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The business case for taking a process-oriented approach to enterprise content management (ECM) isn't a complex one: In an Internet-connected world, ECM has become more fluid and more challenging. It needs to be more process-aware and process-centric to improve customer experience, drive greater efficiency, reduce costs, help with compliance and drive a higher return on ECM investment.

For business and IT professionals alike, those are certainly attention-grabbing goals and outcomes. At the same time, the idea that content and business processes are closely associated isnít exactly cutting-edge. In fact, it goes back a few years: Think about workflow and document imaging, for instance. This fundamental piece of ECM has been called different things over time.

Whatís different today is that consumerization of IT Ė mobile, social, cloud and information--is having a direct impact on ECM. Thatís making ECM-related process initiatives strategic to the business, even transformative. For that reason, businesses need to at least begin thinking about process-oriented approaches to ECM.

BPM can address all three forms of content: transactional, persuasive and business content. But experts say itís most commonly connected to transactional content, such as insurance claims or mortgage loan origination, for example.

For many companies, workflow involves the increasingly automated flow of information from place to place or person to person. BPM, in contrast, also involves people, typically incorporating their knowledge and expertise into processes involving more complex and less predictable cases.

ďSimply making a process go faster may not be the right thing to do,Ē says Connie Moore, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst. That same philosophy also extends to the content-management piece.

For starters, organizations have to ask: Is the content necessary? Is it needed now? Or is it an artifact--for instance, a form thatís generated simply because it was always generated in a previous era? Another important question: ďWhat do we need from the data or information?Ē

At the same time, the company needs to consider where and how the information needs to be consumed. In other words: Itís necessary to identify the problem. Experts say thatís important because when users donít perceive a problem, they typically donít use the provided solution. ďThese questions are parallel exercises to know what comes next,Ē says Mark McGregor, principal analyst of MWD Advisors, an IT advisory firm.

In dealing with content-related process initiatives--as with any other process project--itís smartest to start small, expert say. Zero in on a project with the quickest return on investment (ROI) and biggest impact on the business.

Whichever process is selected, the organization needs a good definition of the content and the process at the process-design stage. ďIn other words: Lay it out well,Ē advises Kenneth Chin, a Gartner Inc. research vice president. ďAsk: ĎDoes it need to be re-engineered?íĒ

Once a company has addressed that need--as well as identifying what content is important, what it represents and where it needs to be delivered, itís time to think about what technology needs to be delivered, itís time to think about what technology might be needed.

As with any such efforts, an organizationís product-selection strategy should start with looking at what products it already owns and what else might be compatible with them. For instance, if the company already owns an ECM system, you might investigate the availability of a related BPM product. Finding compatible systems can, of course, relieve the need for intensive product integration.

Itís just as important to coordinate activities and expertise in both ECM and BPM. Today, many organizations may have multiple projects and small pockets of expertise in both areas, widely scattered throughout the enterprise. Thatís another compelling argument for developing a BPM center of excellence (sometimes called a BPM competency center). Such centers can not only pull together the necessary knowledge in both areas, but set standards, outline methodologies, define best practices and provide tools and templates as well.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you taken a process-oriented approach to enterprise content management? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Lynn Haber is a Boston-area freelance writer who specializes in writing about business and technology. Contact her at lthaber@comcast.net.

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