Friday, September 3, 2010

ECM & Shared Services

By David Buttgereit senior partner, the BPM Group, KeyMark

Succinctly and in the context of Shared Services, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the conceptual term for a range of tools, processes, and procedures used to capture, store, deliver, manage, and preserve business process documents.

But what does all this mumbo-jumbo really mean? Let’s break it down and see how it applies to the Shared Services Organization (SSO) model of business service delivery.

Nomenclature, with SSO Flair
• Enterprise – not just departmental in scope; at its core ECM is supportive of the SSO model.

• Content – the paper documents, faxes, e-mail messages, electronic forms, and – increasingly so – instant messages (IMs) that drive and contain supporting information about business processes and transactions.

SSOs by their nature require content but can drown in it too. For example, the content necessary to complete a complex Accounts Payable transaction may include a lengthy master contract, multiple purchase orders, receipt confirmations, invoices, and perhaps records of IM communications among purchasing agents, requesters, and vendors spelling out discount terms.

Importantly, content often spans departments and multiple lines-of-business software applications and needs to be managed and stored in a manner that makes it accessible to multiple systems and SSO staff members concurrently.

• Capture – the collection, electronic transformation (recognition, classification, validation, quality control, etc.), and delivery of content into a format usable by other computer processing systems.

Traditionally, capture has been thought of as the process of scanning paper documents, using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and similar automated technologies to extract information from the documents, and then sending the resulting data to lines-of-business applications for transaction processing.

Fortunately, capture has now matured to the point that it can also handle additional sources (faxes, e-mails, IMs, etc.) and can be used to sort, classify, and authenticate complex document sets according to pre-defined sets of business rules. In an efficient SSO, these advanced capture capabilities mean that fewer hands need touch content, greatly minimizing exceptions processing downstream.

• Store – once content has been captured, it must be properly indexed and securely stored – typically in an enterprise repository – for later processing.

• Deliver – the process of making content available to multiple lines-of-business applications while at the same time allowing it to be easily located and viewed through a variety of user interfaces. For example, an SSO Customer Service Representative may need to locate and view an outstanding HR document as part of a customer contact (a job promotion status inquiry, for example) at the same time the document is being actively used to drive corresponding payroll and benefits line-of-business transactions.

• Manage – has multiple meanings, from initiation and management of workflow processes that span multiple lines-of-business applications, to enforcing document security according to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and similar compliance rules, through providing metrics to Business Intelligence (BI) and Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) applications. It is here that most SSO business transactions are completed and the greatest efficiencies can be gained, with all other components of an integrated ECM system playing important supporting roles.

• Preserve – long-term management of content after it has been used for transactional purposes. Typically preservation is based on sets of Document and Records Management (RM) rules and is tightly controlled for both compliance and discovery purposes. Content may be maintained in an enterprise repository for a finite length of time (or in perpetuity, in some cases) or may be migrated to an off-line storage medium or external repository for archival and eventual destruction.

It’s clear from the above that ECM has great implications for SSOs that provide transactional business services across a single or multiple organizations or agencies.

SSO Content Challenges
Without ECM, an SSO will likely:

• Handle paper documents, faxes, e-mails, e-mail attachments, and IMs in an ad hoc manual manner, slowing processing as transactions traverse departmental boundaries.

• Employ scores of data entry clerks to transcribe information from documents into lines-of-business applications – often multiple times and likely inconsistently.

• Manually validate data accuracy and integrity, with inevitable human errors causing significant rework, exceptions, and costs downstream.

• Inconsistently or poorly secure and protect the data and privacy of customers and business partners.

• Create multiple copies of documents as they traverse departmental boundaries as each department is skeptical that the next will adequately preserve documents if they are needed for review or rework (lengthy contracts can be prime offenders because they consume a significant amount of both paper and storage space).

• Incur high costs for paper, transport, duplication, and eventual destruction of documents.

• Complete complex transactions in a serial manner, even though many components could be processed simultaneously if the supporting content was simultaneously available to multiple staff members and systems.

• Gather BI metrics in an inconsistent manner where the output from one process or system may not easily or directly map to the input of the next, losing continuity.

• Apply the perhaps flawed BI metrics as the basis for managing productivity, quality, staffing, load balancing, and Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

• Employ multiple manual searches when attempting to retrieve transaction, customer, or business partner content found on different documents and housed in different locations.

• Preserve historical business documents and apply RM rules inconsistently, if only because of the multiple copies stored in physical files in multiple departments.

ECM Solutions to SSO Content Challenges
With a properly implemented ECM, the SSO described above could:

• Efficiently capture and store all input types in a consistent, automated manner while speeding transaction initiation.

• Consistently extract business data from captured documents – once – and then feed multiple lines-of-business applications with precise input.

• Automate validation of data accuracy and integrity, reducing downstream rework costs for correcting input errors.

• Consistently secure and protect the data and privacy of customers and business partners, reducing both business risk and easing inevitable audit burdens.

• Use a single, canonical, set of documents for all business purposes and systems – simultaneously.

• Employ a single, comprehensive search and retrieval function, eliminating costly and time-consuming multiple searches and ensuring that only canonical versions of documents are returned.

• Eliminate most of the costs for document storage, transport, duplication, and destruction.

• Complete complex transactions in a parallel manner, supporting aggressive SLAs and leading to higher customer satisfaction.

• Leverage a set of cross-referenceable BI metrics to manage productivity, quality, staffing, load balancing, and SLAs.

• Appropriately preserve historical documents by consistently applying RM rules to the single set of canonical electronic documents.

Pulling it All Together
In conclusion, a robust and comprehensive ECM system can augment and link the multiple lines-of business applications inherent to SSOs, while decreasing costs and yet increasing consistency and customer satisfaction. Careful implementation of an appropriate ECM system should be considered a best practice for any SSO.

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