Integrating your enterprise content with cloud business applications? I wrote a paper on that!

Just because there’s a land rush towards SaaS business applications like Salesforce for some of your business applications, it doesn’t mean that your content and data are all going to be housed on that platform. In reality, you have a combination of cloud applications, cloud content that may apply across several applications, and on-premise content; users end up searching in multiple places for information in order to do a single transaction.

In this paper, sponsored by Intellective (who have a bridging product for enterprise content/data with SaaS business applications), I wrote about some of the architecture and design issues that you need to consider when you’re linking these systems together. Here’s the introduction:

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions provide significant utility and value for standard business applications, including customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), human resources (HR), accounting, insurance claims management, and email. These “systems of engagement” provide a modern and agile user experience that guides workers through actions and enables collaboration. However, they rarely replace the core “systems of record”, and don’t provide the range of content services required by most organizations.

This creates an issue when, for example, a customer service worker’s primary environment is Salesforce CRM, but for every Salesforce activity they may also need to access multiple systems of record to update customer files, view regulatory documentation or initiate line-of-business (LOB) processes not supported in Salesforce. The worker spends too much time looking for information, risks missing relevant content in their searches, and may forget to update the same information in multiple systems.

The solution is to integrate enterprise content from the systems of record – data, process and documents – directly with the primary user-facing system of engagement, such that the worker sees a single integrated view of everything required to complete the task at hand. The worker completes their work more efficiently and accurately because they’re not wasting time searching for information; data is automatically updated between systems, reducing data entry effort and errors.

Head on over to get the full paper (registration required).

AlfrescoDay 2018: digital business platform and a whole lot of AWS

I attended Alfresco’s analyst day and a customer day in New York in late March, and due to some travel and project work, just finding time to publish my notes now. Usually I do that while I’m at the conference, but part of the first day was under NDA so I needed to think about how to combine the two days of information.

The typical Alfresco customer is still very content-centric, in spite of the robust Alfresco Process Services (formerly Activiti) offering that is part of their platform, with many of their key success stories presented at the conference were based on content implementations and migrations from ECM competitors such as Documentum. In a way, this is reminiscent of the FileNet conferences of 20 years ago, when I was talking about process but almost all of the customers were only interested in content management. What moves this into a very modern discussion, however, is the focus on Alfresco’s cloud offerings, especially on Amazon AWS.

First, though, we had a fascinating keynote by Sangeet Paul Choudary — and received a copy of his book Platform Scale: How an emerging business model helps startups build large empires with minimum investment — on how business models are shifting to platforms, and how this is disrupting many traditional businesses. He explained how supply-side economies of scale, machine learning and network effects are allowing online platforms like Amazon to impact real-world industries such as logistics. Traditional businesses in telecom, financial services, healthcare and many other verticals are discovering that without a customer-centric platform approach rather than a product approach, they can’t compete with the newer entrants into the market that build platforms, gather customer data and make service-based partnerships through open innovation. Open business models are particularly important, and striking the right balance between an open ecosystem and maintaining control over the platform through key control points. He finished up with a digital transformation roadmap: gaining efficiences through digitization; then using data collected in the first stage while integrating flows across the enterprise to create one view of the ecosystem; and finally externalizing and harnessing value flows in the ecosystem. This last stage, externalization, is particularly critical, since opening the wrong control points can kills you business or stifle open growth.

This was a perfect lead-in to Chris Wiborg’s (Alfresco’s VP of product marketing) presentation on Alfresco’s partnership with Amazon and the tight integration of many AWS services into the Alfresco platform: leveraging Amazon’s open platform to build Alfresco’s platform. This partnership has given this conference in particular a strong focus on cloud content management, and we are hearing more about their digitial business platform that is made up of content, process and governance services. Wiborg started off talking about the journey from (content) digitization to digital business (process and content) to digital transformation (radically improving performance or reach), and how it’s not that easy to do this particularly with existing systems that favor on-premise monolithic approaches. A (micro-) service approach on cloud platforms changes the game, allowing you to build and modify faster, and deploy quickly on a secure elastic infrastructure. This is what Alfresco is now offering, through the combination of open source software, integration of AWS services to expand their portfolio of capabilities, and automated DevOps lifecycle.

