Enterprise Software

Integrating content management systems across the enterprise

Many large financial services companies have legacy document management systems for certain types of documents and often from different vendors. Some companies may also use different systems in regional offices. Mark Vernon reports on enterprise content management systems and the technology that allows integration without throwing out all of your old programs.

In addition to the traditional content types, which mainly consist of paper documents, the explosion of electronic content—including e-mail and instant messaging (IM)—has overwhelmed many organizations with storage, retention, and accessibility issues. "There is an 80 percent compound growth rate of unstructured information which needs managing within an organization," says Stephan Van Herck, senior vice president of FileNet EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa)—one of the companies competing in the enterprise content management (ECM) space.

But Van Herck, along with many others in the ECM industry, believes that organizations need to engage with content in a wholly new way. Content needs to be integrated, that is, made accessible regardless of source or type; and it needs to be managed across the enterprise—that is, treated with the same controls whether it originates in compliance or the call center.

Integrating piecemeal content management systems

In an ideal world, ECM deployment would not start from the multiple, legacy document-management systems that financial services organizations, in particular, have accumulated in recent years. These piecemeal implementations have handled content as varied as images for retail sales, regulatory documents for compliance departments, customer forms for bank branches, voice messages in the call center, and reports in the back office.

However, this hodgepodge of isolated systems—probably from different vendors—will present a problem if the CIO decides that integrating content would bring significant benefits, such as reducing costs, increasing productivity, and addressing the need for more effective document management. The question then becomes how to take these various content management systems and combine them into one streamlined approach.

The case of French insurer Macif is typical. MACIF owns about 14 million car, home, and liability insurance contracts, employs nearly 8,000 individuals across France, and is the largest car insurer in the country. Lydia Gibert, Macif's IT development manager, explains that she inherited at least five different document management systems from the various regions. She realized that the different ECM systems were becoming a hindrance: they were compromising customer service because documents could not be accessed fast enough in the call center or face-to-face, and they were impacting negatively on cost effectiveness too. She saw that a more automated, enterprise-wide approach would align the technology much more to business processes.

Macif's move towards an integrated ECM began in 2003, when the document management system in one region was moved to an intranet. This was an important first step because Web applications can scale effectively in terms of both users and geography, without limitation.

A year later, Gibert could claim to have an enterprise-wide system in the shape of a single, national document management network. She points out that in the IP environment, this did not necessitate getting rid of all the old document management systems. Rather, the new integration technology—in this case, FileNet—acts as a layer over the legacy infrastructure, dipping into old repositories and databases, and presenting them to users from a single, integrated interface.

Now, in 2005, MACIF is building in workflow elements that will turn that platform into a true ECM system. Gibert explains: "Without that, a user needs to have knowledge of any particular transaction in order to execute the tasks, which makes it very inefficient. Automation is not just about distribution to others via the workflow, but is about the user being able to take control of the document, as appropriate to their status."

The most important benefits for users of ECM are that it:

  • Helps users repeat processes consistently.
  • Automates tasks and decision-making.
  • Provides an audit trail, so that compliance with the processes can be ensured.
  • Provides accurate statistics and reporting on how ECM is being used.

Or putting it the other way round, with ECM, everything that can be automated is automated, and the user can concentrate on the function that interests them. "We have achieved the industrialization of our business processes," Gibert concludes.

If you are interested in other ECM suite vendors, like FileNet, check out these companies:

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