IBM extends its case for content management into the cloud

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IBM’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) suite is now infused with analytics and process management capabilities that enable it to construct solutions for case-based ECM. The company’s recently announced partnership with Box has begun to extend a traditional on-premise reach into cloud and hybrid scenarios, so that its ECM tools (and custom applications built upon them, using the Content Navigator Experience Platform, with its desktop and mobile interfaces) can range across content anywhere and serve up case management solutions to any device.

Top takeaways

‘Smart’ enterprise case management folds analytics into the intersection of ECM and BPM

Although some vendors are content to appeal to the growing customer interest in case management solutions by attaching rudimentary workflow capabilities to their content management and collaboration tools, IBM goes further by integrating content analytics across the content lifecycle. The breadth of IBM’s portfolio offerings in both ECM and analytics is such that it’s able to leverage one into the space of the other through in-house integrations, where others might have to rely on interoperability with third-party tools. Although IBM is keen to stress that its support for CMIS integrations with other vendors’ offerings allows its tools to range across content in heterogeneous environments, it’s also clear that to get the most out of such tools (like content analytics), an IBM-on-IBM environment will provide richer, smoother features.

Content Navigator – one UI to rule them all

IBM’s ECM offerings are not only designed to interoperate as a platform from a raw capability point of view: the Content Navigator Experience Platform is also designed to provide a unified, familiar look-and-feel through which end-users can access the various tools and platforms in play. This doesn’t just apply to IBM’s own tools; through its SDKs, IBM’s partners are also building ECM solutions that leverage the Content Navigator UI – all of which can be embedded in custom applications, just as individual tools’ capabilities can.

IBM’s ECM reaches further into the cloud with Box

With integrations between key IBM ECM tools and Box’s content collaboration platform maturing quickly, and Box services available on IBM’s Bluemix platform for third-party developers, there’s never been a better time to be an IBM customer with cloud content in Box. If, however, your content is on someone else’s cloud (and not SoftLayer) then you may to wait a while before IBM’s ECM reach encompasses your own cloud or hybrid scenarios.

An introduction to IBM Enterprise Content Management

IBM’s approach to Enterprise Content Management stems from its belief that “‘case management’ is the future of ECM”, representing the combination of all the elements required to improve business outcomes with discovery, engagement, and insight (i.e. people, content, workflow, analytics, cloud, and mobile). For IBM, this means providing an integrated, platform-based solution that’s able to serve up “the right content at the right time to make the right decisions” – sourcing, transforming and delivering content (through a combination of more traditional ECM and collaboration tools, workflow engines, etc.), and leveraging analytics capabilities to make that content more valuable in the context of a business scenario.

IBM’s ECM offering comprises a set of independent tools, born of both product acquisitions and in-house developments, which the company puts together on a common platform to build solutions tailored for particular content-focused use cases. Its overall suite includes tools that bring case management, business process management, and analytics capabilities – as well as more traditional ECM tools for capture, management, discovery, etc. These share ECM services and provide a unified user experience (via Content Navigator), across content lifecycle workflows – from mobile workers capturing content at the point of origin; through business users managing groups of employees, partners, and customers across the extended enterprise collaborating, sharing, and searching on content; to managed archiving and disposal, with audit trails to satisfy compliance in regulated industries.

As we covered in our report on IBM’s big data and analytics portfolio, IBM counts its ECM tools as an integral component of its analytics portfolio. IBM has integrated analytics capabilities across its ECM portfolio to help organisations construct ‘smarter’ content workflows, delivering “the right content to the right people in the right context”.

IBM’s strategy for its ECM tools is to make access to, and collaboration with, content under management:

  • Simpler – by making rudimentary management features easy-to-use (enabling business users to manage their own work groups); and exploiting familiarity (using social features based upon familiar constructs, editing functionality within familiar Microsoft Office tools, deploying a single viewer to open and annotate hundreds of file types, and common interface elements across mobile and desktop access).
  • More efficient – by deploying Content Navigator for enterprise-wide, cross-repository, cloud and on-premise search, file management, version control, etc. IBM isn’t seeing this as a means to facilitate customers’ content migration from on-premise to cloud, more that it’s a way of bringing cloud-based content into focus under IBM’s suite of on-premise tools. Out-of-the-box, Content Navigator can access content in any ECM repository (on-premise or in the cloud), any third-party repository with support for CMIS standard integrations, and content hosted on Box’s cloud platform (the latter as part of the close partnership announced between the two companies midway through 2015). Custom connectors can also be built and integrated for other repositories (on-premise or in the cloud).
  • More productive – with easy creation of team spaces for sharing and collaborating on files, workflows for document review and approval, and real-time concurrent document editing with IBM Docs.