This brings a focus back to process, since their digital business platform is often sold process-first to enable cross-departmental flows. In many cases, process and content are managed by different groups within large companies, and digital transformation needs to cut across both islands of functionality and islands of technology.

They are promoting the idea that differentiation is built and not bought, with the pendulum swinging back from buy toward build for the portions of your IT that contribute to your competitive differentiation. In today’s world, for many businesses, that’s more than just customer-facing systems, but digs deep into operational systems as well. In businesses that have a large digital footprint, I agree with this, but have to caution that this mindset makes it much too easy to go down the rabbit hole of building bespoke systems — or having someone build them for you — for standard, non-differentiating operations such as payroll systems.

Alfresco has gone all-in with AWS. It’s not just a matter of shoving a monolithic code base into a Docker container and running it on EC2, which how many vendors claim AWS support: Alfresco has a much more integrated microservices approach that provides the opportunity to use many different AWS services as part of an Alfresco implementation in the AWS Cloud. This allows you to build more innovative solutions faster, but also can greatly reduce your infrastructure costs by moving content repositories to the cloud. They have split out services such as Amazon S3 (and soon Glacier) for storage services, RDS/Aurora for database services, SNS for notification, security services, networking services, IoT via Alexa, Rekognition for AI, etc. Basically, a big part of their move to microservices (and extending capabilities) is by externalizing to take advantage of Amazon-offered services. They’re also not tied to their own content services in the cloud, but can provide direct connections to other cloud content services, including Box, SharePoint and Google Drive.

We heard from Tarik Makota, an AWS solution architect from Amazon, about how Amazon doesn’t really talk about private versus public cloud for enterprise clients. They can provide the same level of security as any managed hosting company, including private connections between their data centers and your on-premise systems. Unlike other managed hosting companies, however, Amazon is really good at near-instantaneous elasticity — both expanding and contracting — and provides a host of other services within that environment that are directly consumed by Alfresco and your applications, such as Amazon RDS for Aurora, a variety of AI services, serverless step functions. Alfresco Content Services and Process Services are both available as AWS QuickStarts, allowing for full production deployment in a highly-available, highly-redundant environment in the geographic region of your choice in about 45 minutes.

Quite a bit of food for thought over the two days, including their insights into common use cases for Alfresco and AI in content recognition and classification, and some of their development best practices for ensuring reusability across process and content applications built on a flexible modern architecture. Although Alfresco’s view of process is still quite content-centric (naturally), I’m interested to see where they take the entire digital business platformin the future.

Also great to see a month later that Bernadette Nixon, who we met at the Chief Revenue Officer at the event, has moved up to the CEO position. Congrats!

Transforming compliance at Farmers Insurance with @rafael_moscatel

In the last Thursday breakout of AIIM 2018, I attended a session on initiatives within the compliance department at Farmers Insurance to modernize their records management, presented by Rafael Moscatel. Their technology includes IGS’ Virgo to manage retention schedules, Legal Hold Pro for legal holds and custodian compliance, and Box for content governance. They started in 2015 with an assessment and plan, then built a new team with the appropriate expertise going forward, then updated their policy and governance, and finally brought in the three new key technology components in 2017. For an insurance company, that’s pretty fast.

Their retention policy is based on 12 big buckets, which are primarily aligned with business functions, making it easy for employees to understand what they are from a real-world standpoint. Legal Hold Pro replaced an old customized SharePoint system, and works together with Box Governance for e-discovery. He went through a lot of the details of how the technologies work together and what they’re doing with them, but the key takeaway for me is that an insurance company — what I know through a lot of experience to be an extremely conservative industry that’s struggling to transform themselves — is realizing that they need to shake things up in terms of how compliance of digital records are managed in order to move forward into the future. He ended up with some great comments on how to work with the business people, especially the executives, to bring programs like this to fruition.

Great talk by a knowledgeable and well-spoken presenter; my end-of-the-day writing doesn’t do it justice.

Automation and digital transformation in the North Carolina Courts

Elizabether Croom, Morgan Naleimaile and Gaynelle Knight from the North Carolina Courts led a breakout session on Thursday afternoon at AIIM 2018 on what they’ve done to move into the digital age. NC has a population of over 10 million, and the judiciary adminstration is integrated throughout the state across all levels, serving 6,800 staff, 5,400 volunteers and 32,000 law enforcement officers as well as integrating and sharing information with other departments and agencies. New paper filings taking up 4.3 miles of shelving each year, yet the move to electronic storage has to be done carefully to protect the sensitivity of the information contained within these documents. For the most part, the court records are public records unless they are for certain types of cases (e.g., juveniles), but PII such as social security numbers must be redacted in some of these documents: this just wasn’t happening, especially when documents are scanned outside the normal course of content management. The practical obscurity (and security) of paper documents was moving into the accessible environment of electronic files.

