Workflow, Business Process Management and the management of Unstructured Documents Plethora of unstructured documents such as text documents, spreadsheets, images, XML components, videos, podcasts, email messages that exists around in a large enterprise and it represents the enterprise’s information assets. The problem is that in today’s competitive environment there is an ever increasing generation and use of unstructured electronic documents. It has become highly imperative that there has to be an enterprise wide lifecycle management of these documents which can enable the workers to access the documents in a relative business context.
Many product companies and experts dealing in the area of content management and business process management have proposed that a semantic relation is to be derived between documents and business domain. Thus, the semantic network that eventually gets formed will result in efficient search and filtering of these unstructured documents. Types of data: Structured and unstructured data People use and create unstructured data on daily basis. Although they may not be aware, people create, store, retrieve unstructured data in the form of emails, word documents, excel spreadsheets and other forms.
The unstructured content has no data type as such so it requires human intervention to tag the data with some relevant keywords and meta tags so that it can be read by machines and applications. Structured data is also being used by people and such data is easily managed by technology being allowed for querying and reporting as the data type is predetermined and relationships are explicit. There are two categories of unstructured data: 1) Bitmap Objects: Images, videos, audio and other non-language based files
2) Textual Objects: Word documents, Spreadsheets, Emails and other written or printed language documents Most of these object types can’t be tapped easily to extract relevant information by technology or methodology as technology today can only address textual objects. With the advent of technologies like Enterprise Content Management (ECM), it has become possible to address unstructured data. Data mining and other analysis tools exist to query and analyze structured data. However, the challenge remains in bringing both the worlds of structured and unstructured data together.
Once when they are brought together is when the most value can be derived and gained but this is where the highest level of challenge exists. Few challenges are listed below: 1) Irrespective of having the data in a word document format it may not be consumable from a semantic level perspective 2) A compatible technology may not be able to give insight in to the context of the information unless it is read 3) The way we interpret is largely subjective Organizational Challenges Today the organizations are inherently complex in structure and the departments are loosely connected while they work in isolation.
They only come together when there is a need which leads to an internally disconnected approach. These large organizations need to be responsive to the customer and market needs. In order to be responsive they need to be agile and flexible when it comes to leveraging their matrix management structure as a whole. This can pose some long term as well as short term challenges. The path to overcome these challenges is to have follow business process which entail the entire organizations.
In most organizations, wherever the business processes exist they tend to be isolated to a specific department and are usually manual. This leads to manifestation of various management and operational challenges. Some of the consequences that come up due to these challenges are listed below: 1) Due to inaccurate and untimely information generated as a result of isolated units of an organization, it becomes difficult for management and employees to take correct decisions 2) As information may not be aligned to business context or a business process it may lead to inconsistent decisions
3) Broken or incomplete workflows lead to generation of inconsistent and poor information 4) IT systems may act as inhibitors even if they support business processes when they lack system integration that would hide a single view of the information 5) Strict business rules, policies and procedures can lead to delay in fetching important information Organization and business process alignment These hurdles and challenges which the organization faces are due to factors such as inflexible procedures, legacy infrastructure, orthodox management which include:
1) Manual approach even when business processes and frameworks exist 2) IT enablers found in departments and functional silos making information sharing and gathering labour intensive and tedious 3) IT and other infrastructure is maintained centrally which may not provide quick solutions and service to meet the requirement of internal users 4) As organization is dependent on vendors or contractors for maintenance, support and development of IT and other infrastructure it raises issues of managing changes by themselves.
Organizations need to orient themselves around process rather than functionally. They have the necessary infrastructure and technology in place but the challenge is to align all of it together using business processes. Aligning the organization to business processes and automating the same will help in solving decision making bottlenecks and will integrate functions, departments, core systems to deliver measurable business value. As of now most of the organizations, have IT infrastructure which comprise of applications that address each department separately.
These departments may have business processes that cater to the purpose of the department specific function but this may lead to creation of unstructured and structured data in isolation from other departments defeating the purpose of one goal of the organization. Due to lack of integration between department’s applications and business processes it leads to creation of islands of redundant information for each department. Knowing that there is duplicate information across various applications residing in various departments there will be multiple points of integration which makes it even more complicated.
There is a requirement of point to point integration to resolve this. This increases business risk, delivery costs and it becomes even more important to retain existing talent who can handle the data and information well. IT challenge On drilling down, the problem of not being able to use unstructured data along with structured data semantically whilst the data is specific to each department’s function and not business process of the organization is a challenge for the IT support department of organizations.
Integration of silo applications and automated business processes across departments with respect to the overall business context pose many intricacies which makes it is a very challenging and a costly exercise for the IT function. Few of the reasons are listed below: 1) Laborious task to integrate a variety of business processes and applications 2) Changes in particular to each function may become difficult to replicate across the organization each time 3) Data across functions can’t be normalized due to existence of data in multiple format
4) Data inconsistencies due to unavailability of an information master leads to dependency on data stored on spreadsheets These kind of challenges have typically no end so a comprehensive solution has to be worked out which is robust and serves the goal of the organization by delivering value flawlessly. Workflow Model, Business Process Management (BPM) and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) It is Workflow Automation and a Business Process Management System that will solve the business and technical problems that have been described in this paper so far.
