In our explorations of digital workplaces so far, we’ve suggested that focusing on quality and accessibility can improve the value of your information, and we’ve proposed a one-stop shop approach to information delivery in order to establish a single source of truth for your organization. Following these approaches in connection with your organization’s content/document management system begins to address the challenges of creating a digital workplace.
However, as we noted when we began this discussion, business applications are also a critical information source that too often get overlooked in planning a digital workplace and the related information management. AIIM research shows that three out of five organizations hold over half of their enterprise content in non-ECM (enterprise content management) systems, such as finance, HR, and ERP systems. While business applications generate and manipulate information, an ECM system is designed to store, categorize, and manage information. The gaps between these two technology initiatives prevent either from reaching their full potential.
Absent integration, the valuable information business applications generate is not accessible for appropriate searching and cannot easily be shared across the enterprise. The documents stored in those systems typically reside outside the organization’s information governance framework.
Recognizing the need
Many organizations have realized the need to consolidate content in these disparate information repositories in some way. In ECM Decisions: strategic options for managing, accessing, and preserving content, AIIM Chief Analyst Doug Miles reports that over half of organizations surveyed “are working towards a company-wide ECM capability,” and for 44% of respondents, integration between ECM and other enterprise systems is a part of their strategy. Miles notes:
Integration with ERP and Finance systems is particularly useful for applications ranging from automated accounts payable, through contract and bid management, to case management and asset management. All of these are likely to generate considerable quantities of supporting documents, contracts, drawings and specifications that need to be recorded and managed for their lifecycle, but also to be searchable and accessible by a range of employees within the business and, in many cases, by partners outside of the business.
So how do we effectively bridge the gap between business applications and ECM? How do we achieve our information management objectives across all our enterprise information in support of our digital workplace strategy?
An example: SAP and SharePoint
As an example, let’s look at the leading ERP system, SAP, and Microsoft SharePoint, which is considered a primary content/document management system by close to 60% of the AIIM survey respondents.
The business processes supported by SAP can involve not only transactional data, but also documents such as images, drawings, and other types of unstructured content that support transactions. This content needs to be saved,
referenced, and accessed across the business cycle, often serving to trigger processing steps across different departments. Such content can be stored in SAP and linked with specific transactions, but how is it stored not based on its relationship to other content or any information hierarchy, and it is not readily searchable. Only SAP users can access and retrieve the content. What’s more, SAP is not an ideal place to store unstructured content: its content store lacks scalability, can be more expensive than other types of repositories, and, as the size of unstructured content grows, it can adversely affect SAP response times and performance.
On the other hand, Microsoft SharePoint, through its native capabilities and third-party add-ons that extend those capabilities, offers a cost-effective content repository that is already in wide use.
An integration solution between SAP and SharePoint should use SharePoint as the content repository for information management while permitting two-way process flow between SharePoint and SAP. This kind of integration:
- Allows users to access and retrieve SAP content and processes from either SAP or SharePoint
- Enables users to find content based on metadata and/or transactional information
- Supports the implementation of governance rules for SAP content, including retention/disposition policies, automated application of metadata, etc.
- Links documents to specific SAP business objects and business processes automatically
- Introduces the ability to transfer workflows between SAP and SharePoint users
- Supports full SAP business process functionality and better visibility through theuse of an external content store
Integration at this level between a business application like SAP and an ECM based on SharePoint allows you to decrease business cycle times to improve efficiency, improve information governance and increase compliance with regulatory and other records management requirements, reduce the need for error-prone, manual processes, and expand information accessibility and sharing to enhance collaboration.
A custom-developed solution is one answer, but can be very expensive and take a long time to implement. By using supported products to support integration initiatives, you minimize the required investment, see a reduced time to value, and can trust that new features and emerging best practices are implemented in a timely manner.
To learn more about how using SharePoint to store and manage SAP content reduces complexity, improves process, and boosts ROI, watch this webinar!
For more about digital workplaces, view the other posts in this series:
The Digital Workplace: Collaboration is only the beginning
Digital Workplace Checklist: Improve the value of your information
Digital Workplace Checklist: Create a one-stop shop
Digital Workplace Checklist: Integrating your systems
By Cynthia Wood