Today’s organizations could benefit greatly by integrating document management or enterprise content management (ECM) with other systems, such as the email system, CRM and ERP.
But these integrations aren’t all the same. They require different levels of expertise, and going into this process blind could be much more difficult and costly than you imagined.
For example, let’s say that your ERP vendor offers tight, sophisticated integration with your ECM system. Great! That means all of the documents coming from the accounting system flow easily into your ECM, and vice versa. But then you decide you want the ability to add Microsoft Office documents and archive emails into the ECM document repository.
If the ECM vendor isn’t prepared to accommodate easy integrations with Office, adding these new systems to your ECM integration could prove to be a huge, costly project that requires a lot of customized programming. Having to bring in a programmer for all of your integration work quickly drives up the cost.
3 Different Types Of ECM Integrations
Essentially, ECM integrations take place on three different levels, from relatively easy and inexpensive to complex and costly:
- Operating system integrations: These relatively straightforward integrations work through your user’s operating system, and should be available in your ECM solution. Examples include adding options to your “print” or “save as” interfaces so that they automatically archive documents to your ECM system.
- Application-level integrations: Here, your ECM vendor creates applications that allow you to integrate different systems. For example, you might configure one of these applications to monitor folders on your server drives and automatically archive new documents. Or, you may have a database sync tool that synchronizes information between the ECM system and the third-party applications.
A more advanced vendor application could be a screen-scraping tool that captures information directly from your computer screen and uses that data to query the ECM system, bringing up documents related to that particular text on your screen. These kind of application-level integrations should be configurable using wizards, so that anyone in your company with standard IT skills could accomplish the integration without having to get outside help.
- Custom scripting or programming integrations: These integrations are often considered “customizations” rather than “configurations” on the application level. These integrations require high-level skills with programming languages like Visual Basic. Your IT staff probably is not prepared to do this level of integration, so you would be relying on your vendor for customization work.
To keep costs down, it’s important that you handle as much of the ECM integration as possible in house, without the support of your vendor or the software manufacturer.
3 Tips For Avoiding Costly Mistakes With Your ECM Integration
- Select an ECM vendor that supports all three levels of integration: Your vendor should offer low-level integrations (such as the printing or saving options), application-level configuration and a programming interface that supports the most sophisticated integrations. Having all of these options available allows you to choose the most appropriate tools for different types of integration.
You don’t want to spend a fortune on custom programming just to integrate simple tasks, but you also want the option to use high-level programing. If your own IT staff wouldn’t be able to handle most of your integration needs with a particular vendor, look elsewhere.
- Look for an ECM solution that integrates with a wide range of business applications: ECM projects often start with the accounting department, but they tend to grow into other areas of the business. Instead of trying to find the best ECM solution for accounting (ERP integration), future-proof your investment by choosing a system that includes interfaces and integration capabilities for other line-of-business systems.
- Make sure the integration is as seamless as possible for users: When you integrate ECM with another system, using the connection should require minimal user involvement and knowledge. For example, archiving an email into your ECM system should take one click of a button, and not multiple steps. A smooth integration helps ensure user adoption and improves efficiency.
To learn more about using ECM to improve efficiency and productivity, download our FREE tip sheet, “5 Steps For Integrating ECM Into Your Organization”.