A workflow model is automation or a semi-automation of business processes. On the other hand Business Process Management is a method for managing the workflow model while continuously evaluating its performance and closing the feedback loop. Business processes form the nervous system of an organization or an enterprise. Business Process Management (BPM) is a discipline that empowers an organization to analyze, automate, re-design, streamline, monitor and improve business process while providing end to end visibility and control from technology to people.
An organization has numerous business processes which take place every now and then. They may be simple or complex and may rely on unstructured data. For e. g. Banks have a business process to process the fresh loans application, local retailer has a business process to order new inventory and more. Business processes are the means which enable people, system and information to work simultaneously in order to meet organizations’ goals. However, it is not as easy as it sounds.
Consider an example where in an insurance company the claim officials need digital photos to process a claim, customer representative need customer records and statements, accounts personnel need invoice approvals to disburse the required amount. To address such multi dimensional situation companies are resorting to capabilities of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) which is Business Process Management (BPM) to integrate, optimize, and automate processes and information. This solution enables organizations to make timely and accurate decisions.
Together BPM and ECM businesses are able to deal with explosion of business related content which in turn helps them in becoming nimble and agile. Primarily, there are three changes that drive the need for businesses to become nimble and agile. They are: 1) Creation of islands of business relevant content internal and external to the organization 2) High maintenance cost of information created and stored by disparate sources 3) Incremental strain on IT to meet core business requirements while driving process innovation
In response to these needs ECM and BPM enable organizations with the following: 1) Empower all employees to develop process centric solution 2) Quickly synchronize information from disparate internal as well external data sources 3) Couple processes and content to meet business requirements Businesses today need to use the content that is available across the business processes rather than letting it remain restricted under applications specific to a department or a function. Holistically, the content needs to be put to use for a greater benefit and a better ROI.
Management of Unstructured Documents ECM has become one of the major software category post consolidation of various solutions like Document Management, Document Imaging, Web Content Management, Digital Asset Management while collaborating with BPM. It shouldn’t be treated as only a software category but can be primarily looked at as a strategy to manage all unstructured information – images, web content, media assets and records. Secondly, its job is to ensure that the content is put to use by the business users as per the business processes.
The ECM solutions available today are built to support today’s dynamic requirements of the organization. They are scalable and high on performance when it comes to handling islands of new content and information with respect to complex business processes. Their design is such that they can integrate any kind of unstructured information with business processes and provide features such as process modelling, analytic capabilities, simulation and activity monitoring. They are also capable to handle process exceptions and can respond to demands for content from associates or customers.
It is deduced that ECM as a technology and as a strategy enable information management professionals to manage the unstructured information in the organization to reduce risk, improve productivity in order to bring customer delight. Market Overview Organizations are increasingly adopting ECM to manage the increasing volume and growing diversity of unstructured content which now represents around 80% of the information residing in the enterprise. The opportunity identified is to devote similar rigor to unstructured data as being given to structured data.
The market for ECM registered a double digit growth between the year 2004 to 2007 but it slowed down to single digit in 2008 primarily due to recessionary conditions. As per data gathered by Gartner, around $3. 3bn was collected as license and maintenance revenue for ECM. The ECM market has forecasted compounded annual growth rate of 9. 5% through till 2013. It is expected that the revenue generated from ECM markets worldwide would exceed $5. 1bn by 2013. The ECM market has seen major consolidation between the periods of 2003 to 2007. Large players such as IBM, Oracle, EMC have been acquiring companies to capitalize in this space.
For example, EMC went on spree acquiring Legato, Document, Captiva and Document Sciences. Autonomy acquired Interwoven and Open Text purchased Vignette to become the largest independent vendors in this space competing directly with Microsoft’s Sharepoint. Market Drivers In spite of the recession which forced businesses to refrain from technology spending, the ECM market remained insulated from it for the following reasons: 1) Increase in volume and complexity of content is the reason for concern and investments in ECM henceforth 2) Pricing pressure from open-source vendors stimulating higher demand
3) It targets the overall ROI of the organization As there is a need to manage risks that come along with tonnes of paper and vast variety of digital content, a focus has been brought on governance and content rationalization. Vendors are addressing this by providing different stakeholders or customers with products that serve their purpose while keeping in mind the overall business processes of the organization. Recognizing this focus area many enterprises have become conscious about the lifecycle, access management, availability and cost of the content.
There has been a slowdown in the ECM market due to the recessionary climate as it made the decision makers cautious about investments. In a research conducted by Gartner it was noticed that during this period companies have started looking for a thorough business case and ROI justifications for any kind of technology expenditure. However this could also turn out to be positive for the ECM market as these are the times when the organizations will realize the benefits of ECM solutions and frameworks. Conclusion
Business Process Management and Workflow are not about moving documents across departments. It is about aligning businesses to their core processes and they provide the catalyst to exploit knowledge base to provide improved customer service. Thus, help in delivering measurable bottom line benefits in variety of business cases.
List of References
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