Content Integration Services – Connecting ERP to ECM

Hydro Towers.jpg

Several AIIM Conferences ago, one of the top tier Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors made a point of delivering a session based on the premise that no one actually wants to see an ECM platform doing its stuff. What they meant was that clients wanted the benefits without really seeing how the ECM platform works. Like we all like hot dogs but don’t really want to know how they’re made.

Note: Earlier this year someone claimed that ECM is dead (it’s not) and is being replaced by Content Services (wrong again, they’re the same thing). So, if you see something called “Content Services Platforms (CSP)” or similar, it’s the same as ECM platforms.

In an ideal world, ECM works with your other enterprise and business applications to provide the content in holistic, end-to-end processes and workflows. However, that is rarely the case. Despite the fact that it’s easier than ever to make applications interoperate, most content is still stuck in silos and not available to people and applications that need it. And the content that is available to everyone that needs it is made available by sending copies around as email attachments, insecurely stored and completely ungoverned. The result is a chaotic mess of multiple copies of documents that no one knows where they are until they’re produced as evidence against you in some court proceeding or other when you’d actually thought you’d (legally) disposed of them ages ago. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

We’re going to present a couple of use cases to highlight why content needs to be freed by using Content Integration Services (CIS) to connect ERP applications with ECM platforms. They’re not really complicated, but they are the type of use cases that many organizations waste many, many hours dealing with.


Contractor Timesheets

Timesheets are a pain for many companies and contractors. In addition to having the correct information on timesheets (e.g.: project codes, PO #’s, dates, etc.), there are additional challenges related to printing, scanning, routing, and signing them. By building a solution from components that include ECM, digital signatures, ERP, and CIS, timesheets time becomes a joy. Okay, maybe not really a joy, but certainly less cumbersome and onerous than before.

Timesheet Process.png

By leveraging ECM, digital signatures, and ERP, and then gluing it all together with content integration services, organizations end up with a timesheet process that is nimble, complete, quick, error free, and auditable. The basic steps in the process are:

1.     Within an ECM platform, a contractor fills in their timesheet with all relevant information and digitally signs it;

2.     Using collaboration capabilities of the ECM platform, the contractor submits their timesheet for approval;

3.     Using digital signature integration in the ECM platform, the approver approves the contractor’s timesheet (or not);

a.     If not approved the timesheet is routed back to the contractor for corrections.

4.     Content integration service “strips” relevant data from the approved timesheet and passes it to the ERP application;

5.     ERP application processes the timesheet for payment;

6.     ERP application generates a payment slip;

7.     Content integration service takes the payment slip and stores it in the ECM platform;

8.     ECM platform presents the payment slip to the contractor.

Field Manuals

While not applicable to every industry, many industries need to service equipment in the field. Providing field personnel with the appropriate environmental standards, health & safety manuals, repair & maintenance procedures, and technical / engineering procedures & standards is critical. This documentation helps to save time and money, and also helps to keep field personnel from harm.

The following diagram illustrates how work order details are passed from an ERP application to an ECM platform, to provide field personnel with the right documentation to do their work safely and cost effectively.

Workorder Process.png


1.     ERP application issues a work order;

2.     ERP application assigns field personnel to the work order;

3.     Content integration service passes work order details (personnel, location, job type, asset id, etc.) to the ECM platform;

4.     ECM platform uses work order details to find the relevant documents;

5.     ECM platform delivers documents to field personnel;

6.     Field personnel execute the work order.

Connective Tissue

Above are only two examples of use cases that can be made better by using CIS to connect ERP with ECM. The fact is, any process that relies on both ERP and ECM can be helped by content integration services.

Assuming that an organization has an ECM platform and an ERP application, it’s the content integration piece that allows the full automation of the entire process. Content integration is the connective tissue that allows ECM platforms and ERP applications to work together holistically and harmoniously.

Solution Evolution

Note: Apologies in advance for this being an infomercial for Box. We assure you that was not our intent for this post.


A few weeks ago (Oct 10 – 12) , we were at BoxWorks in San Francisco. For those of you who don’t know, BoxWorks is Box’s annual conference, and a must-attend event for those interested in content management, especially cloud first content management. A topic that came up more than once was OpenText’s purchase of Documentum. Specifically, what it means for Documentum customers, and what they are thinking. Here's a hint;

Let's agree that Aaron Levie owes Mark Barrenechea a great bottle of Scotch, a bouquet of roses, and a hand-written thank you note. If OpenText hadn’t bought Documentum it's doubtful you’d hear of so many Documentum customers getting ready to bail, and taking a serious look at Box as a viable replacement.

More recently, we had a couple of very relevant and telling conversations; the first was with a Box customer looking to get off Documentum; the second was with Box. I also had a conversation at last year’s BoxWorks event with someone in a highly regulated industry. Their company is a sizeable Box customer and is, reluctantly we think, still required to use Documentum for some of their more regulated content. It's a safe bet that they’d prefer not to have to rely on Documentum. For what it’s worth, this conversation took place prior to the closing of OpenText’s purchase of Documentum, but we all knew it was coming.

Pardon the digression … where we're actually going with this post is that there is going to be an evolution of Box within client organizations. It won’t simply be spread and sprawl, like we see with so many ECM implementations that begin life in one department and eventually spread throughout most of the organization. Certainly this will happen with Box, but with the added advantage of (easily) encompassing the extended enterprise (i.e.: external stakeholders).

No, the evolution of which we speak is about starting as a relatively simple content management implementation and evolving into actual business solutions. Yes, legacy ECM platforms are certainly capable of this as well, but most haven’t gone down that path for one reason or another.

For Box customers this evolution is going to happen one of two ways, or, more likely, in a hybrid manner. Customers are going to sign up for Box to solve some pretty simple content management and collaboration uses cases. Once they have this initial set of use cases sorted out, they are going to get a visit from their friendly neighbourhood Box representative and be shown “the art of the possible” (I really, really hate that phrase!). Once they see what can be done with Box and its myriad integrations, they are going to start crafting solutions that solve business use cases.

As much as Box, paired with some of its available integrations can do, it can’t do everything. And this is where that second type of solution evolution comes in, and it’s called Box Platform.

We're fairly convinced that organizations wanting to have content centric business solutions are going to need to build applications that tie together disparate repositories with business logic. Today, a basic premise of Box is that all your content is in one place; that’s not realistic, nor will it ever be. Even legacy ECM platforms relied on Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) to tie together content and logic from multiple systems in order to deliver business solutions, rather than content management solutions.

A client we've spoken with intends to use their content management system (CMS) for loan origination. That’s cool, but, other than the content, there is nothing in the CMS that helps with loan origination. The business logic is in an ERP tool and the content is spread across multiple repositories, one of which is Box. Currently, they really have no way to tie everything together in order to deliver an elegant, functional, efficient solution to their users and clients. However, once they go down the Box Platform path, and they will even if they don’t yet know it, they will have the tools necessary to build an end-to-end solution for loan origination.

Think about all the different content centric / reliant use cases that every organization has that they use every day. Think about their desire to go mobile and go to the cloud with as much as they can. That’s when the beauty and the magic that something like Box Platform happen; it allows organizations to build content centric applications that transcend technical, geographic, and organizational boundaries. A little over two years ago, when Box Platform initially became available, I was pretty excited (as you can tell if you read this); there is no reason for me to change my mind. Box customers looking for solutions beyond content management and collaboration are going to evolve into Box Platform customers. When that happens the potential impact of Box products such as Relay, Skills, and Graph (all announced at BoxWorks, all coming soon) is going to be even more important than it is today.