a solution, business people care first and foremost that it solves the problem at hand. IT typically focuses on how the solution fits into the infrastructure, ruling out solutions that are too different from their technology standards. IT’s focus should be on how open the solution is. This allows it to plug into the overall environment.
We have entered the era of the open API (application programming interface). Solutions have to have an API that allows other applications to interact and share information. These exposed services allow applications to directly interact with each other and trigger actions automatically based upon business rules. With every system owning key information, systems need to communicate with each other to provide information to the people trying to get work done.
Let’s consider the contract management application. The supporting documents needed includes sales presentations and proposals. Both may be stored in the CRM or in a collaborative system like Alfresco or Box. Rather than copy the information, the contracts management system should be able to create links to the source documents, providing the contracts team with the needed information without having to search for it, dig it out of an email, or authenticate into another system. Meanwhile, the contract is accessible from the CRM system for the sales team to quickly refer to as needed.
That is what makes an open API ecosystem. Every system not only publishes information, it consumes it as well.
Content as a Service
This is not to say that the concept of an ECM platform is outdated. Just as organizations pick their preferred database vendor, picking a preferred ECM system is an important decision. Choosing one with an open API that is cloud-based makes it work. The cloud allows for a scalable architecture that grows as more solutions leverage it, eliminating the need to make a large up-front investment in building an ECM infrastructure that can support everything from day one.
When evaluating new solutions, evaluating to see if it can fit into the existing architecture through an open API is critical. It helps insure that future demands can be met by making each solution a part of the overall business. Having it share the same ECM platform is the organization’s standard is a bonus.
Nothing a business does live in isolation. Its information shouldn’t either.
(This is the first post in a series on creating successful, open ECM platforms. The series continues with a discussion on what open ECM platforms are.)
[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on the blog of Dominion Consulting. On November 1, 2017, Dominion Consulting merged with TeraThink and are now operating jointly as TeraThink. All blog posts migrated from the Dominion Consulting website have been updated to refer to ourselves as TeraThink.]