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As ECM systems mature, BPM becomes central to ROI

ECM systems have matured beyond content repositories to include automated workflow, which can optimize business processes and justify the cost.

Enterprise content management software centralizes company data and documents, but it's not just a glorified data repository.

Rather, true enterprise-class enterprise content management (ECM) systems permeate a company's central business processes, both reflecting and streamlining them.

That was the message concerning ECM's value to customers at the Laserfiche Empower conference in Anaheim, Calif. Business process management (BPM) was highlighted as a way to extend the capabilities of existing ECM investments and create a business case for new deployments. According to experts and users alike, BPM is a natural extension of ECM that allows companies to better manage information flow.

According to a presentation by Mark Gilbert, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm Gartner Inc., ECM vendors have been adding business process capabilities through acquisitions such as Waterloo, Ontario-based OpenText, which purchasedMetastorm and Global 360.

Business process management is a natural extension of ECM that allows companies to better manage information flow.

"You get more value from your ECM system when you start addressing collaborative processes," he said in an interview. While collaboration happens via email, there is no audit trail or management of records, he added.

'Shadow processes' drive adoption

One of the ways to get value from ECM and BPM is to understand "shadow processes," tasks that employees have done for a long time and know well but that are inefficient. This helps companies find ways to shorten processes and automate triggers, such as bill-pay reminders, according to Gilbert.

"It might sound simplistic, but when you're in accounts payable processing 1,000 invoices a day, automating it makes a big difference," he said. The payoff in adding BPM comes from the process automation potential, Gilbert added.

Gilbert noted that building a solid business case often hinges on the value derived from streamlining processes. "When you're trying to come up with an ROI argument, look for process improvement opportunities [and] data quality opportunities," Gilbert advised. A lot of companies start on their ECM journey by initially focusing on risk reduction, but soon realize that it's only a tiny portion of the value to be derived from ECM software. They then start looking for ways to automate and integrate content flow, he said.

Saskatchewan, Canada-based Kelsey Trail Health Region, a healthcare provider, wants greater ROI from its Laserfiche installation and is examining ways to integrate Laserfiche Workflow, according to network administrator David Little . "It is the way you want things to go, especially in healthcare, [where] paper is huge," he said.

Using Workflow for financial records could easily turn out the kind of ROI Kelsey Trail Health Region seeks by turning things like expense claims into electronic forms and automating them so that paper doesn't have to travel around the office, Little said. Ideally, invoices and expense claims would be processed directly into the company's existing Great Plains software installation, and later, manage patient preferences and other records on the medical side.

"Finance will be the driver," he added.

But finance can also hinder user acceptance

While the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC) has jumped on the business process bandwagon, using 28 workflows, 12 templates and 42 tags for Workflow and routing decisions, there is a hurdle to full adoption within the agency: the finance department, according to Kim Porter, records and project manager.

"They love their paper," she said in the session "Integrating Workflow to Achieve Faster Processing."

Still, WSAC has identified efficiencies in its content management processes, most recently surrounding financial aid payments. The old process meant printing out a batch header from an electronic form, getting signatures, and walking the paperwork to accounting to get approval to release payment to universities, according to David Mitchell, chief technology officer.

Now, WSAC can accomplish all this electronically using the .NET software development kit by sending an email to the accounting department with the approvals already collected and drop the document straight into the Laserfiche ECM system with metadata completed.

"The biggest wins are the time savings for staff and customers [and] also the accuracy of the data," he said, noting that customers no longer need to mail in forms, nor does the data need to be rekeyed once forms are received.

More efficiency achieved with workflows

The ability to route documents has also increased efficiency at Costa Rican telecommunications regulator Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones. When a customer initiates a request in person or via email, Workflow automatically generates a job number that the organization can use to check its status, according to Natalia Coghi Ulloa, IT project manager. After metadata fields are completed, workflows send the document through the authorization process, routing it to the correct manager for review, she said through a translator in the session "Company-Wide Workflow."

Workflow also enables managers to assign documents to themselves or someone on staff, automatically routing documents and letting the assignee update the status so that anyone with access to the record can answer a customer's question, Coghi Ulloa said.

And workflows is where Omaha, Neb.-based Burton Plumbing hopes to accrue savings. The company just purchased iPads for its technicians and uses Laserfiche for content management, according to Renee Demmler, assistant controller, in an interview. Technicians currently turn in tickets daily on carbon paper, and each ticket takes approximately 10 minutes to process in the office, she said. The company processes 10,000 tickets every three months.

"We do scan every ticket into the system," Demmler said. She expects to see ROI just on the time it takes to scan everything, as well as extrapolating how much time is spent on each job and how much the materials cost by setting up forms and integrating Workflow.

But Demmler worries about adoption and integrating Workflow with other programs. Employees can be resistant to change, she said, adding that if she can get the new controller as a project champion, she has a better chance of winning over the rest of the company. Additionally, she wants Workflow to interact with other programs. She can move the existing dispatching software into Workflow, but building the business processes and pushing tickets through channels may be difficult, she said.

Overall, BPM will drive ECM further, integrating workflow processing with content so that users can work faster and eliminate process inefficiencies.

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