In over eight years of delivering content management solutions to clients, Blue Fish Development Group has noticed an interesting trend: multiple document management systems, each initially deployed to meet the needs of a specific business unit or department, tend to evolve into a single Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system.
Overlapping systems mean islands of information supported by specialized yet redundant applications and operations. More and more companies are eliminating the redundancy and bringing that information into a centralized, normalized content repository. This is similar to the trend we saw over the past decade as companies standardized on and migrated to one database platform, but the benefits go well beyond the cost savings of platform standardization. This article explores the benefits – expected and unexpected – that businesses are realizing from this consolidation of all types of content management systems.
The most obvious and often most compelling benefits have to do with saving money. These savings come in several flavors:
Reduced Support Costs
Consolidating content repositories reduces the costs of supporting, maintaining and upgrading your ECM infrastructure. Let’s say a company has two content repositories running on different vendors’ technologies. To support these two repositories, they have to train their support people on two applications and two technologies, pay maintenance fees to both vendors, apply twice as many patches and upgrade twice as often.
The math is quite simple, and the more repositories you have, the more compelling the cost savings become. One of our clients, Solvay Pharmaceuticals, consolidated content from a dozen systems that were on several different software platforms. Although they were initially motivated by other business drivers and have not formally tracked the ROI, the cost savings are real. David Szweda, Manager of IT Applications for Solvay observes: “We used to maintain multiple environments, such as sandbox, test, and production, for each of the applications. Dropping from thirty-something environments to three has definitely reduced our IT operating expenses.”
Reduced Disk Storage Requirements
With disparate systems, you are sure to end up with copies of the same file in multiple places. Well intentioned people distribute documents and other content and the recipients save them in their own systems and repositories. Other well intentioned people take the initiative to search for a piece of content in a distant system and again save it in a local repository. Having multiple copies of a document scattered across various networks requires more overall storage space. Consolidating these repositories reduces total storage space requirements across the enterprise.
In addition to reducing storage costs, having everything in one place saves time. If you only have to look in one place, you will find what you’re looking for faster. And ensuring that you are always working with the only copy, and therefore the current version, reduces mistakes and re-do’s that result from working with outdated content.
Simpler and Less Costly Backup and Disaster Recovery Plan
Most companies have some type of a backup and disaster recovery plan, which is generally viewed as another type of insurance expense. But consider this: more systems mean more moving pieces, and it’s more likely that something will slip through the cracks. In addition, it takes more people to watch over and facilitate the backup procedures. So what if you could reduce the cost of this “insurance policy”?
Bas Ursem, Solvay Pharmaceuticals’ System Architect for their centralized platform, summed it up as follows: “If you have all your data in one place, you can easily arrange for it to be backed up and have a physical copy moved to an off site storage facility. In this scenario, it’s much easier if all your eggs are in one basket. You don’t have to have as many people keeping things together.”
Although putting all your eggs in one basket is usually a metaphor for something you should not do, we again turn the metaphor on its head. Having all your intellectual assets in a single ECM repository simplifies the challenges of access control and security. This benefit manifests itself in four main areas.
1. Records Management
Retention policies specify how long you must keep information around, and they usually have a legal basis. If all of your important documents are stored in a single repository, you only have to maintain one set of retention policies. But retention policies can be trumped by Legal Hold – the process by which an organization protects and preserves all of the information that is potentially relevant to a current legal proceeding. Should some of your content be placed on Legal Hold, you must ensure that the content is not deleted until the legal issue is resolved. This means the normal retention policies that would otherwise allow deletion must be overridden. If everything is in one system, you only have to apply a Legal Hold to one set of content, further simplifying the process of overriding retention policies.
On the flip side, having everything in one repository makes it much easier to delete all related content once the retention period has expired, thereby limiting your liability – including personal liability for senior executives imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley regulations.
Another aspect of content management related to legal matters is Electronic Discovery, or eDiscovery. Legal requests for documentation come in many forms, from inquiries to subpoenas. If you find yourself needing to turn over documentation as part of a legal procedure, how can you be sure you didn’t overlook some relevant piece of content? Again, a centralized repository simplifies the process. All your content is in one place and – thanks to the built-in features of today’s content management systems – is appropriately identified and categorized. The probability of locating everything in a timely manner increases significantly.
