ECMplaza 2006 English summariesΒΆ

Tags: plone

I attended an Enterprise Content Management event in the Netherlands (ecmplaza). Most of the talks were in Dutch, so I also made those summaries in Dutch. Here are the summaries of the English talks.

Ronan Lavelle (Open Text): Contracts lifecycle management

Contracts lifecycle management helps to control the two things at the centre of any organisation: revenue and costs. It manage the creation, negotiation, archiving, etc. of your contracts.

There are many contracts: with suppliers, employees, partnerships, for rental property, etc. Some 60-80% of business-to-business transactions are reinforced by legally binding contracts and agreements - which often end up archived away in filing cabinets.

The contracts contain key terms, conditions and milestones that need to be properly managed. Managing also means monitoring and enforcing parts of those contracts. Why would you spend a lot of time in negotiating a contract, trying to get good terms, and practically throw away the contract into a filing cabinet immediately afterwards?

Contracts are documents, but can they also serve as sources for data and reporting? What does the contract say and what does our financial expenses report say? Compare it! Manage the contract!

Cost control is the main reason many companies look into contract lifecycle management. Cost control means for instance monitoring auto-renewal clauses. Or think about penalty clauses for missing deadlines: monitor those dates (whether you have to pay the penalty or whether it is your supplier that has to pay you).

Another reason is regulatory compliance. SOX, EU 8th directive, Tabaksblad. This is not the number one driver, though. Business efficiency is more important. Extract benefit from your contract. Extract maximum value over the life of the contract.

Their system consists of a few modules. Creation (self-service creation of contracts), approval (with a workflow to get it approved), negotiation (secure electronic workplace for external negotiation instead of mailing word documents around), storage (secure central repository) and reporting (contract reporting and alerts). That last step is really important as it can add value.

(Their system was formerly called Hummingbird, they've just been acquired by Open Text a month ago).

Some things from the demonstration. There's a clause library inside the system, so the legal team can make the clauses. This prevents copy/pasting of paragraphs in Word. If you create the contract you get to fill in a questionnaire that helps you fill in one of the contract templates. Do you need German terms or is it only for the Netherlands? One partner or multiple? Etcetera.

James Robertson (Step two designs): Control or chaos?

Document management in intranets: control or chaos?

With document management, we're in competition with other ways of getting at the information. If it is easier to look up a document in the filing cabinet, the employees use that instead of the content management system.

To a large sense, our problems are not really technology problems. We only have to help the nice lady behind the desk to get her job done. In the end of the day, we need to help her.

She's a nice lady. She is not evil. But she stores documents on her desktop. She stuffs files away into obscure Outlook folders. Because she has to get her job done. From a corporate viewpoint, she might be an information terrorist, an evil that has to be stamped out by rolling out the corporate document management solution!

So: it is all about humans!

Difference between document management and content management.

Document management system
You manage documents (word, excel), it is a big bucket you use for storage, security, workflow, etc.
Web content management
You manage web content. Those content items are cross-linked. And they don't make sense on their own, but belong in a site structure. And there's a system that produces the eventual web pages.

So: you might need both a CM and a DM. A CMS can do some very basic document handling, but it is not very handy.

Start off with a basic web CMS. Don't put too much money into the CMS. If you haven't outgrown the CMS in three years, you've chosen the wrong one (sic!). Shove your documents in there and assign keywords if possible. This is a step on the road to bigger order, away from chaos.

As the second step, install a DMS to better manage corporate documents and compliance and so. "Install a DMS" is perhaps a bit too simple, as you can make a choice for the wrong system. Many systems are way too hard to use, for instance. Luckily there's some innovation going on in the DMS world again.

And again: how do you get your employees to use it? By forcing them? No. By convincing them? No. The only good reason is "because it is the easiest way to find back the document in 6 months time".

As the third step, use the corporate intranet as a cheap way to provide an interface to your DMS. Generate a "human resources" page automatically from the DMS that lists the 20 documents, grouped by the two categories that they've been given. A pretty user-friendly way of dealing with the DMS.