IBM’s ECM architecture

IBM’s Enterprise Content Management architecture is based on the Content Platform Engine (with content and case at its core). Upon this are layered capabilities for access management, security, collaboration, and systems of engagement – spanning IBM’s own tools and CMIS integrations with third-party offerings. Its principal components are described below (with particular focus on those brought to bear in the construction of case-based ECM solutions).

IBM Content Foundation

IBM Content Foundation is a full content lifecycle document management platform, with capabilities that enable it to:

  • Manage content from multiple disparate repositories using either IBM FileNet Content Federation Services (for customers who require metadata integration), or at-the-glass integration through IBM Content Navigator (for those who don’t).
  • Integrate with Microsoft Office (and provide a front-end for SharePoint using SharePoint Web Parts).
  • Support custom application development with IBM WebSphere Application Server.

IBM External Data Services can also be used to reference data from external sources, where they are required.

IBM Content Foundation also offers file and folder sync, some social content management capabilities (which can track social interactions related to the content it manages, analysing unstructured data to put it into context), and the HTML Daeja Virtual Viewer (an acquisition from 2013).

Additionally IBM continues to provide scalable ECM capabilities through its heritage IBM Content Manager product. This delivers storage, management and integration of enterprise content across a range of on-premise platforms, with Box integration extending these out into the cloud to provide federated search across content stored on-premise and in the Box platform. Content Manager’s capabilities are exposed via IBM Content Navigator, which provides a common application layer (with access to SharePoint sites, file shares, etc.), and a modelling layer (JavaScript, Objective C, and .NET). As a product, it differs from IBM Content Foundation only insofar as it includes licences to enable older user experiences (e.g. Workplace XT) that are no longer aligned with IBM’s ECM vision.

IBM Content Navigator

IBM Content Navigator is an out-of-the-box user experience that replaces all previous IBM content interfaces, including Workplace, Workplace XT, and WEBi. It provides a framework for the integration of all the company’s key ECM offerings (including Case Manager, Capture, Records Manager, and Watson Content Analytics) across a range of business contexts:

  • Capture – not just to reduce the flow of paper; but, by including capture in mobile variants of IBM’s tools (and providing early workflow integrations with analytics capabilities), the company is seeking to source content, extract business value from it, and act upon it, quickly and early.
  • Activatee. putting content to work across business systems by integrating ECM effectively with line of business applications (developing case management solutions for many flexible workflow use cases).
  • Engage integrating collaboration, content management, and process tools (on-premise, in the cloud, and in hybrid scenarios; on any device).
  • Analyzedeploying with analytics across the board from IBM’s stable of analytics and cognitive computing solutions (including IBM Datacap, Watson Analytics, etc.), to develop ‘systems of insight’ that improve business decisions.
  • Protectgoverning content throughout its lifecycle, for instance by deploying IBM StoredIQ across multiple sources to determine how data should be secured according to its type and content.

The Content Navigator Experience Platform allows developers to build and integrate custom applications with a consistent user interface design across IBM’s ECM products. As well as the company’s own offerings, it has 125 partners building their own capabilities through the Content Navigator framework. Most of these (70%-80%) are industry- and/or region-specific, for case management use cases, but there are also some generic tools (such as for eSignature). IBM doesn’t yet report much demand for ‘single-purpose apps’ per se but can support them – since Content Navigator applications are based on a palette of capabilities from which individual features can be turned off or on to simplify the experience and focus on a particular task.

IBM Enterprise Records

Version 5.2 of IBM Enterprise Records now makes use of IBM Content Navigator for its user interface. It implements all IBM’s core records management functionality – file plan management, retention schedules, records search and holds, workflows, and so on – together with web-based record job/task management.

IBM Case Manager

IBM Case Manager provides knowledge workers with access to structured and unstructured information from a variety of sources, coupled with in-built analytics capabilities and integrations with third-party tools. It includes IBM Content Analytics with Enterprise Search, an enterprise search capability that uses natural language processing to extract and automatically categorise facts and concepts from unstructured content across multiple content repositories.

IBM states that the increasing customer demand for flexible content workflow tools has led Case Manager to become IBM’s principal software platform for delivering ECM capabilities. The company now uses Case Manager, in conjunction with other tools in its ECM portfolio, to build custom business content applications in “virtually any industry” – though most of its clients are in financial services, government, healthcare, education, retail, manufacturing, energy and utilities, telecoms and communications.

