The rise of enterprise content workflow

Combining structured and unstructured data often proves a roadblock to content management. But this doesn't have to be the case.


Johannesburg, 14 Dec 2017
Stephan Gous, SWECA Territory Manager, Nintex.
Stephan Gous, SWECA Territory Manager, Nintex.

Businesses need to take greater control over their content by implementing document-centric processes that govern the creation, approval, distribution, storage, maintenance and archiving of documents and/or content. "However," says Stephan Gous, SWECA Territory Manager for Nintex, "Aligning documentation and human behaviour to business process is not as easy as it sounds."

The ideal state, according to Gous, is documents that are stored and distributed in the cloud but intrinsically linked to the more structured world of business process or case management such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), or customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

Enterprise content management (ECM) is one of Gartner's magic quadrants. Gartner defines ECM as creating, storing, distributing, discovering, archiving and managing unstructured content (such as scanned documents, e-mail, reports, images and office documents) and analysing usage to enable organisations to deliver relevant content to users where and when they need it. However, analysts are starting to talk about a shift towards enterprise content services, which allows content to sit in a variety of places, including the cloud.

Gous explains: "If you consider that a document is in itself a container for lots of different bits of content from various applications, interfaces and document types. The typical document has a header, an image, a graph or two, several paragraphs; these are all disparate pieces of content that make up the whole. Much of this content is variable to a particular customer, or situation (case), and all of these pieces of content need to be drawn from different places, into one document. Regardless of which repositories contain those components - even if they're on different clouds such as Dropbox, SharePoint, OneDrive - enterprise content workflow is able to manage it and keep it secure, and ensure that the most up to date version is utilised."

The challenges with having so many places in which people today are able to keep their content, is ensuring consistency and control. The number one concern for the organisation is security and how much access the outside world has to its content. Legislation like the General Data Protection Regulation in the EU and POPI closer to home are aimed at ensuring that information isn't distributed irresponsibly, says Gous. "Organisations have to be very careful about how content is stored and distributed. But the unstructured nature of content makes this challenging."

He cites the example of a sales person who creates a sales proposal in Word, includes product information from another source, and a brief company profile from a third source, and attaches this to an e-mail to send to a customer. "Once that person has hit 'send', the organisation has no control over that document. The customer could share it with a competitor, for example, then they'd have all of my pricing and other sensitive information that might be included."

Legislation dictates that organisations need to be able to control documents throughout their lifecycle, from generation to distribution to end-of-life, whether this be archiving them or destroying them. Gous explains: "By implementing human-centric processes around your content services strategy, you can allow people to interact with content that is centrally controlled by the subject matter experts, and have greater visibility and control over how that content is shared and used."

He explains: "Controlling documentation in a meaningful way, requires governance across the document lifecycle. Workflow technologies allow users to automate the creation of a document, in line with organisational compliance, using data, or triggers from other process applications. That creates a link between the process and the content which can be maintained, if necessary throughout approval, distribution, and online signature processes - all the while maintaining the audit trail with the underlying system or case record. Most organisations struggle with the challenge of connecting structured data with the unstructured world of individual document creation. Having the right toolset in place they can create documents from disparate content sources, control how it's approved for distribution and circulation, and create rules to archive it or delete it over a set amount of time."

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