Kiran Garimella's BPM Blog

Kiran Garimella

Paper, paper, everywhere, but nothing intelligent to read

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Let me expand on the intersection of ECM and BPM from my earlier post.

Enterprise content is basically of two kinds: (a) content that denotes knowledge of the what and the how of business operations (or processes, if you will); and (b) content that denotes the outcome or product of those operations or processes. The former includes price lists, business rules, decisioning rules, policies, organization structures, roles, compliance rules, product categories, business entities, etc. I call these the ‘knowledge artifacts.’ The latter are the actual transactional documents (such as loan applications, orders, and service requests) and several kinds of non-transactional documents (such as website content, email, and presentations). The set of knowledge artifacts is relatively static in size and functions as a Book of Knowledge for the company. In contrast, transactional documents are generated in huge volumes. They must be stored, indexed, searched, imaged, retained, retrieved, destroyed, and reported; these specialized capabilities and associated technologies are the domain of ECM. However, the Book of Knowledge is better served under BPM, because knowledge artifacts must be dealt with in the context of business processes. To take artifacts of knowledge out of the context of business processes and to manage them outside a BPMS makes no sense.

As far as ECM is concerned, Bruce Silver observes that there is considerable investment in content repositories. True, but there is even more investment in paper than in ECM. That doesn't mean companies should continue to proliferate paper, or that BPM doesn't have anything to say about that. ECM looks at the huge mounds of paper and electronic documents, takes that as an immutable fact, and tries to offer a solution for dealing with it. It addresses the symptoms, not the disease. There is nothing wrong with that, since the symptoms need treatment. But, with all the advances in technology, BPM questions (or at least, I do) why there has to be paper in the first place. I do not claim that this problem can be solved right away, which is why ECM and Document Management will continue to exist. Hopefully, after another twenty years, much of this mountain of data will be past its retention period, and will be mercifully incinerated or consigned to be bit bucket.

In the meantime, companies should employ BPM and Continuous Process Improvement to avoid generating unstructured transactional documents (paper & electronic) in the first place, and to store artifacts of process knowledge within process models. I know this is not possible in some areas because paper documents are legally more acceptable than electronic ones, but at least consider the option. Like the fitness mantra says, stop the insanity.

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