They built their first version of an enterprise information management systems, including infrastructure, taxonomy, metadata, automated capture and manual redaction. This storage-centric phase wasn’t enough: they also needed to address paper file destruction (due to space restrictions), document integrity and trustworthiness, automated redaction of PII, appropriate access to files, and findability. In moving along this journey, they started looking at declaring their digital files as records, and how that tied in with the state archives’ requirements, existing retention schedules and the logic for managing retention of records. There’s a great deal of manual quality control currently required for having the scanned documents be approved as an official record that can replace the paper version, which didn’t sit well with the clerks who were doing their own scanning. It appears as if an incredible amount of effort is being focused on properly interpreting the retention schedule logic and trigger sources: fundamentally, the business rules that underlie the management of records.

Moving beyond scanning, they also have to consider intake of e-filed documents — digitally-created documents that are sent into the court system in electronic form — and the judicial branch case management applications, which need to consume any of the documents and have them readily available. They have some real success stories here: there’s an eCourts domestic violence protection order (DVPO) process where a victim can go directly to a DV advocate’s office and all filings (including a video affidavit) and the issue of the order are done electronically while the victim remains in the safety of the advocate’s office.

They have a lot of plans moving forward to address their going-forward records capture strategy as well as addressing some of the retention issues that might be resolved by back-scanning of microfilmed documents, where documents with different retention periods may be on the same roll of film. Interestingly, they wouldn’t say what their content management technology is, although it does sound like they’re assessing the feasibility of moving to a cloud solution.

Anarchy in Edmonton: no, it’s not hockey, it’s Google Drive

I’m in a breakout session at the AIIM 2018 conference, and Kristan Cook and Gina Smith-Guidi are talking about their work at the City of Edmonton in transitioning from network drives to Google Drive for their unstructured corporate information. Corporate Records and Information Management (CRIM) is part of the Office of the City Clerk, and is run a bit independently of IT and in a semi-decentralized manner. They transitioned from Microsoft Office to Google Suite in 2013, and wanted to apply records management to what they were doing; at that time, there was nothing commercially available, so hired a Google Apps developer to do it for them. They needed the usual records management requirements: lifecycle management, disposition and legal hold reporting, and tools to help users to file in the correct location; on top of that, it had to be easy to use and relatively inexpensive. They also managed to reconcile over 2000 retention schedules into one master classification and retention schedule, something that elicited gasps from the audience here.

What they offer to the City departments is called COE Drive, which is a functional classification — it just appears as a folder in Google Drive — then the “big bucket” method below that top level, where documents are filed within a subfolder that represents the retention classification. When you click New in Google Drive, there’s a custom popup that asks for the primary classification and secondary classification/record series, and a subfolder within the secondary classification. This works for both uploaded files and newly-created Google Docs/Sheets files. Because these are implemented as folders in Google Drive, access permissions are applied so that users only see the classifications that apply to them when creating new documents. There’s also a simple customized view that can be rolled out to most users who only need to see certain classifications when browsing for documents. Users don’t need to know about retention schedules or records management, and can just work the way that they’ve been working with Google Drive for five years with a bit of a helper app to help them with filing the documents. They’re also integrating Google File Stream (the sync capability) for files that people work on locally on their desktop, to ensure that they are both backed up and stored as proper records if required.

The COE Drive is a single account drive, I assume so that documents added to the COE Drive have their ownership set to the COE Drive and are not subject to individual user changes. There’s not much metadata stored except for the date, business area and retention classification; in my experience with Google Drive, the search capabilities mean that you need much less explicit metadata.

It sounds as if most of the original work was done by a single developer, and now they have new functionality created by one student developer; on top of that, since it’s cloud-based, there’s no infrastructure cost for servers or software licences, just subscription costs for Google Apps. They keep development in-house both to reduce costs and to speed deployment. Compare the chart on the right with the cost and time for your usual content and records management project — there are no zeros missing, the original development cost was less than $50k (Canadian). That streamlined technology path has also inspired them to streamline their records management policies: now, changes to the retention schedule that used to require a year and five signatures can now be signed off by the City Clerk alone.

