Nukissiorfiit builds its case for ECM with Alfresco

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Nukissiorfiit uses Alfresco to deploy a case management orientated Enterprise Content Management solution across a distributed organisation, by building out market-specific capabilities from the vendor’s open source platform.

Case study key facts

Organisation Nukissiorfiit
Industry Energy
Current goals From a business perspective, Nukissiorfiit is focused on embedding content management much more firmly within the company’s business processes so that ECM capabilities are exploited in a mature way to improve workflows and productivity. From a technical standpoint, much now hinges on the company’s upgrade path to the next generation of Alfresco ECM; all plans being dependent upon it being able to move forward (together with its case management enhancements) off the previous generation of the platform so that it can continue to enjoy the product’s evolving core features.
Current approach The company has deployed an Alfresco ECM-based solution (“Nukidoc”) that delivers case management capabilities suited to the Scandinavian market, but it’s done this through the deployment of significant enhancements to Alfresco’s open source code. It’s moving towards migrating to Alfresco’s latest generation product (in order to benefit from its enhanced features and scalability) but to do so it must also either re-develop its enhancements so to work on Alfresco 5, or look to other ways of achieving the same functionality.
Outcome Although adoption of Nukidoc has yet to deliver full case management benefits (because of, thus far, limited take-up in the company’s business processes) it’s already delivered unintended benefits in the form of content consolidation (prior to migration to the platform) that’s enabled the company to achieve quality assurance of its documentation on a scale not previously possible.
Tools and suppliers used Alfresco ECM

Microsoft Dynamics AX

Organisation background

Nukissiorfiit is the national incumbent energy company in Greenland. Starting out in 1949 as the first public power utility in its four largest towns, the company is now the only one that covers the whole country. With Greenland’s 60,000 inhabitants spread across an area six times the size of Germany, Nukissiorfiit’s content and rights are highly distributed – with headquarters and technical organisations in 76 locations (across five districts, 16 towns, and 55 townships).

Nicolai Sally, Nukissiorfiit’s CIO and Enterprise Architect, leads the company’s ECM and case management initiative. He joined in 2012 (starting as project manager of the Alfresco ECM project, Nukidoc) and became CIO and EA a year later after successfully delivering Nukidoc to production.

Project background

Nukissiorfiit’s project to deploy Alfresco ECM stems from a decision to retire its Novell Groupwise collaboration platform and Docuwise document management system. The Novell technology had been deployed eight years earlier, delivered via Citrix thin clients from a centralised server, but as the company migrated to Microsoft Windows PCs (it had adopted the Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system in 2010) this was seen as a less suitable fit on the new architecture. With the move to Windows and Dynamics, Microsoft SharePoint was considered as an option for document management, but instead Nukissiorfiit opted to develop a case-orientated ECM solution on top of Alfresco’s Community Edition (as its open source nature presented a platform it felt it could work with and enhance to fit its particular case management requirements).

Influencing this course of action was the company’s overall vision for Enterprise Content Management (ECM), which was predicated upon the Scandinavian notion of ECM and the concept of ‘cases’. In Danish, ECM translates into ESDH (“Elektronisk Sags-og Dokumenthåndtering”, meaning “electronic case document and records management”) and, as a discipline, developed alongside the country’s public sector’s need to optimise processes in case and document management.

Greenland has been an autonomous Danish dependent territory since 1979 and Denmark remains the country’s main trading partner.

This case management requirement has driven Nukissiorfiit’s deployment of Alfresco, particularly the enhancements it’s developed in-house and layered over the standard vendor technology offering.

Implementation characteristics and status

Nukissiorfiit started the project in 2011 with Alfresco Community Edition (Alfresco’s unsupported open-source version of its on-premises ECM product – covered in the MWD Advisors report On the radar: Alfresco), enhancing the core product with additional capabilities which focused on Outlook integration and case conditions – the company introduced the concept of a ‘case’ node (based on a modified ‘folder’ node) so content could be managed by site, case, folder, and file. Version 1.0 of the ECM system (“Nukidoc”) went into production in December 2012, as Groupwise and Docuwise were phased out.

Buoyed by stories from other customers and developers at 2013’s Alfresco Summit concerning what they’d achieved with the product, Nukissiorfiit made an informed decision to upgrade to version 4.2.e of the Community Edition midway through the year, which paved the way for a move to v4.2 of the Enterprise Edition 12 months later.

