Content Management Behind the Scenes: Targeting Transparency - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Content Management Behind the Scenes: Targeting Transparency

A global law firm, a multi-agency county government and a giant energy-industry services firm demonstrate that the best approach to hiding content management complexity depends on user work habits and favored applications.

As the name implies, the central objective of content management is control, but that mission is often compromised by complexity: multiple content management systems deployed throughout the enterprise, cumbersome indexing and retrieval requirements and confusing, inconsistent user interfaces.

"Content management implementations that force users to change their behavior stand a much higher chance of failure, due to lack of end-user adoption," says Kyle McNabb, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Content management has to be virtually transparent for the end user, and this means integrating it within tools such as Microsoft Office, ERP or a line-of-business application."

Energy industry services giant Halliburton, law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, and Ohio's Lucas County are very different organizations, yet all three are taking advantage of content management integration and automation options that hide the complexity.

Ease Content Access

The most basic and widespread need for content management is simply to provide access to documents and other forms or "unstructured" information. Global law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (Squire Sanders) has relied on document management software for many years, but its Hummingbird Docs Open system required the firm's 1,500 lawyers and legal staff in 30 offices to use a separate interface and choose from among several repositories to retrieve documents.

To access information more directly, consolidate search and automate associated workflows, Squire Sanders upgraded to Hummingbird Enterprise for Legal in 2005. The project's first phase facilitated content access through the system's Microsoft Outlook-integrated interface. Users now see shared client-matter folders directly below their standard e-mail inboxes, and the client folders have subfolders identifying core document types, such as pleadings and correspondence.

"Lawyers don't have to change their work habits by having to exit Outlook and launch a separate search app," says George Gazdick, the law firm's CIO.

At global petroleum services giant Halliburton, access to the FileNet ECM (enterprise content management) system has improved in several ways over the past few years. New options include thin-client desktops, "clientless" Web interfaces, and integrations with the company's SAP R/3 ERP system and about a dozen line-of-business (LOB) applications. Roughly 2,500 of Halliburton's 85,000-plus employees in more than 100 countries now access FileNet-managed content through SAP or LOB apps.

"Within image-enabled applications, if users want to find SAP content that's managed by FileNet, they click on a button," says Mark Hickok, Halliburton's lead system administrator. "They don't need to know anything about FileNet or SAP."

Halliburton also has integrated FileNet with its customer portal. "When our customers or sales staff are in the field and need a copy of an invoice, we can just point them to the portal," Hickok says. Physical documents, such as signed work orders and job-site rosters, are scanned, so this info is available whenever customers question invoices. Hickok says this has reduced the average days outstanding on company's receivables.

Hickok says he can't provide investment or ROI figures, but he notes that the SAP connection was "relatively painless" to implement because it's based on a built-in connector offered by FileNet based on SAP's standard interface. Similarly, the integrations with LOB apps and the portal took "less than a week," according to Hickok.

Manage Behind the Scenes

The more transparent a content management system can be to end users, the more it will be used and the more value it will deliver. For government workers in Lucas County, Ohio, the biggest pain point was access to paper documents. Court records could take days to locate and transport from a central storage site to requesting courts, for instance.

The court system and other departments were each exploring document management options independently, but Keith Fournier, CIO and director of the county's information services, convinced everyone that a single system was the way to go to avoid complexity. He also believed that "once people gained the ability to electronically scan, file and retrieve, the next thing they would want would be intra- and interagency workflow," which would have been difficult to provide had the county chosen multiple applications.

In 2004, Lucas County completed a $1.1 million countywide imaging and document management implementation built on Hyland Software's OnBase ECM system. In early 2005, the county simplified access to the system by implementing Hyland's Application Enabler integration technology, which turns app data fields into content retrieval hot links. When count clerks double-click on a court docket number, for example, a window pops up with a list of related PDF images and indexing details. The sanitation department has content-enabled its geographic information system, so permit and installation documents are listed when users click on a point on the county map.

Fournier says the county's centralized system cost about one-fifth what it would have cost for multiple systems. Plus maintenance and training costs were consolidated and the county gained a simple and consistent way to provide fast access to documents.

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