Lots of great discussion with the audience: public sector organizations are very interested in any solution where you can do robust content and records management using low-cost cloud-based tools, but many private sector companies are seeing the benefits as well. There was a question about whether they share their code: they don’t currently do that, but don’t have a philosophical problem with doing that — watch for their Github to pop up soon!

AIIM18 keynote with @jmancini77: it’s all about digital transformation

I haven’t been to the AIIM conference since the early to mid 90s; I stopped when I started to focus more on process than content (and it was very content-centric then), then stayed away when the conference was sold off, then started looking at it again when it reinvented itself a few years ago. These days, you can’t talk about content without process, so there’s a lot of content-oriented process here as well as AI, governance and a lot of other related topics.

I arrived yesterday just in time for a couple of late-afternoon sessions: one presentation on digital workplaces by Stephen Ludlow of OpenText that hit a number of topics that I’ve been working on with clients lately, then a roundtable on AI and content hosted by Carl Hillier of ABBYY. This morning, I attended the keynote where John Mancini discussed digital transformation and a report released today by AIIM. He put a lot of emphasis on AI and machine learning technologies; specifically, how they can help us to change our business models and accelerate transformation.

We’re in a different business and technology environment these days, and a recent survey by AIIM shows that a lot of people think that their business is being (or about to be) disrupted, and digital transformation is and important part of dealing with that. However, very few of them are more than a bit of the way towards their 2020 goals for transformation. In other words, people get that this is important, but just aren’t able to change as fast as is required. Mancini attributed this in part to the escalating complexity and chaos that we see in information management, where — like Alice — we are running hard just to stay in place. Given the increasing transparency of organizations’ operations, either voluntarily or through online customer opinions, staying in the same place isn’t good enough. One contributor to this is the number of content management systems that the average organization has (hint: it’s more than one) plus all of the other places where data and content reside, forcing workers to have to scramble around looking for information. Most companies don’t want to have a single monolithic source of content, but do want a federated way to find things when they need it: in part, this fits in with the relabelling of enterprise content management (ECM) as “Content Services” (Gartner’s term) or “Intelligent Information Managment” (AIIM’s term), although I feel that’s a bit of unnecessary hand-waving that just distracts from the real issues of how companies deal with their content.

He went through some other key findings from their report on what technologies that companies are looking at, and what priority that they’re giving them; looks like it’s worth a read. He wrapped up with a few of his own opinions, including the challenge that we need to consider content AND data, not content OR data: the distinction between structure and unstructured information is breaking down, in part because of the nature of natively-digital content and in part because of AI technologies that quickly turn what we think of as content into data.

There’s a full slate of sessions today, stay tuned.

Insurance technology: is this very conservative industry finally ready for its close-up?

I’ve worked with insurance clients for a long time, first helping them with automation in their underwriting, policy administration and claims processes, and now helping them with digital transformation to create new business models and platforms. One thing that has always struck me is how behind the time most insurance companies are: usually old companies (by today’s standards), they trend far on the conservative end of the business and technology innovation scale. However, new entrants to the market have been stirring the pot for a couple of years – such as Lemonade for the urban consumer property insurance market – and it seems that everywhere I look, there’s something popping up about innovation in insurance.

Capgemini has a significant insurance practice, and writes an annual World Insurance Report that is about to be updated for 2018; a couple of their consultants write about different aspects of how insurance is changing and the technology enabling that change. They’ve just started a three-part series on the insurance customer of the future, which echoes some of the points that I made in my recent post on the Alfresco blog about transforming insurance with cloud BPM, and although they use the apocryphal “millennial” definition to describe who these customers are in their first post, they point out four main characteristics:

  • Smart shoppers
  • Lower loyalty
  • Self-centred
  • Caring consumers – which appears contrary to the previous point, but check out their post for a description

They have another post on how new InsurTech models can decrease risk for the insurer, which explains more about the social risk pool models that are used by companies like Lemonade, and how risk can be proactively mitigated through the use of connected devices.

