When we think about staying connected with friends, we contact them via a variety of ways: Instant Message, FaceTime, phone, email or in person. It’s through these connections that we stay updated and have a dialogue to communicate what’s new. Connectivity also applies to machines. From device to device, we see systems that are connected, giving us the information we need – like a home security system that you can set and monitor from your smartphone.
When we think of integration, while traditionally we have meant “incorporating into one,” in essence, we are enabling systems to transfer information from machine to machine. Further, for users, we are enabling them to access disparate systems from a centralized “control station.” For technology, connecting and integrating has become one and the same.
Companies planning to incorporate Enterprise Content Management (ECM) into their organizations often have a checklist of the functionality and features they need. There’s a budget to consider and finally, but no less important, there’s the need to integrate with core and legacy business systems.
Selecting an ECM solution for your business is all about increasing productivity in your organization and operating more efficiently by identifying repetitive tasks that can be automated. Critical for a successful implementation are:
1) Ensuring that your ECM system integrates with your line-of-business (LOB) systems for exchanges of data.
2) Connections to disparate systems so you can eliminate the problem of exiting a system to open and work on another.
Often, a company that decides to replace an existing document management system or an organization that has planned to newly incorporate ECM into their business operations has been dealing with patches and other workarounds to their systems. Microsoft Excel also seems to play a big role in workarounds, allowing workers to personally organize and analyze their information, but delaying the visible need for an enterprise solution that will work for multiple users.
A host of other problems arise when an organization does not have an ECM system:
1) No seamless collaboration as information sits with various users in various places
2) No automated updates
3) A high level of risk that the information will be lost, damaged or become inaccessible
4) No system-level security
5) User abandonment of systems
6) Lack of trust
Integration of systems into your ECM solution comes at three levels: purpose-built, screen-level and data-level. Whether it is prebuilt with your ECM system or flexible to allow for customization to your specific systems, you want to ensure your organization will have the solution that fits your needs.
Purpose-built integrations — working with Microsoft Office, Outlook and the like — are the most common integrations. These are basic integrations that you would expect to exist for an ECM solution to be viable in any company.
Your ECM platform should be flexible and enable you to easily connect with other systems so you can retrieve information when accessing folders and documents. This type of connection is often accessed via a shortcut. Some ECM solutions enable the user to develop a specific button or hyperlink to the system without exiting the ECM screen.
With data-level integration, systems interact with each other. For instance, you may have a workflow or an application incorporated into your multifunctional printer (MFP) to scan documents into your central repository or use e-forms for the easy transfer of information into your system.
Often the machine communication is a one-way street with the information flowing into the ECM system. But, depending on the platform, some ECM systems can accommodate the need to not only pull the data in but also to push data back out to the MFP or other systems. If your ECM system is not yet there, it will be as users demand more from their technology partners.
The evolution of technology to bring us to this stage – where information is digitized, secured, protected, in the cloud, integrated with mobile devices – has prompted us to look for more. While responding to your Accounts Payable workflow on your mobile phone is a convenience, you may already be thinking about pushing data directly from your phone to ECM, like banks push check images from pictures taken with a phone into their banking systems.
The Internet of Things
For your company, integrating with your accounting system to digitize and index invoices and accelerate payments via an automated workflow may be your immediate need. Or, your industry may have more specific needs, as with health care and the integration of electronic health records (EHR) systems to increase productivity and reduce costs. The list can be endless: from integrations with collaboration software to human resources, claims management, digital mailrooms, and digital signature and mobile capabilities.
In “The Future of Work — A Journey to 2022” by PWC, the research says that 53 percent of us think technology breakthroughs will transform the way people work over the next five to 10 years. As we dig deeper into our business-processing needs and consider the “it-would-be-nice-to-have” scenarios, we can easily see where we want to go with our business operations and that we’ll be demanding more of our systems to further transform our operations.
It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that the people who think the way we work will be different in the future also believe that the way we live will be different. The Internet of Things (IoT) posits that we will all be living a very connected life as everything gets connected through the Internet.
Whether it is at the personal level or the business level, we will all recognize the value of integrating our lives with systems and solutions that save us time and give us the information that we want at our fingertips.
Beyond the IoT, we will find the whole new world that Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises. Futurists have predicted that the office of the future will mean more cognitive systems that can distill information quickly enough to mimic human reasoning, provide predictive analysis from their lightning-fast synthesis of facts to look a lot like human intelligence, and introduce more solutions that involve robotics. Will this push ECM-like solutions to encompass more non-routine, non-repetitive tasks? Likely.
But, back in the present, we continue to recognize that technology will push boundaries faster and faster as more tasks are integrated into our work-life environment. Our office needs to be automated and integrated to launch us forward into a more productive world. We need to take the next step on the spectrum of office automation to keep up with all the changes that will come.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Workflow.