This week I attended the 2017 Alfresco Government Summit here in DC. It is part of Alfresco’s rotating 1-day summits that they hold around the world during the year. Alfresco held this year’s DC event at Nats Park, a great location for the great weather. When attendance is good, it is a solid event full of productive discussions about information governance.
This year was a good year.
As a former Alfresco employee, it was enjoyable to chat with old friends to learn what has changed, and not changed, since my departure. More importantly for TeraThink, it was great to hear directly from Alfresco executives what their priorities are and their vision for tackling them. Enterprise content management (ECM) is constantly evolving so as a leading vendor in the space, their opinion matters.
Based upon what I saw at the event, Alfresco’s priority is enabling digital transformation for organizations.
Another year and another AIIM Conference in the bag. It was a good year as the industry seems to be slowly coming to the realization that while content is a problem, the solution is to solve the business problem, not necessarily the content problem.
The industry entered AIIM17 with a debate over whether Content Services or Enterprise Content Management (ECM) should be the default name for the industry. The speakers, and attendees, basically uttered a massive, “Who cares?” We are solving problems and learning how to make sure that not just information can be found. Valuable information can be found.
It is hard to believe that TeraThink is approaching its 14th year as an organization. It all started for some of us in 2003, when two Enterprise Resource Planning experts decided to build a company based on SAP, and its rapid growth in the Federal Government. Fast forward to 2013, a core capability was our SAP expertise and rapid growth into the Momentum Financials arena. Now, as 2017 begins, our Enterprise Applications solution area is at a crossroads. We are excited about the new direction it is taking us.
This year marked the 15-year anniversary of the writing of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Today, I can’t help but marvel at the impact this collection of simple, yet elegantly stated principles continue to have, especially here in Washington, D.C.. Agile has not only changed how we build working software, it has fundamentally changed how we understand our organizations and how we define the business value we produce. With agile, many of us have learned new approaches to prioritizing our work at an enterprise scale, how we can organize our businesses, and even how we can build deeper relationships in the process. Agile development has sparked a new wave of innovation, especially in the Federal market and it’s incredible to think what 2017 will bring.
For those who are doing it successfully, being agile requires the adoption of both an agile-mindset and the incorporation of new software architectures and delivery practices. At TeraThink, we recognize that our clients have very specific needs and objectives for their implementation of agile solutions. We work closely with each client to provide their desired results. Agile is, of course, not without its challenges. Whether it is initial adoption, sustaining agility at scale, or breaking into a more effective CI/CD model, these challenges are significant. I’d like to share a few key observations and strategies that have helped our clients hit their stride with agile.
One of our core solutions at TeraThink is Information Management. It is a term that we, and the industry, use to encompass a large collection of skills and expertise centered around content and information. Information Management is also a critical part of everything organizations do every day.
How do we define that collection of skills? Stated from a high level:
Information Management (IM) is a strategy for the coordinated management of all information throughout an organization, allowing for people and systems to find and use information from within any business context.
The goal is to provide people the right information at the right time and be confident that nothing is being overlooked. We make sure that information flows as needed between every system and process. Whether we are talking about governance, content, or digital transformation, IM is at the heart of every project and sets up long-term success for our clients.
We’ve been talking about how to leverage open APIs to connect content-centric solutions together. The goal is to leverage the success from deploying point solutions without creating the numerous silos that typically accompany that approach.
The question that arises is what kind of platform providers are incented to create and maintain open APIs? Any vendor can claim to have an open API. Unless supporting those APIs long-term is core to their business model, those APIs may vanish or become closed in the future. While any enterprise content management (ECM) vendor may have open APIs, open source and software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors are the ones whose business depends on open APIs.
There has been talk of creating enterprise content management (ECM) platforms for years. They typically do not live up to the hype or expectations. The upfront investment typically required dooms most projects before they deploy their first business solution. It has reached the point where if an organization wants to implement ECM I typically walk away if I cannot persuade them otherwise.
That doesn’t mean that the need for ECM platforms don’t exist. Given the ever increasing creation of content today, it is even more important to be able to rapidly solve content-centric problems without creating numerous content silos. What is needed is an alternate approach to gaining the benefits of an ECM platform without forcing a big-bang approach to ECM with its large upfront investment.
The answer is to pick an ECM system the same way an organization picks a database system. Choose based upon the system’s ability to scale and meet the needs of the organization. An open API (application programming interface) allows the exposure of content services that can be used to add content capabilities to other applications and to build new solutions. Being open allows an organization to move forward without worrying information being bound to that system forever.
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.