We’re also seeing platform innovation for some insurers, such as Liberty Mutual moving their documents to Alfresco on AWS cloud. As I’ve experienced for many years, just getting insurance companies to move from paper to digital files can provide huge operational benefits, and moving those files to the cloud allows a global insurer to allow access wherever required. There are a lot of regulatory issues with data sovereignty, that is, where the content is actually stored and what laws/regulations apply to it because of that, but the vendors are starting to solve those problems with regional data centers and secure, encrypted transport. With digital content comes the issue of digital preservation, which John Mancini on the AIIM blog points out is a big issue for financial and insurance companies because of the typically long time span that they are dealing with customers: consider that a personal injury insurance claim can go on for years, requiring that all documents be retained for future review. After hearing about one former insurance customer of mine that had a flood in their basement storage, destroying years of customer files, I wished that they had decided to move a bit faster on my advice about digital documents.

Cutting edge technologies such as blockchain are also getting into the insurance mix: blockchain can be used to show proof of insurance, improve transparency and reduce risk of fraud, and speed up claims with smart contracts. I can also imagine that as cars get smarter and insurance companies can tie in directly to the on-board systems, there may be less opportunity for auto repair shop fraud, which reduces overall costs to the insurer and consumer.

If you work in insurance and know that you’re behind the curve, there are a lot of things that you can do to help bring yourself into at least the last century, if not this one:

  • Convert all of your files to digital format at the front end of the process, that is, when they arrive (or are created). This will allow you to automatically extract data from the files, which can then be used for classifying and routing content as it arrives. Files can now be shared by anyone who needs to see them, and there will be no piles of completed documents/files waiting to be scanned at the end of a process. This is a big cultural shift as your workers move from working on paper to working on the screen, but if you give them a couple of big screens and a properly-designed workspace, it can be just as productive as paper.
  • With all of your content arriving in digital form, or being converted to digital immediately on arrival, you can now automate your processes:
    • New policy application? Look up any previous information for this customer, create a new business case, and route to the appropriate underwriter if required. If this is a simple policy, such as consumer renter insurance, it can usually be automatically adjudicated and issued immediately.
    • Policy changes? Extract information from the policy administration system, classify the type of change, and either complete the change automatically or forward to a policy administration clerk.
    • A first notice of loss arriving for a claim? Use that to automatically extract information from your policy administration system, set up a claim in your claims system, and route the claim to the appropriate claims manager. Simple claims, such as auto windshield replacement, can be settled automatically and immediately.
    • Additional documents arriving for a claim? Automatically recognize the document type and claim number, and add to the claim case directly.
  • Find the best ways to integrate your digital content and processes with your legacy systems. This is a huge part of what I do with any insurance customer (really, with any customer at all), and it’s not trivial but can result in huge rewards. This will be some combination of exposing APIs, digging directly into operational databases, RPA to integrate “at the glass”, and other methods that are specific to your environment. In the end, you want to be sure that no one is re-entering data manually from one system to another, even by copy and paste.
  • Automate, automate, automate. In case I haven’t made that clear already. There should be no such thing as manual work assignment or routing, except in special cases. Data exchange with legacy systems should be automated. Decisions should be automated where possible, or at least used to make recommendations to workers. Incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning to learn how your most skilled workers make decisions, align that with your policies and regulatory compliance, and use as input to automated decisions and recommendations. The workers will be left doing the work that actually requires a person to do it, not all of the low-level administrative work.
  • Use some type of low-code application development platform that allows semi-technical business analysts – there are a ton of these working in insurance business areas – to create their own situational apps.
  • Now that you have your operational processes sorted out, start looking for new ways to leverage your digital content and processes:
    • Interact with reinsurers and other business partners using digital content and processes, not paper files and faxes.
    • Provide customers with the option for completely paperless policy application, issuance and renewal. Although I’m far from being a millennial in age, the huge stack of paper sent by my previous home insurer on renewal was a key reason that I ran directly towards an online insurer that could do it all without paper.
    • Streamline claims processes, automating where possible. Many insurance companies don’t spend a lot of time fixing their claims processes, preferring to spend their time on attracting new customers; however, in this age of online consumer reviews, an inefficient claims process is going to hit hard. Automating claims also reduces operational costs: claims managers are highly skilled, and it can take 6-12 months to train a new one.
    • Automate and streamline your ancillary processes that support the main processes, such as recovery of assets, and negotiating contracts with preferred repair vendors.
    • Build in the process monitoring, and provide automated dashboards and reports to different levels of management. As well as giving management a real-time view of operations, this reduces the time of line supervisors spent manually compiling reports. It also, amazingly, will reduce the amount of time that individual workers spend tracking their own work: in many of the insurance companies that I visit, claims managers and other front-line workers keep a manual log of their work because they don’t trust the system to do it for them.
  • Tie your process performance back to business goals: loss ratio, customer satisfaction, regulatory SLAs (such as communicating with customer in a timely manner), net promoter score, fraud rate, closure rate. It’s too easy to get bogged down in making a particular activity or process more efficient when it shouldn’t even be done at all. Although you can use your existing procedures guides as a starting point for your new digital processes, you really need to link everything back to the high-level goals rather than just paving the cow paths.

