Winning Manufacturing Strategies

« September 2012 | Main | November 2012 »

October 18, 2012

ECM transition from Islands to Mainland

 

Being aware of the contents that an organization needs to manage for its smooth functioning, (like Documents, Records, Web Content and Digital Assets) we can certainly confront the fact, that today's organizations have all these in varying ratios. Also, depending upon the domain the organization serves, it more often, needs to deal with a certain type of content than others, for eg. Media organizations and Gaming Industry, have more of Digital Information as compared to other forms of content, similarly the Manufacturing Industries have to concentrate more on paper documents (like contracts, invoices, and other hard copy information), but still we can't deny the fact that these organizations still need to manage other contents too like Web, Records or for that matter Documents.

 

According to a survey by Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), more than 50% of the respondents have more than ten Enterprise Content Management (ECM) repositories in use. This can be conceived as the outcome of, Content Management System (CMS) market flourishing with vendors providing services to manage the different types of content, with each having an edge over the other, but concentrating only on a particular type content hence requiring enterprises to get themselves equipped with various CMSs (repositories) for different types of content present in its various departments.

 So the imperative question arises here is, how can an enterprise manage these varied repositories or for that matter ECMs? An answer can be drawn by identifying the reason why organizations, adopts more than one ECM (Enterprise Content Management) to cater the different content. Following points may highlight these reasons to a considerable extent:-

 

·         Organizations have invested time and money in historical point solutions (eg. Record Management systems) that they are reluctant to throw out.

·         Some vendors claim to offer "ECM", but it is unclear as to whether they do (or indeed can) offer full spectrum solutions for everything (all types of content).

·         Also new functionalities (eg social media, mobile) are emerging. The Market is far from being fully mature.

·         The case where an organization needs to merge with another one that has made different choices for ECM.

 

Having various ECM in organization makes clients to deal with various vendors and in turn strive for consolidation. It is due to this strive that many clients are looking at consolidating their various Content Management System Platforms into one which would help them to build the platform, expose the services to core business functions and reduce their TCO(Total Cost of Ownership).

In the upcoming organizations today, the classical Content Management has become obsolete and enterprise needs fast access to all their crucial information, no matter where it is actually stored. But they do possess a rampant psychology of; getting their needs addressed by a single vendor for services of their product stack, like everything under one umbrella. This too suggests customers' urge to consolidate, receding away from having multiple vendors and wasteful expenditure.

Though the aspect of "consolidation" can be taken care of by obtaining point-to-point connectors between different platforms within the organization, with some of them to be built from scratch, some are supplied by one or other vendors and others are created by third party. But these can be expensive and will often require upgrading, when one of the underlying products is upgraded. Also the Point-to-point connectors are, neither recognized by vendors nor by the users, as a sustainable way to operate. This aligns us to ponder, why a common standard for content management is so important, and hence look into the prospects of what is called as CMIS Technology!

 

CMIS stands for Content Management Interoperability Services. CMIS does not cover each and every aspect of all ECM products. It focuses on the core functionality, these systems tend to have. In a sense, it describes the baseline functionality a content management system should have, and then provides a framework for such systems to interact. It is independent of particular platform (e.g. Documentum), a specific programming language (eg Java), or a set of protocols (e.g. REST, SOAP). CMIS will help proprietary systems to grow together, by combining the data and processes from a wide range of ECM platforms in one unified, process-oriented work environment. Hence making processes like file management, business process management as well as search and retrieval a mere child's play even for untrained users.               

 

CMIS interoperability feature makes it usable in a variety of cross-repository scenarios, and allows clients to access their complete information infrastructure from segregated sources. It is this interoperability that has made CMIS superior to the databases, which could not be easily accessed in a standardized way by various applications. Also a single work environment concept for the entire enterprise, not only provides a high level operating comfort and data consistency, but also provides a competitive advantage of having all information at hand. This enables fast and insightful decisions, thereby providing an edge over others.

 

A promising tool which can be considered as a juvenile endeavor to explore the reins of CMIS is "Generis CARA".  Generis CARA, being a browser based document management interface, works with both CMIS and repository. Though it specifically concentrates on Document Management, is an excellent step towards throwing light on, capabilities the CMIS technology has for the ECM world.

 

CARA was originally designed for ECM tool like Documentum but now works with other tools too, like Alfresco, Share Point and Oracle's WebCenter.  We can view all these repositories within one web Desktop. It is common to see an organization, use more than one ECM system, so a solution like CARA can bring them all together, by providing an abstraction of one layer above, making it possible to upgrade the underlying Documentum or for that matter any other ECM product, without needing simultaneous upgrade for CARA. Hence addressing what the world is striving for -"consolidation".

 

With CMIS in its initial phase (v1.0), it has a long way to go nevertheless it remains the only standard of its kind. In my opinion there will be enough pressure from both customers and analysts to push the larger vendors further towards CMIS v2.0. Because as the market matures, the information environments will get more complicated and not less, so we need tools that will help in making this complexity manageable. Tools having compliance with CMIS (like CARA), may prove to be one such option, and at present, it is certainly one such option worth exploring.

Posted by

Amit Upadhyay, Systems Engineer, MFG ADT - Digital Transformation, Infosys

 

 

October 10, 2012

The Search Engine Psyche Part 2- How Enterprise Search helps you improve Customer Experience

In the first part of this post we talked about the internal stakeholders & search related issues faced by them and how enterprise search can be beneficial to the employees of an organization leading to huge efficiency gains.

Let us now have a look at the other perspective i.e. how enterprise search can help improve the sites facing External audience and the benefits derived out of it. Enterprise search plays a pivotal role in propelling some of the world's largest portals and eCommerce sites.