Prior to this exposure to the wider Alfresco community at the summit, Nukissiorfiit and its small development partner had felt the project was progressing rather in isolation, and were unaware of the support and inspiration available from other community members. The experience gave the project a lift around the time the company was reviewing achievements and roadmap as part of a healthcheck milestone, and led to a revamp as (Nukidoc 2.0) early in 2014 following review of the company’s content model and requirements.

Nukidoc today (late 2015) is still based on the fourth generation of Alfresco Enterprise (v4.3). The company hasn’t yet upgraded to Alfresco 5 (released a year ago) because of all the investment tied up in customisations and new code built on top of the previous version to meet its particular case management needs (principally it’s custom case node, upon which its enhanced case management capabilities are built). Although the current incarnation of Alfresco’s platform has done much to integrate its Activiti BPM engine across the ECM suite, leading to focused offerings for case management (amongst other specific use cases, like compliance management), Nukissiorfiit doesn’t believe these developments yet go far enough towards satisfying case management ECM requirements as per the Danish concept of ESDH (indeed, there remains no explicit out-of-the-box higher order ‘case’ data type – required to support Nukissiorfiit’s content model). Until it’s confident that a certified Alfresco case management partner product (or core product capabilities in this area) don’t represent a retrograde step for its own purposes, it feels compelled to remain out of step with the vendor’s release schedule.

The approach

As mentioned earlier, Sally’s approach to ECM for Nukissiorfiit is based on official Danish public sector architectural principles for content management strategies, paying particular attention to the concept of ‘cases’. The company has sought to architect a solution that meets five key targets:

  • A consistent and cohesive platform that provides both an excellent end-user experience (for staff, partners, customers / citizens) and supports effective and efficient process management.
  • Open standards-based enhancements (promoting re-use across systems), mindful of the scarcity of skilled development resources.
  • Design for ease of use, ease of maintenance, and ease of adaptation / scalability (these last two points in particular in anticipation of changing legal requirements and/or energy industry standards, etc).
  • Collaboration with partners, suppliers, and community networks to minimise development risk, and increase the potential for innovation.
  • A stable, robust, and reliable solution that reaffirms trust in the Nukissiorfiit brand in a digital environment.

While business drivers focused on case management capabilities, the ECM project’s key technical requirements were for reliability and robustness at the base of the stack. As with enhancements for case scenarios; Nukissiorfiit needed to consider how much integration between Alfresco and the rest of its IT estate to undertake for itself (rather than wait for Alfresco’s roadmap). In both cases the company had to balance the risk of perpetuating an incomplete solution (if it waited), with the risk that it might waste resources on solo developments that would become obsolete if superseded by Alfresco’s own releases (or prevent the company from keeping up with core product upgrades, lest it lose its own carefully tailored enhancements). Pressing business needs have driven Nukissiorfiit to invest heavily in case management customisations that are so far anchoring it to a previous version of Alfresco Enterprise.

Strategy

Sally has attached a scale of 1 (“unmanaged”), though 2 (“incipient”), 3 (“formative”), and 4 (“operational”), to 5 (“proactive”) to describe its ECM maturity (as typified by adoption of the Nukidoc solution).

He currently views Nukidoc’s ‘as-is’ state as between the ‘formative’ and ‘operational’ stages, depending on which characteristics (with considerations grouped under ‘human’, ‘data / information’ and ‘system’ dimensions) are taken into account and how they’re weighted.

Initial business goals for Nukidoc have already been met. These included a knowledge management clean-up of legacy content archives, the ability to share and collaborate from a common platform, alignment with key business processes, improved customer service, and more secure access to sensitive documentation.

Sally’s aspiration is for the ‘to-be’ state to occupy ground between ‘operational’ and ‘proactive’. In other words:

  • For the company’s senior management to sponsor ECM and process best practices as a core skill, with automated processes spanning systems and departments
  • For the development of records management schemes, taxonomies, folksonomies, and metadata review to become more firmly embedded across the organisation
  • For an information governance structure in place to match
  • For content assets to be routinely re-used across systems and channels – and for specific search applications to be developed that increase their discoverability
  • For business-critical information systems to be prioritised amongst the core content types identified for wider document management and workflow implementations
  • For successful departmental initiatives to be scaled enterprise-wide
  • And lastly, for all developments to be underpinned by user-centred design principles, with information security handled centrally.

