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ECM software integration still puts companies through paces

Companies are bringing efficiency and productivity to their processes with ECM software. But some are waiting on integration with other systems in order to gain all the benefits.

For many companies, doing more with less is just part of doing business. So, companies are turning to technology such as enterprise content management software to help stretch dollars by sharing information that was formerly locked in different systems.

Bob Allen, director of business applications and process for the Frisco Independent School District in Texas, wanted to handle an influx of teachers, without adding administrative staff to handle the load.

"We've seen 25% growth [in teacher hiring] in the past four years," he said. But growth came with a downside, Allen added: "How do we hire teachers, but not hire more administrators to process more requests for hiring those teachers?"

Allen turned to an enterprise content management (ECM) system from Laserfiche to automate tasks and share data among his ECM software and other back-office systems, such as payroll and HR databases. As a result, the school district has been able to handle the 25% increase in teacher load, without adding HR staff for onboarding.

ECM systems have long been enlisted to help companies manage information and develop better business processes for tasks that involve collaboration among multiple workers and more complex processes. But these workflows, forms, quick fields, and other business process management tools are of no use if the information in various systems remains siloed and inaccessible to an ECM.

According to industry experts, data sharing is now table-stakes functionality for ECM software.

If you're a knowledge worker, you don't want a two-screen mentality.
John Mancinipresident, AIIM

"If you're a knowledge worker, you don't want a two-screen mentality," said John Mancini, president of AIIM, a professional association for information management based in Silver Spring, Md. "If I'm doing my business work here in system XYZ, I don't want to then have to swivel the chair around and find that information in my content management system. You want to consolidate those two."

Allen's team accomplished the necessary data integration with workflows, quick fields and forms. ECM tools like these help stitch disparate data systems together, so departments can take a document when it's ready for handoff -- and without re-keying information or delays in the process.

"If a determination is made to hire a teacher," Allen said, "data comes from an application system and that feeds into the employee database, and information is shared between HR and payroll departments. In the past, that would take folders or email and copies of documents. Now, that happens automatically and moves over to payroll to process."

Data sharing no longer nice to have for ECM

But this kind of data integration is still in the distance for many enterprises.

In the 2015 AIIM report ECM Decisions, only 8% of the 434 respondents reported having two-way interaction between various back-office systems, enabling workers to work in one application without toggling between multiple apps or having to re-key information.

Is ECM software integration still a fiction?

ECM software data integration is decidedly important for companies -- but it's also a continuing thorn in their side. According to AIIM's 2015 ECM Decisions report, companies are struggling with data silos on a few levels.

  • To consolidate content silos, 20% of respondents intend to migrate content to an enterprise content management system; 44% will integrate ECM with other enterprise systems; 15% will rely on enterprise search or content portals; and 16% will continue with separate silos.
  • Currently, 61% of respondents have no connection between ECM software and ERP systems; 24% have a one-way content link; 8% have a two-way link; and 7% have an accounts payable and accounts receivable transaction link.
  • Thirty percent of respondents have some degree of integrated multichannel inbound communications, but only 5% are auto-routing to multiple processes.
  • Twenty-two percent of respondents handle paper and electronic inbound separately.

Source: ECM Decisions, AIIM 2015, N=434 respondents

Greg Richardson, a senior systems analyst for the city and county of Denver, for example, is eager to integrate his Salesforce CRM system with his ECM software from Alfresco Software Inc. While he was complimentary of Alfresco, Richardson said there are some integration issues in his path. For example, it would be beneficial for workers at the Denver Office of Economic Development to be able to open documents that reside in Alfresco directly from Salesforce -- without having to switch applications to view documents or enter data.

But the county is on an earlier version of Alfresco, and the connector built to integrate data between Salesforce and Alfresco requires version 5.0 and higher of the ECM software, Richardson said. He's exploring whether there are workarounds to this problem.

"The goal is to use the new connector to connect Salesforce to Alfresco," Richardson said. "The current connector doesn't allow a Salesforce user to access Alfresco ... so they don't have to switch applications."

The county also uses scanning and ingestion software from Kofax Ltd., which tags content with metadata and sends it to the appropriate place in the Alfresco repository so it can be found easily at a later date. But, again, the connector built for Kofax and Alfresco to work together could stand improvement. For example, the dropdown menu, which contains various content models that generate the right metadata to attach to an incoming document and categorize it correctly, is poorly organized and isn't searchable.

"Once you find the name of the content model, it's fine. But if you can't search, it's a long wall of names -- it's hard to get through," Richardson said.

Still, he said, using Alfresco for agencies such as the Department of Excise and Licenses has brought net gains to the county by digitizing the workplace, eliminating paper, and getting employees on board with better process and collaborative document sharing. Not only is it easier to find licensing information and permits in the Alfresco repository -- because it is searchable, unlike shared drives or desktops -- but the county also has saved office space by eliminating paper storage.

"Alfresco has brought accountability to our processes, and the ability to find documents and more office space," Richardson said.

Frisco ISD's Allen also noted the benefits of ECM software that can be realized when you get your process house in order first.

"It does me no good to take a bad process and automate it," Allen noted. "When you re-engineer the process and enable it through technology, you lock it down. Then, you don't have to go back and redo it five years later."

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