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    Digital Transformation

    Content Management Trends: The Age of Automation

    To get an idea of where enterprise content management trends stand, look no further than Gartner’s decision to cancel its Magic Quadrant analysis for content services platforms. And yet, despite continued analyst and market attempts to kill it off, Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is still very much alive.

    The simple reason it’s alive is that ECM has proven to be an integral information management tool for organizations far and wide. Even though ECM tools themselves haven’t lived up to their initial promise.

    There are several reasons to stick with a legacy ECM tool. But doing so often limits the amount of innovation and access to new technologies that would help front-line information workers.

    Until now, that is. A series of technologies is multiplying the ways business users work with and derive value from the volumes of information that flow into their organization every day. This is especially true of unstructured data trapped in documents. As a result, organizations have the opportunity to shift their legacy ECM platform from an expensive archive and compliance tool into a true automation platform.

    This blog explores how these new technology catalysts are forming a perfect storm, set to change the information landscape forever.

    ECM Was Never the Right Tool for Automation

    Many ECM systems have a myopic view of the world, focused squarely on the document. Everything was document-centric, which makes sense because ECM was the successor to document management.

    Early on, ECM vendors focused on digitizing document-centric processes such as accounts payable (AP) processing, employee file management, and claims processing. And they did a good job. But one challenge prevailed that curbed the mass adoption of ECM. And that is that most processes within a business, even a so-called “simple one” like managing human resources (HR) files, are too complex for one solution to handle.

    Yes, documents form part of a business process, but not all of it. Most processes need more than one document. That simple concept proved extremely challenging for many ECM tools to address.

    In addition, most early ECM systems wanted to control all the documents within the organization, without exception. Independent software vendors (ISVs) argued these tools were an essential system to the business. In reality, they weren’t as crucial to a salesperson as the CRM system, or as the ERP to a procurement person, or as the bookkeeping tool to the finance team. The ECM system was just where you put your documents when they needed archiving or retaining for records management. In other words, ECM was simply not the center of every user’s universe.

    Finally, ECM tools try to do everything for everyone. As previously discussed, solutions for AP, HR and claims management proliferated from every ECM vendor around. Did they ever match the level of sophistication and completeness as software built specifically for each process area? Certainly not.

    Enterprise content management tools are often the preferred platform for the IT department, so much so that the ECM space was renamed the Content Services Platform space in recent years. These platforms allow IT to use the same tool to deliver solutions across multiple departments. This means greater consistency and reduced support burden, at least for IT. Rarely did departmental users actually like using ECM tools and associated solutions.

    However, a combination of newer technologies is making the valuable content stored within ECM systems much more accessible to the masses.

    The New Technology Catalysts: AI, RPA, and No-Code/Low-Code

    One of the challenges with ECM is that most systems are lumbering giants, moving slowly and trying to solve all the world’s problems with one swoop of their club.

    However, enterprise content management trends are favoring modern technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotic Process Automation (RPA), and low-code development. These technologies behave in a very different manner. They strive to be agile, nimble, and to solve lots of minor problems as opposed to one big one. These upstart toolsets are designed to make life easier. And they are acting as the perfect catalysts to automate rigid ECM platforms and content.

    All these newer technologies perform very small, sometimes micro-focused, activities. But they do them very, very well. For example, consider an RPA bot that watches a folder for new files and moves them to a data extraction process when they arrive. That’s all it does, and it is very good at it.

    Not very impressive, right? Maybe not, but when you connect several of these bots together in the correct order very quickly, you can create powerful, personalized processes. And when these almost flat-pack style tools integrate into ECM platforms as the underlying content repository, amazing things can start to happen.

    Reimagining Traditional Processes

    Think about the digital processes within your organization. Chances are they are digital versions of your old paper processes, right? Why? The reality is that digital transformation projects typically look at existing processes and digitize them. Often there is very little thought involved in the conversion. It is simply a conversion from analog to digital.

    Think about checking in for a flight as an example. We used to check in and board with physical paper boarding cards, which was a bit of a pain. The initial digital version of this process replaced the need for humans to check the card by using simple scanners. Then iterations turned paper boarding cards into digital ones on our smartphones. However, nothing fundamentally changed in this process. We still used the concept of a card that gets checked to allow us onto the plane. This is a classic case of a document-centric process.

    But is the process document-centric because it must be, or because that is how the analog process worked? By simply migrating the analog process to digital, we miss an opportunity to deliver genuine automation and the associated benefit. Implementing automation provides an excellent opportunity to rethink how you do things. And more importantly, why you do things and what you’re trying to achieve.

    Instead of a boarding card, imagine the use of facial recognition at the gate to compare your face to your passport or ID. If the face fits, then you can jump on the plane. There is no need for a boarding card — paper or digital — anywhere in the process.

    This simple and effective rethinking delivers an automated and customer-friendly process, removing the numerous back-office steps required to create, store, and manage boarding cards.

    Imagine what that might look like for some of your operations.

    Three Steps to Take Advantage of Automation

    Automation projects do not have to take years to define, execute, and complete. On the contrary, transformation of processes can take a matter of days. However, to get the maximum value out of any automation project, there are a number of steps — three to be precise — that need to be taken.

    Follow these steps, and your organization can successfully transform your ECM system into an intelligent automation platform. 

    1. Understand what you have and what you want to achieve. This activity should include a full audit of systems, content, processes, user roles and permissions, and any other relevant information. In this step, do NOT worry about how you will achieve automation. Focusing too much on the how will limit your ability to think freely about what you are trying to achieve.
    2. Bring in experts from outside your organization and industry to discuss your plans. These outsiders will come at the challenges you pose with fresh eyes and without industry or organizational bias. Take advantage of their perspectives and let them rethink your processes hand in hand with you.
    3. Get to work! Start with small projects to gain experience in the new tools you are using and deliver some quick wins. Despite your natural desire to build everything in one go, it’s better to be agile. Build pieces quickly and often, fail fast if you need to, and experiment as much as you can.

    Information is the lifeblood of business. Transforming the way your organization handles information—from the most mundane to the most critical—requires a commitment of effort, energy, and resources. But transformation is essential if you and your business want to survive and flourish.

    The tools and technologies to drive this change are there. AI, RPA, and low-code can all work seamlessly with your existing ECM systems to provide a true platform for automation. That platform offers an opportunity to change how your business processes documents, which tasks staff spend their time on, and how you interact and engage with customers.

    The perfect storm of technology that we are experiencing today is not going away. But far from hiding away until the storm has passed, now is the time for those brave enough to use the storm’s power to fill their sails and drive their business forward at full speed.

    The age of automation is upon us. Are you ready?


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