In a previous article, I wrote that “the definition of enterprise has expanded beyond technology and now means ‘applications, systems and processes that are critical to the survival and growth of the organization.’” Developing a strategy around the process of technology integration is perhaps the most important thing you can do to ensure success in today’s information economy.

Organizations today are seeking to make more efficient use of technology investments, using existing enterprise components to develop new capabilities. Integration connects multiple systems so that they can share meaningful data to improve workflow, customer service and the speed of decision making enterprise-wide.

Done well, integration enables organizations to create a technology backbone that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Point-to-point integration projects have their place, but a holistic integration strategy ensures that you are building a platform that can serve as a true foundation for future growth.

ECM's Role in Your Integration Strategy

A recent survey from Accenture states that most organizations have between five and 20 applications that are content-related. If the goal of your integration strategy is to reduce redundancy and increase speed, then you need to find a way to combine enterprise information sources and applications, allowing access to content in multiple locations, solving business challenges as they emerge and enabling true BPM.

Many organizations have begun implementing ECM as integrative middleware that enables content-related applications to work together to drive business processes. Composite content applications are the physical manifestation of this strategy.

Gartner defines a composite application as “an abstraction layer on top of a service repository, which orchestrates a new business process and has its own user interface. A composite application may be a process template or a ‘service.’”

For simplicity’s sake, I tend to define them as applications built by combining multiple functions into a new application.

Composite applications allow access to multiple data sources and foster the merging of real-time and legacy data. When you build a composite application, you are delivering a cross-functional enterprise solution.

According to IDC, 27.4% of documents are used to initiate or drive a business process. When it comes to these document-centric processes, it only makes sense to use enterprise content management as integrative middleware.

This strategy enables you to standardize the central system and customize the delivery of information based on departmental needs. For example, the legal department might access content stored in your Enterprise CMS via a contract management system, whereas a finance clerk would gain access to content via a hotkey in Peoplesoft.

ECM’s Role in Cary, NC’s Integration Strategy

Cary, a town of 141,000 people, is located in the heart of North Carolina’s Research Triangle region. Citizens are served by a municipal government comprised of 12 departments, including Fire, Police, Public Works, Engineering and Planning, among others.

The Technology Services Department is tasked with providing computer and communication services that improve staff productivity and enhance information exchange from department to department and to the citizens of Cary. It is also responsible for controlling hardware and software costs.

According to Bill Stice, Cary’s Technology Services Director, one of his department’s major challenges is accommodating “fairly dissimilar” business processes with the same technology foundation. He explains, “When we look at purchasing new applications, we want them to be flexible enough to meet departmental needs, but able to be tied together with everything else when we need it to be.”

Rather than duplicating efforts in different departments, Cary has integrated its Enterprise CMS with a number of departmental software applications -- including an AS/400-based Contract Control System and MapInfo GIS -- to execute repeatable processes in a consistent manner across the organization, optimizing resource efficiency, cost and service performance.

Stice says, “Our ECM system has become a strategic application. It’s the standard we use to manage paper and it’s the only one we use to access that information and tie it to other information.”

A Few Things to Consider

Before you begin to craft your organization’s integration strategy, be sure to answer these five questions:

  • What is your current IT infrastructure capable of absorbing and supporting?
  • What are your enterprise needs, both short-term and long-term?
  • What are your support issues and costs?
  • What are your goals for standardization, centralization and rationalization?
  • What are your dependencies?

Remember that integrations are most successful when they are fueled by corporate business drivers and align technology with line-of-business goals. These types of process-driven integrations, identified as composite applications, allow organizations to deliver the high-value outcomes of their business stack.

Join us next month to explore three vital steps for kick-starting your holistic integration strategy.

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