Is information in your organisation out of control? Roulla Yiacoumi examines ways to manage data instead of just collecting it.
Two years ago, your company website incorrectly advertised a service for $4000 instead of $40,000. In the three hours that the price remained on your website before it was corrected, 19 people visited the page and you received emails from 14 interested parties. Thirteen were understanding when you explained the error, however, one insisted you honour the price.
A week later you received a fax from their lawyer threatening legal action against your company for refusing to sell the product at the lower price. You called the lawyers, explaining the mistake, but their response was We’ll see you in court. Now, two years later, the matter is still dragging on, and several questions remain unanswered.
Who approved the $4000 price as being correct before it went live on the site? Where are those emails you received? Where is that fax from the lawyers? What proof do you have that the telephone discussion took place? What happened to the original version of that web page, which has since been changed countless times?
Being able to effectively manage content in your enterprise is fast becoming a serious and urgent issue. Today, the amount of content generated and received by an organisation is enormous, almost to the point of being overwhelming. And if that content is not organised in a way that you can find what you need quickly and easily, it’s time to implement an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) strategy.
What is ECM?
ECM is about being able to manage, search, and audit various bits of information in your organisation. This can be content you have either created or received. More importantly, it can be either structured’ or unstructured’ information.
Structured data can include employee records, invoices, and payroll. Because of its structured nature, it is generally easier to find what you need within the system.
Unstructured information, on the other hand, can include email, word processing documents, spreadsheets, instant messaging, presentations, radio segments, video clips, photos and even telephone conversations.
Graham Pullen, Asia Pacific Managing Director of Documentum, a division of information storage and management company EMC Corporation, says content management is about having the right information in the right place at the right time. The challenge lies in managing unstructured information, which could be up to 80 per cent of all information within an organisation, he says. You need to be able to track information flowing through a business, [otherwise], managers can expose their companies to risk.
Trying to keep records of unstructured data can seem impossible and is most likely to end up in the too-hard basket. However, there are now tools to help managers take control and avoid potentially devastating action taken against a business.
ECM vendors sell software solutions that can very effectively manage different kinds of information.
ECM is one of the fastest-growing areas of IT; up there with security and storage says Richard Collins, Managing Director of Interwoven, Australia and New Zealand . Any ECM solution needs to integrate fully into the business environment.
According to Mike Kearney, Senior Director, Marketing, Asia Pacific for Vignette, a business will typically, buy one component, for example, to take care of document imaging, then expand as needed.
Steve Bittinger, Research Director at analyst firm Gartner, agrees, adding that buying components separately is easier for many companies to grapple with ECM.
Why is ECM important to my business?
The obvious immediate benefit of an ECM solution is that by having a centralised place for your data, it can be more easily tracked and searched.
Information is power, but too much information is paralysing, says Tony Hughes, Managing Director of Hummingbird, a leading global provider of enterprise software solutions.
One third of employees’ time is wasted finding or retrieving information.
In many cases, an ECM solution streamlines a business operation by bypassing lengthy processes. For example, changes to web pages, which could previously only be done by a technical staff member, can now be done by anyone. Approval processes are built into the system and changes can be tracked.
Web content management distributes content authoring from the technical staff to the non technical, explains Rob Holliday, Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand , of RedDot, a content management software solutions provider.
And because changes are made using templates, it ensures a consistent feel across a site.
While ECM solutions can simplify the task of dealing with information, new laws have compelled some companies to introduce ECM systems.
Compliance is a good way to sell a product but it doesn’t necessarily have any business value, says John Brand, Vice President, Technology Research Services, at research analysts, Meta Group. People aren’t putting their hands in their wallets and handing over wads of cash. Meta Group has found the ECM solutions market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of more than 15 per cent, which will represent a US$9 billion market by 2007.
On the heels of the Sarbane Oxley Act of 2002, introduced in the US following financial scandals in corporations such as Enron, Arthur Anderson, and WorldCom , Australia saw the introduction of the Corporate Law Economic Reform Program, better known as CLERP 9, in July 2004. Both of these laws make accounting practices more exhaustive and transparent for shareholders.
Given that compliance requirements are now far more stringent, it’s no surprise that the uptake of intricate ECM solutions is in industries that are heavily regulated or governed. These include financial institutions, utilities, pharmaceutical, and government institutions.
Organisations need to know that everything about their operation is done in accordance with the law, says Martin Harwood, CEO of Tower Software. Once, when we had to prove something, we used to look for a piece of paper. Now, electronic information needs to be used as evidence. Organisations in litigation need to be able to provide non-paper documents.
But David Glynn, content management and business intelligence specialist at IBM, warns organisations against thinking of ECM as a big-end-of-town concern. SMEs have the same issues as bigger organisations, just not on the same scale, he says. How easy is it to find a piece of information in an email from a year ago, and how much will it cost the business to find that information?
University of New South Wales
When a change needs to be made to your company’s website, who takes care of it? At the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney , the responsibility came down to one person.
We used to have a web guy, says Terry Haayema, Business Systems Developer. When we needed changes to a page, we’d email the details to him and he’d make them, which worked fine when he was there.
Then there were personality issues. If there was a particular department he didn’t care for, their changes would be [last priority]. There was no content management whatsoever.
Two years ago, the university decided to overhaul the process by implementing a content management solution from Interwoven called TeamSite.
Changes to the website are now made by the actual authors of the content and go through an approval process before being uploaded to the site. It drastically sped up and improved getting content to market, says Haayema.
The software tracks all changes, including who made changes to a page on what date, and who approved it. TeamSite saves all previous versions of that page, and the website can easily revert to any earlier version of a particular page if necessary.
If someone said On August 12 your website said this’ we weren’t able to prove it, says Haayema. Now, our records will stand up in court.
Types of Content Management
There are many ways to manage content within an organisation. You’ll need to determine which ones your business needs to address:
Web Content Management
Create, publish, and manage all of the web pages for your company’s website or intranet from a central source. A record is kept of every page ever changed.
All documents, such as word processing documents and spreadsheets, can be easily accessed and updated as necessary. Every version of a document is preserved.
Share and collaborate on documents and projects in an organisation.
Document Capture and Imaging
Scan paper documents, such as faxes and letters, and store them electronically.
Records Management System
Mostly for regulatory and compliance purposes, good records are also kept for company archival purposes.
Digital Asset Management
Similar to document management but focuses on multimedia, such as images, videos, photos, and recorded phone calls.
Takes manual work processes and automates them.
Search through email for key terms.
Aurora Energy Tasmania
Two years ago, the staff at Tasmania’s only electricity retailer, Aurora Energy, were accessing individual files on a server to make changes to documents and records.
The growth in electronic documents raced ahead of our systems, says Andrea Sund, Team Leader, Information Management.
The challenge was to find a product that could manage word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.
We wanted a well-known product with the capability of introducing a good business classification scheme. It had to have a record-keeping function, be affordable, easy to implement and train staff, and available to all 600 of our users from any desktop. Enter PowerDocs by Hummingbird which was rolled out throughout the company in stages over a year.
The incremental roll-out meant we had more success than just placing the software on everyone’s machines at the same time, says Sund.
Aurora has three major locations across Tasmania , as well as 12 response centres.
PowerDocs was worth the investment, says Sund. We now have good version control, we can easily collaborate on the same document, our documents are more secure, and we can separate areas of information.