This started out as a short post because I was seeing a flurry of insurance-related items in my news feed, and grew into a bit of a monster as I thought of my own experiences with insurance customers over the past couple of years. Nonetheless, likely some useful tidbits in here.

Integrating process and content: exploring the use cases

I recently wrote a series of short articles sponsored by Alfresco and published on their blog. Today, the third of the series was published, discussing some use cases for integrating content into your processes:

  • Document-driven processes
  • Case management
  • Document lifecycle processes
  • Support documentation for exceptions in data-driven processes
  • Classification and analysis processes for non-document content

Head over there to read all the details on each of these use cases. As I write at the end:

Over the years, I’ve learned two things about integrating process and content: first, almost every process application has some sort of content associated with it; and second, most process-centric developers underestimate the potential complexity of handling the content in the context of the process application.

While you’re over there, you can also check out the other two articles that I wrote: transforming insurance with cloud BPM, and BPM cloud architectures and microservices.

Vega Unity 7: productizing ECM/BPM systems integration for better user experience and legacy modernization

I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former FileNet colleagues, David Lewis and Brian Gour, who are now at Vega Solutions and walked me through their Unity 7 product release. Having founded and run a boutique ECM and BPM services firm in the past, I have a soft spot for the small companies who add value to commercial products by building integration layers and vertical solutions to do the things that those products don’t do (or don’t do very well).

Vega focuses on enterprise content and process automation, primarily for financial and government clients. They have some international offices – likely development shops, based on the locations – and about 150 consultants working on customer projects. They are partners with both IBM and Alfresco for ECM and BPM products for use in their consulting engagements. Like many boutique services firms, Vega has developed products in the course of their consulting engagements that can be used independently by customers, built on the underlying partner technology plus their own integration software:

  • Vega Interchange, which takes one of their core competencies in content migration and creates an ETL platform for moving content and processes between any of a number of systems including Documentum, Alfresco, OpenText, four flavors of IBM, and shared folders on file systems. Content migration is typically pretty complex by the time you consider metadata and permissions mappings, but they also handle case data and process instances, which is rarely tackled in migration scenarios (most just recommend that you keep the old system alive long enough for all instance to complete, or do manual migration). Having helped a lot of companies think about moving their content and process management systems to another platform, I know that this is one of those things that sounds mundane but is actually difficult to do well.
  • Vega Unity, billed as a digital transformation platform; we spent most of our time talking about Unity 7, their latest release, which I’ll cover in more detail below.
  • Vertical solutions for insurance (underwriting, claims, financial operations), government (case management, compliance) and banking (onboarding, loan origination and servicing, wealth management, card dispute resolution).

01 Vega UnityUnity 7 is an integration and application development tool that links third-party content and process systems, adding a consistent user experience layer and consolidated analytics. Vega doesn’t provide any of the back-end systems, although they partner with a couple of the vendors, but provide tools to take that heterogeneous desktop environment and turn it into a single user interface. This has a significant value in simplifying the user environment, since they only need to learn one system and some of the inter-system integration is automated behind the scenes, but it’s also of benefit for replacing one or more of the underlying technologies due to legacy modernization or technology consolidation due to corporate acquisition. This is what systems integrators have been doing for a long time, but Unity makes it into a product that also leverages the deep system knowledge that they have from their Interchange product. Vega can add Unity to simplify an existing environment, or come in on a net-new ECM/BPM implementation that uses one of their partner technologies plus their application development/integration layer. The primary use cases are federated enterprise content search (where content is indexed in Unity Intelligence engine, including semantic searches), case management applications, and creating legacy modernization by creating a new front end on legacy systems to allow these to be swapped out without changing the user environment.

