Coping with content

Companies chasing the paperless office dream are finding out that digital content management is a nightmare that has to be tamed quickly if they are to get the most out of their terabytes to fend off competition. Sarah Gain examines content control.

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By  Sarah Gain Published  January 29, 2006

|~|rossi200.jpg|~|Rossi: The Middle East will be one of the primary growth drivers of the global ECM sector.|~|Growing compliancy and governance regulations and legislation are forcing companies to store greater quantities of information for longer periods. This makes the capture, management, storage, preservation and delivery of content and documents related to organisational processes critical.

"As more companies turn towards automating their systems, moving towards the paperless office ideal, the generation of data increases. The improved systems allow better reporting and greater productivity - all this translates into more information to store," says Alexandru Duca, manager of IT at Salalah Port Services, adding, however, that what a business "might save by implementing a new ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution, it can easily then spend on expanding its storage capacity".

In its study 'The Role of ECM in Storage Decisions: The Why, What, and How of Storing Business Critical Information', published last month, the Enterprise Content Management Association (AIIM) found that for a significant segment of the end-user community, storage of unstructured information is increasing mindshare. Three in 10 end-users report that more than 40% of their total storage spend is on storage for unstructured documents and information.

"One of the major issues AIIM wanted to explore in this survey was the interplay between storage decisions and Enterprise Content Management (ECM), and document-related concerns within organisations," says John Mancini, president of AIIM. "Content and document migration across its lifecycle remains a major challenge for most organisations - over 58% of survey respondents characterise this migration as either 'very challenging' or 'a major challenge.' The awareness of this complexity grows as end-users move along the experience curve."

Many organisations - especially larger ones - are actively working to consolidate and rationalise their storage and archiving strategies. Cost is not the primary driver behind these consolidation strategies. For those who are serious about ECM in their organisation, insuring business continuity, (41.2% characterise this as a 'critical or extremely important factor'), providing access to information across the organisation (40.8%), and reducing litigation risks (38.8%) are the driving forces behind the consolidation of archiving and storage strategies.

While in the past businesses did not pay a great deal of attention to understanding or managing the data lifecycle, awareness is now spreading that the place where digital data is initially stored is unlikely to be the appropriate place for it further down the line. This is where ECM comes in, as FileNet's marketing director for Southern Europe, Middle East and Africa, Graziella Rossi, says.

"There has been a marked improvement in the awareness levels among organisations about the importance of ECM solutions in enhancing business performance and as a critical tool to manage complex business processes," she says. "Enterprises derive a host of benefits from the technology, such as improved customer service, reduced operational costs and enhanced worker productivity."

By law, banks in the UAE have to keep all their records for five years, and therefore face a large task when it comes to content management. As such, these organisations can benefit greatly from standardising critical business processes across multiple business lines and updating various legacy systems throughout the enterprise, as Faris Saddi, IT services manager, for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), has found out.

"At NBAD, 60 million documents are produced every year. As commonly used documents have to be copied at least five times, and records have to be stored for a number of years, this meant that a large amount of staff time was spent manually searching for and managing documents," he says. "[These] documents were taking up a lot of prime space and we needed to scan the documents and move them out of the branches, and have a centralised storage that manages our critical documents."

Using an ECM solution that includes FileNet's Image Manager, Content Manager and Business Process Manager applications, based on the company's P8 platform, NBAD has streamlined its paper flow and cut down on required storage space by a third, leading to faster transactions and better services for customers.

"Bringing control and consistency to business processes, helps companies achieve their business goals," says FileNet's Rossi. "ECM solutions allow organisations like NBAD to build and sustain competitive advantage by managing content throughout the organisation, automating and streamlining operations, and simplifying management level decision-making."

According to Gartner's most recent Magic Quadrant ECM report, the content management market has continued its 10-year transition from a best-of-breed focus to more-mature, fully integrated ECM suites. Six core components make up Gartner's definition of ECM. Features such as document, web content and records management; document capture and imaging; collaboration capabilities, and workflow management, are at the heart of every effective application suite, the researchers say. "Strategically, clients are looking for vendors that can offer leadership in all of the ECM component areas, even though, tactically, they still may be buying best-of-breed solutions on a departmental basis," the report states.

As the applications can leverage common platforms and peripherals across the business the technology can lower total cost of ownership, not only in terms of hardware and software, but also in systems administration, training and custom development. Despite the relative maturity of many of the core ECM components, however, the products currently on the market still have limitations according to Gartner. One such gap is the need for a product that fulfils the requirements of the average information worker for desktop content management.

To counter this, big infrastructure vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle are putting marketing and development effort into the basic content services market segment. Typically combining core document library services with simple workflow, these applications offer less functionality and a lower price point than the traditional ECM products.

These vendors, along with Xerox, are bringing low-cost ECM functionality within the price range of small and midsize businesses, as well as delivering a basic tool priced for enterprise deployment. These moves make ECM a viable business proposition for organisations of all sizes.

"As the region adopts global practices and standards more enthusiastically, business-changing technologies such as ECM will become an even higher priority for all CIOs. The Middle East could become a primary growth driver for the ECM globally," Rossi says.||**||

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