Integration Between ECM and Business Applications
We’ve written before about the problems of “silos” in organizations, or business operations that don’t communicate with each other. Silos can cause challenges because they keep different parts of the business operations from being able to communicate with each other. The result can be duplication of effort. Worse, such silos can result in errors or differences in the data between the multiple parts of the organization.
Silos can be caused by either limitations in the software products that the organization uses—perhaps, even, that different parts of the organization use different products—or limitations in the corporate organization itself. And if two different parts of the organization aren’t communicating well with each other, it’s not particularly realistic to expect any piece of software, no matter how good, to be able to bridge that gap.
But some organizations are finding that they can use enterprise content management (ECM) software to help link the various parts of the organization together. So, if two groups within an organization are using two different kinds of applications the company may find even if the two pieces of software aren’t very good at communicating with each other, it’s possible for each of them to integrate with a particular piece of ECM software. The ECM software then acts as a lingua franca to help bridge the gap between the two groups within the organization and help break down the silos.
ECM may have started out as a tool to capture, store, and manage content in administrative and financial departments, but it has evolved to also include functionality such as workflows, business process management, and case management capabilities. Indeed, research organizations such as Gartner Inc. and AIIM have explicitly stated that the role of ECM systems going forward should be to deliver data to business applications, such as Salesforce. “Salesforce without integration is like a house on a beautiful island with no way to get there,” is a common saying.
“ECM systems have become mission-critical alongside the other pillars of enterprise IT,” writes Doug Miles, chief analyst for AIIM, in ECM Decisions: strategic options for managing, accessing and preserving content. “They need to be ECM integrated with these other systems.”
Leading ECM systems can typically be integrated with the organization’s Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Resource Management (HRM), and other business applications, such as Salesforce, according to Melissa Webster, IDC’s Program Vice President, Content and Digital Media Technologies, in Enterprise Innovation. This allows organizations to streamline their key business processes, eliminate errors and delays, improve process visibility, make their workers more productive, deliver better customer service, and reduce risk, she adds. In addition, ECM software makes it easier for users to gain access to data within other applications more quickly, reducing the amount of time that the users need to spend searching for the information.
To consolidate content silos, 20 percent of the companies surveyed said that they intend to migrate content to ECM, while 44 said that they planned to integrate ECM with other enterprise systems, Miles writes. In addition, more than 30 percent of respondents reported that their strategy for addressing the issue of content stored within other enterprise systems was to provide content integration links between ECM and enterprise systems—the top answer.
However, while many organizations have good intentions toward using ECM to integrate with other business applications, most of them have a ways to go yet, Miles writes. Currently, 61 percent have no connection between ECM and ERP, 24 percent have a one-way content link, 8 have a two-way link, and 7 percent have an accounts payable/accounts receivable transaction link, he 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,” Miles writes. “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.”
Of course, it would be nice to have a single system that communicated with everything. But many organizations already have legacy systems in place for line of business applications. Integration with ECM gives users in these organizations access to the data in those applications.