Organisation and people

Adoption

Nukissiorfiit’s ECM solution Nukidoc supports 430 users across various departments and lines of business, managing multiple decentralised content stores (including legacy databases and documentation in hardcopy). Migration has represented a heavy workload for the project team. Although the rollout of Nukidoc 1.0 was accompanied by a significant campaign for training, this was met with limited take-up – so, learning from this, more time was devoted up-front to migration strategies for Nukidoc 2.0.

The content migration process itself posed the greatest challenges for the Nukidoc project team. Prior to ECM rollout, the company’s staff had become used to relying on a mixture of external content stores, shared drives, and email to hold their content. Consolidating all this onto a single platform required the team to sell benefits three ways:

  • Overcoming the risks and results of failure in unmanaged content stores through the resilience of a backed-up central store.
  • The ability to address the legal requirements for custodianship of personally identifiable data (where access management by case can provide a robust and secure solution).
  • The ease of sharing, discovery and reuse of information residing on a common platform (helping teams learn from colleagues’ documented experiences, and access to company standard information from IT, legal, etc).

Once on the platform, Sally reports that another adoption hurdle to realising widespread value was the need for staff who were used to managing their content in file and folder / directory configurations to embrace the concepts of tagging, metadata and cases. Both ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ were deployed here – with best-practice stories of easier content discoverability accompanied by a timeline which ultimately ends with the switch-off of Nukissiorfiit’s Windows shared drives once the ECM system is on a firmer enterprise footing.

Roles and resouces

The initial Nukidoc 1.0 project (based on Alfresco Community Edition) consumed a significant amount of resource (consuming some 4,000 – 5,000 consultant hours, as well as placing a significant load on scarce internal resources). By the time Nukidoc 1.0 had bedded down into a health check phase, it became clear that in order to invest in success for wider rollout (in terms of processes and people), the project would need to become better ‘anchored’ in lines of business across the organisation – something which the development of Nukidoc 2.0 addressed. Furthermore the team realised that a confident relationship would need to be struck up with a systems integration partner better able to translate Nukidoc’s enhancements into the world of Alfresco Enterprise 5 (to finally get Nukissiorfiit off the fourth-generation of the platform).

Governance

Nukissiorfiit has developed an information governance structure and codified its processes and procedures, to help ensure that its ECM solution is well-aligned with business processes. In particular, this has been done to encourage best practice usage that delivers case management benefits (i.e. beyond Nukidoc simply being used as a digital archive).

Technology and infrastructure

Nukissiorfiit’s Alfresco deployment has sought to follow open standards to enhance core capabilities with its own open source code designed to deliver a Scandinavian case management experience. With new systems integration partner Redpill Linpro (well versed both in the Scandinavian notion of ‘case’, and the intricacies of migrating customised open source solutions), Nukissiorfiit is planning on a move to Alfresco Enterprise 5.02 by the end of Q1 2016.

Nukidoc v1.0 was based on Alfresco Community Edition, version 2.0 on Alfresco Enterprise. In addition, the company chose to switch to Kerberos (from NTLM) and Solr (from Lucene) during the v1.0 phase, and added Alfresco integration with Yammer midway through the 2.0 phase. The company began with Alfresco hosted externally, but by mid-2014 had migrated to Alfresco Cloud. To date, there’s been little integration between Alfresco ECM and the company’s Microsoft Dynamics AX ERP system (beyond usage of Alfresco as repository middleware), However, once Alfresco 5.02’s capabilities are better known (in the context of Nukissiorfiit’s business processes) – and ditto Microsoft Dynamics AX, which the company has recently upgraded – Sally feels he’ll be in a better position to determine where any integrations are necessary (preferring to rely on native core capabilities in each case, before resorting to any proprietary customisations in-house).

The results

Sally considers that Nukdoc is currently at the “integrate content and business processes” phase of maturity. With this, one unintended benefit has been that the content migration process has forced Nukissiorfiit to confront its myriad stores and examine, rationalise, and consolidate to bring content under management –meaning that a long-held intention to prepare its documentation to properly support an effective quality assurance process for the business has been achieved (where standalone initiatives had failed). The company has also been able to use both the act of migration, as well as the tools available within the ECM solution itself, to achieve compliance with legal stipulations for content management in a regulated industry.

Within two years of going live, Nukidoc 1.0 had successfully replaced Docuwise as a document management system, though its benefits as a case management solution were less well demonstrated (some business processes had been incorporated, but the system had yet to reach its full potential). However, the costs sunk into the community project to get to this point were high (and represented a considerable investment with a small systems integrator), though community engagement from 2013 had reinvigorated the project and set up the internal roadmap with a move to Alfresco Enterprise.

