Enterprise content management and business process management are two separate but complimentary solutions. In part one of this two part series, we look at the need to integrate the two and some business scenarios where you would (and would not) integrate them.

We do not see a situation very often in the enterprise -- large or SMB -- where a Busines Process Management (BPM) product (like IBM Lombardi, Pega, Appian, etc) is integrated with an Enterprise CMS (EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet/P8, Alfresco) to bring process and content together in a collaborative workspace. There might be few reasons behind this:

  • Most of the time we deal with content management and content centric workflow in a ECM solution and who does not know that all ECM vendors come up with their own BPM tool/add-on (EMC BPM, IBM P8 Process Engine, jBPM etc) and that these BPM tool/add-ons are sufficient enough to do the content centric workflow job.
  • It is the other way in a BPM centric solution. The BPM solution mostly deals with process identification and discovery, streamlining the process, process chorography/orchestration, rules for decision making, integration with downstream systems along with business activity monitoring (BAM). So the BPM solution may not need to be integrated with an ECM solution where content does not play a much bigger role in process.

    Even if a BPM centric solution needs content in small scale, a good tool will be able to handle that need. Almost all BPM vendors come with their own small native content management system (embedded within the product) offering some very rudimentary content management features.

The above strategies might work out pretty well for SMBs and some departmental solutions, even for some large enterprises where you don’t really need the best of the both and business is either content centric or process centric. But in today's increasingly complex business process and integration situation, the above pure play ECM or BPM solution may not always work well.

This article primarily will focus on these area(s):

  • Why these purely ECM centric or purely BPM centric solutions may not work well in some enterprise integration situations.
  • Provide several real business scenarios/use cases to establish why there is a need for these two (ECM & BPM) to sit together to get the best from both.
  • Architectural patterns/strategies we should adapt to bring these two under the same umbrella.
  • Challenges while bringing these two together.

Read: Gartner Publishes BPM Cool Vendor List, Agility and Dynamism Are Key

The Need to Integrate BPM with ECM

Large enterprises are already running their robust and matured CMS solutions for a long time on different ECM platforms such as EMC Documentum, IBM P8, Alfresco and Open Text. At the same time these enterprises may need a BPM tool to handle rule driven complex business process and integration scenarios to improve operational efficiency and manage business agility.

Business processes often need to refer to content resident in a unified content store to do a better decision making job for some business scenario(s). So you will probably utilize the organization's unified content management store/service to retrieve content for the process. This involves light-weight content centric operations being performed in a BPM tool.

It would not be a good idea to store/retrieve content in or from the BPM tool itself if the organization is already running an Enterprise CMS. While BPM will be used for orchestration to enable a business process using fine grained rules with integration capabilities and human tasks, the ECM solution will be the content and content related service provider for the BPM process.

(Editor's Note: Also from Ghosh Palash: 5 Things to Consider when Integrating your Content Management System and Portal)

Business Scenario(s)/Use Cases

Actually you may find very few business processes where content is not involved with business activities and not playing a role in business decision making, though it is a different question all together how this content is authored, stored and managed. Let us discuss a few business scenarios/use cases to analyze how content can participate in a real business process:

Attaching the Content With Business Process

User associated ad-hoc content within workflow tasks can be added as an attachment for the recipient’s reference. Though this ad-hoc content can play an important role in the business process perspective, this type of content may not be stored and maintained in CMS: The content lifecycle ends when the process ends its lifecycle. A pure play BPM system should be able to fulfill this need.

Manage CRUD Operations and Related Rich ECM Functionality Within a Business Process

This type of content centric workflow might be better achieved using a BPM add-on (like ECM BPM, P8 Process Engine etc.) provided by a pure play ECM vendor. An end-to-end web content publishing solution or purely content centric workflows are some of the example in this category.

Referring Content as Link in Business Process and Update Metadata in ECM

This scenario makes use of the Enterprise CMS already running in organization to bring the right content to the right BPM process to help the decision making. BPM may not be used as content entry point in a typical case management system for insurance or legal business or even in a contract management system for large enterprises. Content will reside and be managed in the ECM system separately.

But content needs to be made available as part of the business process activity (implemented using pure play BPM) to help the decision making. This is a deserving case for integrating BPM with ECM. A typical use case would be :

  • User logs in portal and clicks on 'My Task'
  • User opens the task he is interested in to work
  • User clicks on the document link (attached with the task) to review it
  • User approves or rejects the process step and some metadata gets updated in the ECM
  • User logs out

Create & Refer Content Along With Metadata in the Business Process

In a typical HR on-boarding process, an employee offer letter can be stored in a unified content repository for the organization at the final step of the process. In the same line, for a student course management business process, a student’s certificate can be stored and maintained in an organization’s unified repository after the student’s successful course completion. These are deserving cases for ECM & BPM integration.

In part 2 of this two part article, you will learn some architectural patterns and strategies for integrating a BPM solution with an enterprise cms.