Why chemical companies need enterprise content management

Information Overload

09 October 2008 16:32  [Source: ICB]

Meticulous data collection is essential for chemical producers, who have to keep track of myriad technologies, processes and products. Managing all that data is an even greater challenge

By Kees Stam/Atos Consulting

We are all familiar with the problems created by the increasing amount of digital information in the world.

Not so long ago, the classification and storage of key documents were relatively straightforward, if somewhat bureaucratic, affairs. Today, with a broad range of document types containing important information, and large numbers of people involved in the creation and use of this information, the challenges facing large organizations are escalating.

In the chemical industry, the need to handle information properly is vital. Information has always been an important asset for an industry that depends on the development and protection of new products and processes and the safe operation of hazardous plant and equipment.

Business decisions are based on documented analysis, agreements are made explicit in contracts, safety procedures depend on correct piping and instrumentation diagrams (PIDs) and patent files hold intellectual property. Letters and emails are used to communicate on business issues and customers are increasingly kept informed through websites. The electronic age has not only brought new content formats but also an explosion in the quantity and variety of that content.

The exponential growth in digital information is generating significant issues for companies that need to maintain high levels of efficiency and to keep costs under control. Greater storage capacity is required to keep up with more content, and productivity is under pressure as people spend more and more time looking for the information they need. Add to that the security concerns regarding the access of company systems via internet and mobile devices, and the challenge is a complex one.

To address it in a holistic way, many companies are deploying enterprise-wide approaches to information management in the same way they did to resource planning and management. Enterprise content management (ECM) is the term commonly used for the combination of technologies, IT tools and methods that capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver all the content in the enterprise.

COMPLIANCE CAME FIRST

In recent years, the chemical industry has invested in ECM solutions. Typically, the most important business driver for ECM investments has been the need for regulatory and contractual compliance. This translated into projects that enabled companies to keep the relevant electronic records in the same way they used to keep paper records in archives.

Of course, we are all aware of the need to properly manage and archive PIDs, standard operating procedures and other documents that demonstrate compliance with safety, health and environmental regulations.

However, compliance also extends to other areas. For example, email is considered a legally binding method for business communication, which puts companies in the difficult position of deciding which emails need to be archived for legal and regulatory compliance and which can be destroyed. Policies and supporting systems need to be developed and deployed to deal with this challenge.

COLLABORATE AND INNOVATE

Recently, there has been a shift in the focus of ECM investments in the chemical industry. Although compliance and cost efficiency in managing and storing content are still mentioned as key drivers for ECM improvement programs, the main business driver is now the need to support collaboration and innovation.

We are seeing a trend towards the use of multifunctional and geographically dispersed teams to carry out complex research and product development projects, often with external partners. Only through intensive collaboration - within the company and across its boundaries - using an ECM solution, can teams use the most knowledgeable and capable resources, wherever located, share information effectively and efficiently, secure and reuse knowledge and intellectual property, agree on goals and milestones, and streamline the required business processes through the entire enterprise.

With knowledge workers spending an increasing amount of their time (analysts at US IT consultancy Gartner give an estimated figure of 30-40%) seeking and managing information necessary to do their job, improving productivity and knowledge management capabilities in general are important goals. With the impending retirement of large numbers of experienced employees, combined with further consolidation in the industry, information location and management will become an even higher priority.

BUSINESS-DRIVEN

In response to these issues, companies in the chemical industry should define and execute business-driven ECM programs.

These programs should build on ECM tools that are available to support both compliance and collaboration and innovation requirements. ECM software suites provide the relevant document management, records management, knowledge management and web content management capabilities.

Because ECM requirements hold for the organization as a whole, an enterprise-wide approach is needed when tackling content management. For compliance and collaboration and innovation support, an enterprise strategy makes obvious sense, but cost and efficiency arguments further strengthen the need for an enterprise-wide approach.

In design and implementation, ECM programs resemble enterprise resource planning (ERP) programs. Improvements in business processes, especially in the way that content is created and changed, are critical to the success of ECM and ERP programs. Content is pervasive and created in all formal and informal business processes, so careful scoping, blueprinting and program definition are essential tasks.

ECM MATURITY

To achieve full enterprise content management, a systematic approach must be used which is aligned to a long-term plan. The organization must first determine its current level of ECM maturity, and what its ultimate objectives are. In other words, a well-defined plan towards full ECM is required. When designing this plan, organizations need to determine the current and desired level of maturity in ECM and the relevant importance of the business drivers: compliance, collaboration and innovation support, cost and others.

Atos Consulting, one of three service lines provided by French-headquartered IT services provider Atos Origin, has developed an ECM maturity scan to support the planning process. The scan uses an ECM maturity matrix as its key component, with interviews and workshops to establish the current and desired positions in the matrix. Maturity can be established for areas such as ECM in support of compliance or collaboration.

The results of the ECM scan are used to prioritize improvement activities and to build an ECM road map. Quick wins can be identified and the ultimate objectives of the ECM program can be linked to intermediate steps. Every step on the road map should have clear objectives regarding the identified business priorities in compliance, collaboration and other drivers. It is important that every improvement step involves a well balanced combination of the vertical dimensions: organization and governance, business processes, people and culture, and IT and systems.

Information is a vital asset for companies in the chemical industry. To protect it and use it effectively, a business-driven ECM program is an essential investment for the future.

Kees Stam is a partner at Atos Consulting, based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He is the Atos Origin global program director for enterprise content management.





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