Although Nukidoc 2.0 has delivered a number of enhancements over version 1.0, there are still some matters to address as a result of the company’s migration to Alfresco Cloud, and a requirement to deepen the integration between Microsoft Dynamics AX and Alfresco (using Alfresco as Dynamics’ repository).

Recommendations for adopters

In our conversations with Nukissiorfiit’s CIO / Enterprise Architect Nicolai Sally for this case study, he offered several recommendations for organisations embarking on a similar initiative:

  • Be open, when building on open source. When developing on an open source platform, encourage collaboration between its community and your system integrator / in-house developer – balancing the need for, and dependence on, each party’s capabilities.
  • Keep your eye on the vendor’s roadmap and know when to call time on custom development (i.e. don’t over-engineer on open source). Be careful when developing on an evolving open source platform to overcome shortcomings in core capabilities, as customisation choices may cause upgrade path difficulties. However, be aware of the overall costs and benefits attached to remaining on an old technology release, with respect to re-architecting to take advantage of a new version – and review as the situation evolves. It may not prove beneficial, on balance, to upgrade straight away… but prepare for the costs when the right answer is clear.
  • It’s never too early to…
    • Establish best practices for changes, releases, and deployments to make the transition from system version to another as smooth as possible – and assure stability and performance before attempting further developments (avoiding premature release of mission-critical features).
    • Initiate top-down requirements modelling to capture and interpret the key business drivers upon which early success and wider acceptance will depend.
    • Define an overarching content model and framework for metadata, tagging, and taxonomy.
    • Prepare migration processes and the fate of legacy systems and data – and don’t underestimate the task (ECM deployment speed and success are significantly dependent upon the co-operation and good stewardship of content owners across the organisation).
  • Manage conflicts across the organisation to ensure your system doesn’t perpetuate them. Balance user influence, interests, stake and budget when prioritising requirements – don’t let strong voices asymmetrically drive the project if they’re not necessarily ‘the voice of the business’. Apply business case principles to each request, or risk your system developing out of alignment with real business needs.
  • Acknowledge “IT as an instrument of social power in the workplace”. Involve end-users from all work cultures across the organisation in defining what ‘business/ IT alignment’, and ‘continuous improvement’ means to them, to minimise feelings of ‘disconnection’ and help tackle where traditions and habits die hard that run contrary to new process.

Best practice insights

Nukissiorfiit’s story is one of a customer successfully building out a solution that’s just right for them – capitalising on an open source code product and innovative development community to enhance the core product with capabilities closely suited to the company’s particular market. However, there’s a risk that with a customer proprietary solution on top of an open source one, although it can start off better than the vendor’s own… it can lead to headaches down the line when the vendor catches up (or if the lure of the vendor’s other additions proves significantly attractive). This last scenario can present a particularly difficult migration decision, as it may not necessarily coincide with the vendor also ‘catching up’ on the area of capability the customer had originally felt compelled to develop for themselves. In fact, a vendor’s roadmap may never suggest that the customer’s specific requirements will be met in a way that improves on their own code.

Although there’s no evidence that Nukissiorfiit remaining tied to a previous version of Alfresco Enterprise (because of its case management enhancements) is causing any problems for end-users (indeed, it’s not unusual by any means for enterprises to lag behind vendor releases when they’ve invested in their own customisations based on previous codebases), as Alfresco consolidates its platform (and the vendor itself evolves with a new direction more focused on open standards based development over an open core, compared with its previously more overt open source leanings), the gap between Nukidoc and Alfresco will inevitably widen – and some challenging decisions about future investments will need to be made.

There are other directions in which Nukissiorfiit is considering taking its use of Alfresco (the company’s use of metadata in records management is limited, for instance) – but it’s wary of layering any further development investment until its case management enhancements are on a firmer footing. Ideally, the company wants Alfresco to build case node functionality into its core product, so anything it builds on that content model will be underpinned by the vendor’s codebase rather than its in-house proprietary extensions.

Of course, with Nukissiorfiit’s custom code available under open source licence, another scenario may see Alfresco itself recognise the strides the company has made in innovating off the platform to satisfy particular market requirements (in this case, Danish case-based ECM) and look to support such a local variant of determine what might be of wider relevance in its global market. However that decision would depend on Alfresco developing the capabilities of its Enterprise and Community Editions with equal intensity, which it appears to be moving away from as it re-focuses itself on the needs of large enterprises.

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