Beyond Excel Era

Excel Era continues. For many organizations (or at least part of their processes) Excel Era will never end. Not because these organizations are ignoring  technological revolution but due to nature of processes. Excel is excellent tool for extremely flexible businesses functions. In finance, Excel will be often-used tool for long time. It is always faster to type dozen of formulas into Excel, then go through request-develop-build-test-deploy process. Automation is important and effective for processes which could be formalized, business rules management (BRM) is emerging to address agility in changes, but there always will be calculation documents somewhere.

Documents volumes grow. We will probably see organizations with no paper at all in nearest future, but such documents (I mean files and records, with or w/o attachments) will still be required to do business. And as e-signature is legalized in many countries, number of electronic documents even grows. For company with 10 or even 50 employes it is not a challenge to manage documents, they can be put on shared folder or to VCS in better case for versioning. For bigger organization governance over changes and access to documents become a challenge.

Processes are around people, and documents.  In 2010 Gartner identified (ref) content management as missing part of Business Process Management discipline which should be added. Processes have little sense w/o documents, and typical business processes are around document entities which are passed between process steps.

Emergence of ECM. As response to those challenges, there is huge market of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) systems, which handle storage, input, transformation, access and many other aspects around documents. Install ECM system, put documents into document library, configure access and primitive ECM is done. You have search, filtering, rich view of content. Documents are versioned, users work with documents via checkin/checkout, everybody’s happy. Need approval and signature process for your documents? It could be done with some basic workflow skills in few hours. Need even advance? Integrate documents with other content, create team, project and personal sites, manage content types, etc.

Capture and Preserve. With significant grow of maturity for ECM system over next few years (those who worked with Sharepoint 2003 will notice the difference in SP 2010), there still often are needs for 3rd party in documents capture and long-term storage. High-quality document recognition OCR and OMR technologies are embedded in some ECM, but usually only input of electronic documents is supported. Long term storage for documents archival is always usually weak side of ECM.

BPM integration. Many vendors include basic workflow features in theyr ECM solutions, and for some basic needs they are ok. BPMS, from other side, lack content management at all, and rely on external document systems, with built-in functions to save/retrieve and manipulate documents.

Standards emergence. CMIS is often called “SQL for documents”, and it is one of quickest adopted standards, which define list of web service API to access ECM. Integration with document systems for ISVs is easier and much better scalable.

Bottom Line. Need for ECM as a business tool is high, and will not lower in next decades (for many Sharepoint is as needed as Exchange). Skilled IT professional armed with ECM, BPM and BRM system (3-letter words still dominate) have high potential to make company effective.

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