Just get a developer or a good student and set him down with the API of the DMS system and have him code the automatically generated intranet. In just a few days. You don't need a big CMS for this.

A good tip: first target efforts to solve real business needs. Solve some real business-related problem first. Like post-it notes with water supply contamination warnings plastered in the middle of someones desk. That needs solving first. After that you can get to the next problem. Don't wait for the official pilot project to finish. Don't do work for three years without solving actual problems in those years.

So:

  • The intranet can greatly assist in getting better managed documents.
  • Start by using the simple document repository of some CMS.
  • Then start with a DMS and use the intranet to provide a user-friendly interface to a DMS.
  • look for small-scale practical steps and solutions.
  • Target efforts to resolve key business needs and issues.

James 's got a weblog, btw. And there's a load of articles on intranets, usability and so on his Step two designs website.

In the question round, he got a bit of flak for apparently only focusing on a 3 till 6 month timescale. What about a long term view, a strategy? His answer: focus on half a year or so. What are you going to deliver? Not start on, not work on, but deliver. Incremental improvements based on working stuff.

A strategy is fine, but schedule that. Take half a year for coming up with a strategy. That's going to be the deliverable, then, for this half year. If you think you need it...

John Newton (Alfresco) : Bringing innovation back to ECM with open source

John Newton was one of the founders of Documentum (1990) and he's got a big part of Documentum's java team at his current alfresco company. So quite a lot of ECM experience.

Alfresco is open: open source, open standards. And they use a lot of existing best-of-breed open source components. It also aims at the enterprise: enterprise-scale, enterprise-infrastructure. Tens of thousands of users, hundreds of thousands or page.

So where's it going with ECM? For a long time there wasn't much innovation. The same big players existed and kept existing. A big change was the start of the web, that provided some new players. But the recession and the dot-com-bust hit and money became scarce so research was cut. So innovation was low.

Exactly in that low period, open source (web) content management system started to spring up and provided some innovation. One of those was CMS standards.

John thinks that the existing ECM vendors are alienating partners and customers. Trying to force upgrades down the throat and so. And suddenly open source is acceptable. They looked at linux and it didn't break. They looked at mysql and it didn't break. Lots of the stuff is just good. The Fortune 1000 use it, it is acceptable.

Web 2.0 also drives innovation. http://zillow.com is a so-called mash-up that combines google maps, government land area boundaries and housing price info to show how much property costs in certain areas, changing the way many people deal with buying houses.

This isn't a big application that integrates huge expensive backends with a service oriented architecture. A few scripts, some javascript, a simple way of connecting them.

His summary of closed source software: the number one priority is the protection of the intellectual property. The developers are insulated by layers of management and customer relations departments from the actual customers.

Why would we do that? Why not throw everything open? Communicate directly with the customers? Why not maintain an open list of bugs?

What John things content management will be in the future: interoperability using mach-ups; standardisation of services; simplicity; etc.

Services: 1.0 is the SAOP web services circus with corporate backing and corporate following and reams of standards and additional standards to plug the holes in the original standards. The alternative, 2.0, is to just use URLs and http: the so-called REST style. And some javascript and so. Simple. Developer and user backing. Google and amazon added both SOAP and REST interfaces to their systems. Developers chose: REST:SOAP = 10:1.

He mentions http://opensearch.org as a nice way to do searches over multiple systems.

People hate ECM systems. They are hard to use. They irritate. So they use a shared drive or so. But that is impossible, because of compliancy (SOX and so), at least for the big companies. So we need to simplify. Simplify the user interface. Replace the shared drive with something that looks similar: use forms that the user recognises.

Also, simplify the content creation. Try to get stuff out of existing systems using RSS/Atom, for instance.

John especially mentions Atom again. That's actually a two-part standard. One is the RSS-like format for newsfeeds and so. But especially the Atom publishing API is important. That will be an open source way of updating information updating from out of other system.

Summary: the time is ripe for open source in content management. Open source brings back the innovation process into the industry. A new generation of content services and applications are possible due to open source. Open source content management can change the nature of content services.

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My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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