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Where To Position Enterprise Content Management With BPM, SOA


Read about where and how to reconcile Enterprise Content Management, or ECM, with BPM and SOA.

If you follow new trends and best practices in BPM and SOa, then you already know how it seems as if there is always a new acronym to learn. Self-styled “gurus” in these fields of business theory are always looking to brand a new process or way of approaching optimisation and architecture. Because of this, BPM and SOA are often conflated, leading to frustration among business professionals who feel as if both disciplines are too technical to bother with.

This is why we wrote a recent article about “What Comes First  — BPM or SOA,” as well as the differences between the two. But even if you now find yourself more comfortable with the differences and relationship between BPM and SOA, there is now a third acronym that you may have to concern yourself with: ECM.

Enterprise Content Management, or ECM, should not be a completely foreign idea, since “content management” has become a rather ubquitous keyword in the world of business. PArticularly if you’ve worked on any kind of online business solution or website, you know that every web solution operates on top of a “Content Management System,” or CMS. For those of us who are less technically inclined, it may have come as a shock that such a complex, robust solution to manage content must always exist underneath ever web solution — from big eCommerce websites to simple blogs like this one.

ECM, however, is more wide ranging than just talking about a CMS.

ECM was first defined by The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) International back in 2000. Its original scope was limited mainly to the process of converting paper-based content to digital, and even today, ECM retains that sense. Over the years, however, ECM has expanded to include more than just this limited process. For example, in 2005, AIIM’s official standard from ECM was the following: “Enterprise content management is the technologies used to Capture, Manage, Store, Preserve, and Deliver content and documents related to organizational processes.”

By 2010, however, AIIM had expended the scope of ECM to be more of an overarching discipline: “Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM covers the management of information within the entire scope of an enterprise whether that information is in the form of a paper document, an electronic file, a database print stream, or even an email.”

So, if we are to see ECM both a strategy and method, how do we reconcile these with BPM? BPM, after all should be sees as the “first mover” in streamlining and optimising a business, with SOA as the technical arm of the process. But if ECM lives up to the above definition, doesn’t it threaten to trip over both BPM and SOA?

Similar to SOA, ECM should not be the driving force behind business optimisation. It very well may be that moving from paper to digital for your content management constitutes the primary focus on your BPM project. However, ECM should be a subsidiary of the SOA plan for whatever you are looking to achieve in BPM. Essentially, ECM applications are delivered in three ways: on-premise software (installed on the organization’s own network), Software as a Service (SaaS) (web access to information that is stored on the software manufacturer’s system), or a hybrid solution composed of both on-premise and SaaS components. In this way, implementing and managing ECM is the domain of IT.

If your organisation sees the migration from paper to digital as the crux of your BPM solution, think again: simply seeing the process as “paper to digital” fails to take into account the wide, sweeping changes that a new CMS will bring with it. It is important to build an overarching business process around ECM implementations that will take into account how to access and work with new content that has now been digitised.