Managing Multiple ECM Systems at an Organization

A trend that I have been noticing more and more is the presence of multiple Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Systems at organizations.  There are many reasons why the scenario of multiple ECM Systems can occur;

  1. mergers & acquisitions
  2. strengths of the ECM products
  3. lack of internal communication and/or understanding of existing systems in the organization
  4. division of dollars at departmental levels, and so forth and so on…


One issue that can arise from having multiple ECM solutions within an organization is the difficulty of accessing information stored in the different systems.  Let’s look at an example of an organization that has two ECM systems used for content archiving and retrieval.  The first ECM system is used by the Human Resources department for storing documents and data related to employee on-boarding and personnel management.  The second ECM system was installed at a later date by the Accounts Payable department.  This system is used for managing documents related to payroll, as well as, acting as portal for employees to find information related to their pay.  The presence of multiple systems within the organization creates a number of headaches (i.e. managing of storage, security/permissions, what information is where, etc…), but for now let’s focus on the fact that there are users that need access to the documents and metadata stored in both systems.  The user’s have the ability to log into the first system and run a search to find HR documents, and then to find Payroll documents they have to switch over to the second system, log in, and run another search.  This requires the user’s to have knowledge and an understanding of both systems to perform their job functions, and the laborious nature of this task creates inefficiencies within the departments.

There are a number of ways to get around the issue of having documents and data, that user’s need access to, in multiple locations:

  • Consolidation of the systems.  This can be an arduous task, but in the end there will be only one system to manage.  Consolidation is most commonly the option when multiple ECM solutions are the result of mergers & acquisitions.  This may not always the best solution because of business requirements and product strengths.
  • Link the data and documents between the systems.  This functionality varies between products, but a good example of how this can be done is through the utilization of the ILINX SharePoint Connector software.  This software gives users that ability to search multiple content management systems through SharePoint.  The users have a single access point to all ECM related content using SharePoint, which alleviates the required system knowledge and consumption of time associated with searching through multiple systems.
  • Leveraging the investment in one of the ECM systems.  Almost any top tier ECM system can be used to retrieve content from an external system.  For example, using Oracle Imaging and Process Management linked servers can be created to access content from external data sources.  Keep in mind that most native functionality for linking content within ECM systems has limitations.  When this is the case the use of middleware products, like the ILINX AIK, can alleviate these limitations.

It is rare that companies have the horsepower to take on these tasks themselves, so there are solution integrators out there, like ImageSource, which can assist with this work.  Advantages of going with an experienced ECM integrator are that they can evaluate the current business requirements, assist in streamlining the current process, provide recommendations (if needed) on optimizing the solution, and provide risk mitigation throughout the configuration/redesign process.

The utilization of multiple ECM solutions within an organization can be a cumbersome endeavor.  By evaluating the overall business requirements and optimizing the organization’s ECM architecture these pains can be easily overcome and will make Enterprise Content Management a more valuable asset to the organization.

Ryan Keller
Project Manager / Sr. Systems Engineer
ImageSource, Inc.

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Brian Robinson - July 22, 2009

Another option moving forward is to only use ECM systems and vendor tool suites thatimplement CMIS, which allows heterogeneous systems to be integrated with one another. See here for more information on CMIS: http://wiki.alfresco.com/wiki/CMIS

Coe Hicks - August 4, 2009

Ryan, I can certainly vouch for the accuracy of your assessment regarding the circumstance of multiple ECM solutions within a single organization. Our organization has two top tier ECM solutions deployed for some of the same reasons stated in your opening paragraph. There have been challenges, some exactly as you’ve described. We have been fortunate in that we do have some in house “horsepower” that has helped us to implement some creative solutions to some of these challenges. Also as you have described, we did benefit from the expertise that Image Source Inc. brought to the table as we took on multiple projects simultaneously.

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