Unity is all about rapid development that includes case-based applications, content management, data and analytics. As we walked through the product and sample applications, there was definitely a strong whiff of FileNet P8 in here (a system that I used to be very familiar with) since the sample was built with IBM Case Manager under the covers, but some nice additions in terms of unified interface and analytics.

Their claim is that the Unity Case Manager would look the same regardless of the underlying technology, which would definitely make it easier to swap out or federate content, case and process management systems behind the scenes. In the sample shown, since IBM Case Manager was primary, the case view was derived directly from IBM CM case data with the main document list from IBM FileNet P8, while the “Other Documents” tab showed related documents from Alfresco. Dynamic foldering can combine content from different systems into common folders to reduce this visual dichotomy. There are role-based views based on the user profile that provide access to data from multiple systems – including CRM and others in addition to ECM and BPM – and federate it into business objects than can include records, virtual folder structures and related objects such as people or claims. Individual user credentials can be passed to the underlying systems, or shared credentials can be used in connectors for retrieving unrestricted information. Search templates, system connectors and a variety of properties are set in a configuration console, making it straightforward to set up and modify standard operations; since this is an XML-based declarative environment, these configuration changes deploy immediately. 17 Vega Unity Intelligence Sankey diagramThe ability to make different types of configuration changes is role-based, meaning that some business users can be permitted to make changes to the shared user interface if desired.

Unity Intelligence adds a layer of visual analytics that aggregates data from the underlying systems and other sources; however, this isn’t just visualization, but can be used to filter work and take action on cases directly via action popup menus or opening cases directly from the analytics interface. They’re using open source tools such as SOLR (search), Lucene (information retrieval) and D3 visualization with good effect: I saw a demo of a Sankey diagram representing the workflow through cases based on realtime data that provided a sort of process mining view of work in progress, and allowed selecting dates for past views of work including completed cases. For case management, in which processes are semi-structured (at best), this won’t necessarily show process anomalies, but can show service interruptions and opportunities for process improvement and standardization.

They’ve published a video showing more about Unity 7 Intelligence, as well as one showing Unity Semantics for creating pivot tables for faceted search on content repositories.

Vega Unity 7 - December 2017

ABBYY partnerships in ECM, BPM, RPA and ERP

It’s the first session of the last morning of the ABBYY Technology Summit 2017, and the crowd is a bit sparse — a lot of people must have had fun at the evening event last night — and I’m in a presentation by another ex-FileNet colleague of mine, Carl Hillier.

He discussed how capture isn’t just a discrete operation any more, where you just capture, index and store in a content management repository, but is now the front end to business processes that have the potential for digital transformation. To that end, since ABBYY has no plans to expand their side of the business, they have made strategic partnerships with a number of vendors that push into downstream processes: M-Files and Laserfiche for content management, Appian and Pega (still in the works) for BPM, and Acumatica for ERP. As with many technology partnerships, there can be overlap in capabilities but that usually sorts out in favor of the specialist vendor: for example, with Laserfiche, ABBYY is being used to replace Laserfiche’s simpler OCR capabilities for customers with more complex capture capabilities. Both BPM vendors have RPA capabilities — Appian through a partnership with Blue Prism, Pega through their OpenSpan acquisition — and there’s a session following by RPA vendor UiPath on using ABBYY for RPA that likely has broader implications for working with these other partners.

For the solution builders who use ABBYY’s FlexiCapture, the connectors to these other products gives them fast path to implementation, although they can also use the ABBYY SDK directly to create solutions that include competing products. We saw a bit about each of the ABBYY connectors to the five strategic partners, and how they take advantage of those platforms’ capabilities: with Appian, for example, a capture operator uses FlexiCapture to scan/import and verify documents, then the connector maps the structured data directly into Appian’s data objects (records), whereas for one of the content management platforms, they may transfer a smaller subset of document indexing data. The Acumatica integration is a bit different, in that FlexiCapture isn’t seen as a separate application for the capture front end, but it’s embedded within the Acumatica interface as an invoice capture service.

ABBYY’s plan is to create more of these connectors, making it easier for their VARs and solution partners (who are the primary attendees at this conference) to quickly build solutions with ABBYY and a variety of platforms.