OCS Consulting Plc - IT Specialists
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Workflow, Document and Content Management - Consultants Advisory, April 2002

An IT Management perspective from OCS Consulting

Question 1:
What is the relationship between workflow and document / record / content management ?
Can workflow be implemented successfully without the other technologies to underpin it ?

Question 1 Response :
Workflow, Document and Content Management are nothing new. They have been around since the printing press was invented and arguably before that. What has changed is Information Technology. Since computers and software systems and digital technology have become an integral part of business since the 1970's, the speed with which business processes are conducted has increased exponentially. This has led to the creation of specialised technologies to deal with the logistical, organisational and business risk issues arising from the speed of business transactions and events.

Workflow as a concept and a technology has been incorporated into corporate business systems since the late 1970's, typically as work flow or work assignment and control functions within a bespoke system. Since the 1980's and Client / Server computing, specialised workflow and groupware products such as Lotus Notes became commercially available.

Document management before the 1990's typically involved the printing, indexing and archiving of large volumes of hardcopy output. With the reduced cost of scanning and digital document storage and retrieval technologies, this has largely been replaced by specialised Document management systems such as Documentum.

Content management before the wide spread use of the Internet for business typically took the form of individual virtuals created by a Word Processing package and stored on a virtual server with little if any control automation. Editorial controls were largely manual, relying on circulation of hardcopy output for editorial review. The Web has been a major catalyst for the emergence of a whole new genre of Content Management systems with a broad range of sophistication and cost from simple Web content management products like Sitellite to enterprise solutions like BroadVision.

Since the late 90's these specialised applications have been evolving to incorporate features from all 3 categories. In particular, Workflow functionality is commonly incorporated into all enterprise solution offerings. The key business driver is the Web and the need for vendors to offer an integrated solution to a business problem where speed and accuracy is everything.

Clearly, Workflow can be implemented independently of Document and Content management. The reverse is not true as effective document and content management require efficient business processes to be implemented using work flow concepts and technologies.

Question 2: Given that much of the information in any organisation is held in disparate places and often in individual email folders, how can companies encourage collaborative working ? Is it possible to control documents effectively in this environment ?

Question 2 and Question 4 Response:
The problem of large areas of the knowledge capital of an organisation being stored in individuals heads or individual folders is well documented. The concept and technologies of 'Knowledge Management' have been the IT industries initial attempt to solve this problem. In general this approach has not been successful, probably due to the highly academical approach and consequent lack of success with getting the message across to corporate decision makers. Many companies are now investing in second and third generation Intranets sometimes called 'Corporate Portals' to promote collaborative working and knowledge sharing. Products like Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server extend the capabilities of the MS Office suite to enable documents and emails to be easily posted to and retrieved from a centralised repository. So the technologies are here to optimise collaborative working. However, there are cultural and political barriers to changed working practices which need to be overcome to maximise the benefits to an organisation investing in these technologies. The potential benefits are huge, comparable almost to the impact of groupware technologies. These benefits will arise in 2 key areas (1) process efficiency and cost reduction arising from 'its easier to get the information I need to do my job now' (2) broader base of employees sharing ideas based on an improved understanding of the business arising from 'its easier to get the information I need about the parts of this business that really interest me'.

Question 3: How successful are companies at measuring the ROI on their workflow, document management or content management implementations? What kind of approach should they adopt?

Question 3 Response:
In our experience, companies seldom attempt to measure ROI on IT investment. The problem is not recognition that this is something that should be done, but rather a consequence of the incessant commercial pressures for change. The IT department have neither the time or financial skills to measure ROI properly. We believe this should be addressed by the Finance function as part of a corporate approach to ROI measurement for all projects, not just IT. A top down approach should be taken i.e. correlate investment with Key Performance Indicators to enable conclusions to be drawn about the real, sustainable benefits an investment has made on the performance of the business.

Question 4: Will portals become the tools of choice for corporate intranets? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?

See response included in Question 2.

Question 5: Is internal discipline and process re-design as important as the technology in achieving success with workflow, document and content management implementations?

Question 5 Response:
Clearly, business process re-design or re-alignment is a critical success factor for any enterprise wide roll out of Content and / or Document Management systems. The key point is that these technologies provide an excellent opportunity to re-visit current working practices and processes and make improvements. It is not a question of internal discipline - you cannot impose change successfully. Change has to be designed in and properly implemented and rolled out with the full involvement of those affected.

Question 6: Will content management remain the responsibility of the specialist HTML programmer, or will new standards such as XML mean that everyone edits and publishes their own content? What are the pros and cons of this?

Question 6 Response:
In the early days of the corporate Web site, the Web Master had full responsibility for the authoring and publication of content. This was an interim arrangement due to the lack of automation inherent in content management software. The implementation of content management systems has put control and responsibility for content back into the hands of the business content owners as it should be. The role of the Web Master has evolved to a technical support role with a focus on ensuring the high availability of Content Management and related systems, as with all other IT systems.

The increasing adoption of XML by the IT industry should be transparent to the end User. XML is a technical standard for the definition of data structures which enables distributed software applications to exchange information in a reliable, unambiguous way. No business User should be expected to author XML unless specifically required by the nature of their job.

Brick Du Bourg
Practice Manager
OCS Consulting

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