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Drowning in data?

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by Michelle Momberg, Nokusa Engineering Informatics

A large organisation places a routine order to its manufacturer: the specs for the product are retrieved from the company’s computerised database by an engineer, the order is authorised by a manager, and it is sent off to the manufacturer. When the product is delivered, the sizes are wrong. The fallout is horrible – the loss has to be written off, a project is delayed, the relationship with the client is damaged, the CEO wants heads to roll. But whose fault is it? The engineer? The manager? The system? The data capturer? Or the gremlins in cyberspace?

This is a typical challenge faced by organisations that disseminate large quantities of information through their workflow processes. Increasingly, companies are learning that, without an efficient content management system, their sustainability is at risk.

We are operating in a knowledge economy that is being fuelled by a veritable explosion of digital data. A study conducted in 2010 by US market research company IDC, estimates that the size of the digital universe was then around 800 000 petabytes (at 1-million gigabytes per petabyte) and is expected to reach 35 zettabytes (35-million petabytes) by 2020.

With the scale of electronic information required in a modern organisation, the way in which that information is captured, stored, accessed and used will determine the effectiveness and sustainability of the organisation. We deal daily with a barrage of emails, invoices, orders, records, complaints, minutes, memos, reports, results, findings; the list goes on. How do we store this content? How do we ensure that it gets to the right people and is used to build value?

These are the questions being addressed in the growing practice of enterprise content management (ECM) which looks at how we use our knowledge to build sustainability in the business process.

Not to be confused with enterprise resource planning systems (ERP) – in a nutshell, ECM implements systems that streamline the flow, accuracy and accessibility of data, enabling organisations to share their knowledge efficiently and put it to work in the correct context. A well conceptualised ECM system can manage any flow of content, from documents, e-mail and records, to scanning, imaging and capturing, content collaboration, workflow processes, compliance, search and retrieval and data capturing, resulting in improved efficiencies.  

Awareness that knowledge is an asset is growing in South Africa and many companies now recognise that the repository of knowledge within an organisation constitutes its intellectual property.

In addition, the way in which that asset is used may be integral to an organisation’s corporate governance.

Typically, a small enterprise will introduce ECM with a simple file plan set up on a server where users can store and retrieve documents. Medium-sized businesses may move to an affordable cloud-based system, Microsoft Sharepoint or an open source product like Nuxeo or Alfresco. However, movement to cloud-based applications of content management remains slow as a result of concerns about access to bandwidth and the costs of connectivity, as well as issues around security and control of data stored in the cloud.

As the complexity in workflow increases within an organisation, it will eventually require a more flexible routing of content between people. This is when a customised ECM system is called for. Decision makers and users are also starting to see that content management does not evolve organically. You have to plan for it. And when you plan for it and apply it correctly, it can help to solve business problems and impact on all areas of the business.

ECM involves implementing a customised system of knowledge retrieval that optimises business processes. Before you think of implementing ECM you need to know what you have, what you need, how you will use it, who will use it, etc. Thus the ECM consultant will always start by developing an understanding of your business and its strategic objectives. The system that is developed should focus on preserving your knowledge, ensuring that it is easy to find and can be optimally harnessed to add value and make an impression going forward.

For an ECM system to be effective it must be integrated with an organisation’s existing structures and systems, and there must be correct functionality to allow for such integration. The result of a properly designed ECM system is optimum capture of content, speed of processing it and ease and accuracy of use.

ECM can be a costly investment. To get the full value and benefit from a customised ECM system, training the practitioners who will be involved is integral to the development of the system. Ultimately, an organisation needs skilled content managers who can apply the functionality of a system to support any business processes that arise.

Any organisation that is planning to embark on an ECM initiative is advised to do its homework – think, plan, understand and get advice. The cost of failing to implement a sound content management system will be costly.

Contact Michelle Momberg, Nokusa Engineering Informatics,

Tel 011 791-1028, michelle.momberg@nokusaei.com

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