Without an efficient search it would be extremely difficult for consumers to reach to the information of their interest. For example consider a site selling Cameras, if you enter the site and are unable to reach to the camera of your interest easily, you will obviously loose interest & switch to another site resulting in a lost sale for the site. On the other hand if you enter a site having best of the breed Search platform functionalities such as 'Guided navigation', you will be incentivized to stay on the site to browse your favorite brands and also it makes it easier for you to explore some new brands/attributes/categories as well.

Please find below an example of guided navigation; here all the cameras are split into different categories and arranged by different attributes:

camera.png

Similarly we can define categories and parameters for different products and services making it easier for consumers to reach the right product of their interest in as little time as possible.

Search is no longer just a box on your webpage; it is the way consumers search for information, get the information and browse sites. Navigation ease is a big factor to create that elusive 'Stickiness' quotient and Enterprise search plays a crucial role here.

Listed below are some of the Enterprise search best practices (not exhaustive) which can help your site in providing a better customer experience:

 

bp.png

Ensuring these practices will help in providing a better search experience and will boost the stickiness of your website.

 

Some of the Features which you could include/ improve for your Website are given below:

  

ES features.pngThese are just a few facets that you can improve upon, the list goes on. Start small and do not procrastinate on making changes. A better Customer experience through enterprise search can bring you huge additional traffic, stickiness, sales dollars and most importantly a goodwill which is very very hard to earn!

Happy searching! 

October 8, 2012

Portal or the non-Portal way?

Guest Post by

Devendra Singh, Senior Project Manager, MFG ADT - Digital Transformation, Infosys

 

The core of a Portal is to integrate content, people and processes from various sources within the organization, in a seamless and efficient manner and server as a single point of access to the key information. Generally these can be classified as B2E, B2B, and B2C depending upon the stakeholders accessing the portals - customers, employees, suppliers, dealers etc.  Based on the stakeholders, Portal is also classified as Intranet, Extranet or Web.

 

Many pre-packaged Portal frameworks are available from various leading software vendors like IBM Websphere Portal, Oracle Webcenter etc. Open source Portal frameworks are also available such as Liferay.  These frameworks provide basic building blocks to build a Portal for the Enterprise. There is always a valid thought, which comes when the Portal requirements get defined? - Why can't we write a custom built web application instead of going for a Portal framework or tool?

To answer this question, let's first see some core features of a Portal. As mentioned earlier, Portal is pre-packaged framework, it provides key features which are critical to enterprises and can become a tedious job if every website tries to custom develop these.

 

Some of the key features of a Portal are

 

1.       Content Ingestion: Rendering the content from various sources.

2.       Personalization of content and pages: Displaying the content and/or pages based on the user role, business unit or any other attribute.

3.       Controlling access to part of pages using Portlets / web part access control: Part of page can be controlled using access control features.

4.       Ability to users to customize pages as per their own need and style.

5.       Providing search from various content sources within organization.

6.       Providing Single Sign on: Providing log in once and then use same credential to render other pages in the Portal. Behind the scene the information may be coming from other system altogether.

7.       Integrate with other systems in the organization using web services, Portlets.

 

Pre-Packaged portals provide out-of-the-box Portlets / web parts for better productivity in rolling out Portals for enterprises. Developing these from scratch will be very time consuming and a costly endeavor. If you notice, some of these features are mostly required in web applications as well. E.g. Single sign on, Access control, search etc. Now the question comes why all the web applications are not developed using a Portal software. Let's see some key points for Web applications first -

 

·         Web applications are targeted to meet a specific business requirement for specific set of users.

·         Web applications do not offer any OOTB Personalization or Customization of pages for users.

 

In very simple terms we can say that Portal can be an access gateway to many Web applications in an Enterprise. This is similar to notion of aggregation and specialization. To make it more generic, Aggregation is Portal and Specialization is Web application. For e.g. Supplier may need to access various applications to complete the business processes. The access to supplier can be provisioned via a registration process on Portal where Suppliers can request access to various applications.

 

We find that Portal frameworks are fundamentally providing the features, which are highly desirable for each IT department in enterprise. The adoption of portal is still very low in the enterprises. Answer to this low adoption in my knowledge is due to following.

 

1.       Very less out of the box features which meet business need as is. Customization is needed most of the time.

2.       Performance of the Portal. This is biggest learning for me that performance of a base Portal is always a key for the success of any Portal initiative. Non-functional aspect of a Portal is mostly missed or handled deficiently. It can be due to various factors such as organizations infrastructure team and infrastructure architect coordination, ignoring the user base and heavy Custom Portlets etc. As a professional, we should have this as a key focus in any portal implementation and make sure that the base portal setup in an organization is considering the current and future user loads.

3.       Custom Portlets causing performance issues. Portlets are nothing but web applications extending the Portal platform. We should never ignore the best practice of any J2EE Web application development. I have come across instances where simple points such as rendering the result set has caused major performance issue, because while developing, simple consideration of record pagination was not considered.

4.       Portals are mostly seen as productivity improvement tool and lead by IT organization without much buy-in from business stakeholders.

5.       In few cases lose integration with the Content management tool, leads to issues where business user cannot create content in WYSIWYG mode.

 

When going for a Portal framework, we should see analyze the requirements carefully and check if requirements have mention of providing capability to users to personalize home pages, provide capability to ingest content from various sources, provide single sign on to various set of information and whether the information need to be rendered based on the role of the user, but not limited to, then it will be good to go with Portals.  If requirements talk about providing an ability to file a claim or provide an ability to purchase parts, create corporate site with public information about the company, or provide features of Internal Job Posting, Travel arrangements etc. , but not limited to, then light weight web application is the way to go.

 

Guest Post by

Devendra Singh, Senior Project Manager, MFG ADT - Digital Transformation, Infosys