How the ECM market is shifting to content integration services

Imagine: you work at the service department of a large insurance company. At the end of the year it can be very busy with phone calls from customers who have questions about their new premium. In order to have all customer information available, you need to open up to 5 different applications, including CRM, e-mail and enterprise content management (ECM), and you always have to switch between these applications. You can’t deny that this is very inefficient and customer-unfriendly. 

The reason for this lies in the way organizations store content. Content is created and processed in a large number of systems: archiving systems, digital asset management systems, enterprise content management, web content management, case management systems, customer relationship management, digital marketing, product information management systems, collaboration, fileshares, cloud storage and so on. The content is stored in these systems and processed for three types of purposes: 

  • Archiving
  • Use in dynamic processes 
  • Collaboration 

Often, because of historical reasons, organizations also have several systems that serve all, or parts of the same purpose. The consequence of this situation is that users spend a large part of their time searching for the right content or losing content because it is not clear in which system it was created, or where it is stored. Besides that, the amount of content grows on a daily basis.   

"One content repository"

In the last two decades, organizations have started ECM consolidation projects and large systems have been introduced to migrate all content from these various systems into one central system. The goal is that users have access to all the content they need to do their task efficiently from one place; that content can be easily and unambiguously found; and that organizations can ensure that they comply with legal rules and regulations regarding privacy, retention periods and access control.  

However, the idea of storing all the content in one content repository is not feasible in practice. Consolidation projects require a lot of money than expected, ambitions often get curbed or the project is cancelled. In many cases, the only result gained from an attempted consolidation is that the organization now has an extra system in which content is stored, instead of one system that includes all content.

The reason for the failure of these projects lies in the various goals that have to be served by such a monolithic system. The requirements for the three goals (archiving, use in dynamic processes and collaboration) appear to be so diverse and sometimes contradictory that it is very difficult to bring them together in one system and to provide access to all related applications and processes.   

In addition to the above complexity, a number of technological developments such as the cloud, bring-your-own-device and bring-your-own-storage, have increased the problem: There are even more systems and devices from where a user wants access content and there are more systems in which content is stored. 

The objectives behind the “one content repository” projects still exist: Organizations have the need to provide users with efficient and simple access to all the content needed to carry out their work. Instead of migrating everything to a central system, organizations are now looking at ways to integrate content from various sources and retrieve it in real-time. 

Analysts, such as Gartner, have also identified this trend and, therefore, identified a new product segment: content integration services. Gartner recently published a new report called "Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace" in which the analyst identifies content integration services as "emerging technology". According to Gartner, between 1 and 5 percent of all organizations currently need such technology. Moreover, Gartner expects this technology to become mainstream within the next five to 10 years.

Content Integration Services 

The idea behind content integration services is that content stays in its source system and that integration is realized when there is a need to access content through a different repository. In the example of the service department, this means that the service employee can access the content that is stored in different repositories through one preferred interface. But you could identify countless cases for which content integration is useful. Consider, for example, business users who would like to use file-sync-and-share (EFSS) solutions such as Dropbox and Box in their daily work. In many cases, company policy prohibits them from storing copies of business documents in a cloud storage application. With the help of content integration, organizations can allow their users to access the content stored on the back-end (on-premise) ECM system through the EFSS tool. 

API 

To realize content integration with various repositories, developers need to know the API and/or database behind each repository. The interfaces of many systems are limited, not publicly available, poorly documented or very closely linked to the internal representation of the content. The learning curve to be able to build integrations with the existing product-specific interfaces is very steep and must be taken for every system that needs to be integrated. Some vendors therefore offer a single API with one content model to a large number of different content repositories, with which developers can easily build their own integrations. Because developers only have to learn one API, both experienced and unexperienced developers, can achieve more results in the same time.

Users in all kinds of organizations need efficient access to content (also called unstructured data: documents, spreadsheets, image and sound material, scans, etc.). Content integration ensures that users can easily access content from different repositories, without having to switch between applications and copy and paste content manually. This allows users to work more efficiently, serve their clients (customers, businesses, citizens, patients) better and reduces the risk of errors.    

Jeroen Huijnink, CTO at Xillio 

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