3. User Accounts and Permission Sets
Multiple content management systems require multiple user accounts and permissions. Consolidation offers greater security and a better degree of power over who can see what with just one set of security controls. It’s easier to manage when everything is under the same roof. And don’t forget about the cost savings you’ll realize by eliminating maintenance on multiple sets of user accounts performed by multiple support teams.
4. Unauthorized Access
Consolidating into one system means only one entry point, which simplifies monitoring for and preventing unauthorized access. Your company has invested significant resources, time and money into developing or acquiring trade secrets and other intellectual assets. These gems need to be protected, and it’s much easier to safeguard only one door.
Adopting a global model means building bridges across geography, language and culture as well as adopting uniform standard operating procedures. The benefits discussed in this section have to do with enabling people to work smarter.
Consistency: A Requirement for Going Global
Consistency in processes and conventions, such as names, formats and folder structures creates a unified – and more productive – workforce. Allergan, another global pharmaceutical company, recently completed a consolidation. “All of our documents are located in one docbase,” says Mark Bridges, Allergan’s Migration Team Lead. “Everything is done the same way.” “We now have a global system,” adds Kathleen Foley, Allergan’s Validation Team Lead. “Everyone is using the same format, process, and presentation.”
Solvay Pharmaceuticals was an early pioneer in the consolidation movement. “Not a lot of people were thinking about centralizing at the time,” says Szweda. “We were on the cusp of going global and the migration [to a centralized repository] jump-started the whole business transformation model. People thought we were crazy. But we knew, ultimately, we would save resources and build consistency from an IT standpoint, with everyone doing identical actions within a single system.”
The consolidation has definitely played out as expected for Solvay Pharmaceuticals and other clients. In addition, having everyone “speak” the same business language increases productivity by employees who move to or work temporarily in another office or country. This scenario occurs frequently in the global marketplace, and mobile employees are immediately productive regardless of where they are sitting when they log in.
Rio Tinto, a leading international mining group, decided to standardize on one web content management technology that supports various intranet sites. The initial efforts were funded by larger divisions with sufficient budget for such an undertaking. As part of the process, these pioneers defined and implemented the set of roles and processes for authoring, reviewing, publishing and maintaining web content in Rio Tinto’s environment. Once developed, smaller divisions who couldn’t afford a full web content development initiative have leveraged the technology and business processes already in place at other divisions. The end result: standardizing on technology leads to aligning business processes across the enterprise.
Make Better Decisions
Mineral, petrochemical and other companies who deal with natural resources spend vast sums of money to acquire information. BHP Billiton Petroleum realized that timely access to the right information allowed geologists and geophysicists to reduce the cost of finding resources along with increasing the productivity of existing assets. If you can get everything into the same repository, you can make larger scale decisions. And we’re not just talking about documents; geological data comes in a wide variety of formats including photos, video and raw seismic data. Acquiring this data can be very costly, and companies need to squeeze out every possible drop of benefit.
But BHP Billiton discovered an unexpected benefit from consolidating their geological data. Along with bringing all the data together in one place, they took the time to properly tag the information using a geological categorization, also referred to as a taxonomy, appropriate for their business. Blue Fish helped them design and implement a front end to the repository that fully utilizes this taxonomy. The result is that the application can lead researchers to find key geological similarities between far flung destinations that they might not have thought to compare.
Consolidating all the information on the back end is also a great time to take advantage of the improved functionality offered by today’s ECM systems. Companies who jumped on the document management bandwagon in the early days are likely to have outdated user applications that are hard to use. For example, we recently helped Pfizer Pharmaceuticals migrate from a system that was originally deployed in 1998 to a new system that is easier to use and maintain.
Solvay Pharmaceuticals is another recent example. Once they migrated to their enterprise platform, they started using work flow features that weren’t available in the old system. They discovered that using these built-in workflow management capabilities reduced the time it takes to approve documents from three days to three hours.
If you are considering consolidation, and even if you are still in that early, frustrated stage of wondering where and when to start, rest assured that moving toward a single ECM system will not only save you time, money and a handful of headaches – it will likely offer you some pleasant surprises along the way.