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Successful ECM strategy needs to mirror how users work

User adoption has long been a sticking point for enterprise content management systems, but mirroring users' processes can be the key to success.

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Users often struggle with enterprise content management systems because of usability. To be effective, these systems need to mirror the way people work, rather than becoming just another system they have on their desktop and just another window on their screens.

But mapping technology to the way people do their job involves human effort and vision. Those in charge of deploying enterprise content management (ECM ) need to sit side by side with workers to map systems to human processes, not the other way around.

Dan Antion, vice president of information services at American Nuclear Insurers, has some experience in these kinds of projects. Antion helped ease adoption of ECM by designing the ECM application to suit his users, which in turn has introduced new efficiencies to the business.

Antion will lead the session, From Hoarders to Pickers and Pawn Stars, at the 2014 AIIM Conference, which explores how an ECM strategy can add value to an organization's content beyond just capturing and retaining it. He sat down with SearchContentManagement to talk about some of the challenges and opportunities with ECM systems.

How do you encourage business users to adopt ECM technology and processes?

Dan Antion: ECM takes a lot of work. What we're finding is it's much easier to get people interested in that work when they can get something for doing it.

A couple years ago, we sat down with our engineers and they said, 'You're adding work to a process that's already labor-intensive.' So then we said, 'How about if you describe your process to me and we can see how we can make that easier?'

We came up with a process that reduced the amount of work they have to do. We made it workflow-driven. So when you say your report is ready for review, we'll route that to the appropriate person for you. When you're ready to send it to our customer, we'll create the PDF and we'll put the PDF where we want it, so all you need to do is drag it into an email and you're done. And I like it better from an ECM point of view because I know that what went into the [SharePoint] library is what went to the customer.

What is the new business value of these workflows?

Antion: Two things: One is that we're reducing the amount of work people have to do, and these are people that travel quite a bit, so taking even a small task off their plate is helpful. The other thing is that you're basically galvanizing your procedure. So it's a procedure, but you're not relying on human beings to follow the procedure correctly; it's built into the workflows.

We actually started looking at content differently. [Before] people were looking at content as that final report. We use SharePoint's document sets, so [now] we have a much better repository for the engineers to work with, because not only do they have the report, but they have all their meeting notes, all the material they collected from the insured -- all of that is stored in the library and associated with that report.

In what other ways can technologies broaden the scope of information management?

Antion: There are add-on tools for SharePoint that look inside a spreadsheet and look for values in certain cells, and do things based on that -- so our ECM platform is now capable of actually reading the content that's in it, and acting accordingly, which is a huge step.

We're starting to realize that we can use the same technology that gives us that safe, secure repository, and have other features associated with it that will help us prepare content and deliver content -- it's reaching back further into the business process.

It's almost like the traditional ECM bit of the process we get as an after-effect. It doesn't seem like additional work, it just seems like I'm doing my job differently. That's been powerful for us because we don't even have to justify what we're trying to get [users] to do.

How does this awareness of business processes change the scope of enterprise content management?

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Antion: We're trying to push ECM [earlier in] the process -- we don't want to collect the document at the end of the line [and put it in the ECM]. We want you to start with ECM. We want you to start in the repository and then go from there. We're trying to find ways to add value so you want to start in repository.

That's where I think the whole industry has changed. I think we're at the point now where we can actually say, 'We can work the way you want to work,' and in addition to the things we want you to do, we can help you do the things you need to anyway. I think it's delivering on the promise of ECM from years ago that nobody ever managed to do.

How has content management had to get in step with trends like mobility, cloud and consumerization?

Antion: We've been focused on mobile seemingly forever here. About half of our company travels extensively. We've had mobile solutions in the past, [and] private cloud solutions for our customers, and we're extending that to a pure cloud solution this year. We're not really an industry that can be self-serve, but it's becoming a bit more self-serve.

If you look at the impact of consumerization, people are saying, 'If I use Dropbox, this is really easy.' Now we're at a point where we can say that our technology is better than Dropbox. We're replacing a somewhat self-service portal with Citrix Systems' ShareFile. It's fed automatically from our internal ECM [SharePoint]. We can put a copy of a report in a place where a customer can access it on their own.

When you're just sharing files and you're not even sharing a wide or ever-changing variety of files, SharePoint can be cumbersome.

For more, check out SearchContentManagement's coverage of the event. You can also follow the information chaos conversation at #AIIM14 and #infochaos.

Lauren Horwitz  is executive editor of SearchContentManagement and SearchCRM. Laura Aberle is the site editor of SearchContentManagement.

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