IBM Case Manager supports the Content Management Interoperability Service (CMIS) standard, enabling it to interoperate with other compatible ECM systems (such as Microsoft SharePoint, and EMC Documentum), and the External Data Service framework can also be employed. However, although Case Manager is “interoperable” with these third-party systems in a heterogeneous environment, the fullest range of features and functionality (for instance, advanced capabilities like content analytics) is reserved for when Case Manager is tightly integrated with IBM’s own tools – leveraging capabilities beyond those defined in the CMIS standard.

IBM describes Case Manager as having a four-layer architecture, as follows:

  • An action layer – based on a role-based user interface framework, flexible workflow, collaboration with IBM Sametime instant messaging, and support for the Case Packager plugin that can zip up case documents, customer properties, and related cases for compliance and audit.
  • An insight layerthat supports content analytics, performance analytics, predictive analytics, investigative analytics, and Watson Engagement Advisor.
  • A business content layer – that captures content from a variety of sources, such as: converting paper, fax, PDFs, Microsoft Office documents, etc.; ingesting social streams on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, etc.; accessing customers’ structured and unstructured data generally, whether on-premise or in the cloud (the latter restricted to IBM SoftLayer-based and Box content stores initially), and video content – which IBM sees as a big growth content area – specifically (with IBM Kaltura Video Navigator for ECM managing the ingestion, storage, search, and playback of video content on any device; and Kaltura MediaSpace providing capabilities for video content creation and sharing).
  • An access layerthat makes these capabilities available through a web browser interface, based on the IBM Content Navigator experience, with a subset (dashboard with access to case summary, documents and properties, history, tasks, and role-based queues) available through the IBM Case Manager Mobile app for iOS and Android.

Case Manager (along with other tools based on Content Navigator) are web-based (making use of JavaScript / DOJO for interactivity), running on any platform via a browser interface. It runs on Microsoft Windows platforms and is usually deployed on-premise. It’s also available as a hosted as a cloud-based service.

Recently integrated with Box, IBM Case Manager enables case workers to collaborate with external participants (to request information, etc.) without leaving the case management environment.

IBM Datacap

IBM Datacap extracts information from document images so that it can be ingested by ECM and line-of-business systems. In 2015, IBM announced a Cognitive Capture capability (Datacap Insight Edition), giving it the ability to automatically identify and classify incoming documents (through pattern recognition, keyword search, text analytics, machine learning, etc.), automatically applying business rules so that the content can be processed more efficiently.

Datacap Mobile (which It provides auto-capture with video camera, real-time edge detection, on-device OCR, indexing, etc.) is mostly encountered embed in a customer’s own application (it has an SDK for customisation), though it is also available as a standalone iOS or Android app.

Datacap’s integration with Box allows users to capture documents from multiple sources and then store them in the Box platform, and retrieve related documents and information from Box to aid in content classification, etc.

StoredIQ

IBM StoredIQ uses indexing technologies to manage data (and make it available for business processes) wherever it resides in the enterprise, rather than moving it (or subsets of it) into application databases or central repositories. It can also provide a snapshot of the data environment to help draw up data governance policies, and afterwards supply detailed audit trails for data access across disparate systems to help ensure regulatory compliance.

StoredIQ can analyse unstructured content across over 75 data sources, identifying, managing it in place and / or relocating data (thereby reducing the risk that sensitive personal or business information is being stored incorrectly), and disposing of unneeded data (thereby lowering storage costs).

Stored IQ for Legal can also perform eDiscovery across a wide range of data sources (including cloud-based content held in Box) and collect content required for litigation purposes.

StoredIQ Migration’s integration with Box allows customers to migrate on-premise content from SharePoint sites, file shares, etc. into Box, classifying as it goes.

IBM Content Analytics

IBM Content Analytics is a set of packages designed to mine business content for business insight. As outlined in MWD Advisors’ report on IBM’s big data and analytics portfolio, the company’s ambition is to range its analytics capabilities across “all data” (including ECM repositories, cloud data services, data warehouses, Hadoop, Spark, etc.) with its logical data access layer to provide historical, contextual, predictive, and cognitive analytics.

Future plans and suitability

The partnership between IBM and Box has already borne fruit in terms of early integration points across its ECM toolset (see earlier sections). IBM’s relationship with Box is seen as a long-term strategic commitment to leverage each company’s strengths, with IBM bringing its portfolio and experience in – predominantly on-premise – content management, case management, analytics, etc.; and Box, its cloud-based platform for secure content management and collaboration. Integrations are set to become richer as the two companies leverage more of each other’s capabilities in combined solutions (for example, cases becoming automatically triggered in IBM Case Manager when content is added to a monitored folder on Box).

Within IBM, the company has sought to align its ECM strategy with overall wider strategic imperatives, as follows:

  • Data, analytics, and cognitive computing – as highlighted above, IBM is integrating its analytics computing portfolio to improve processes across the content lifecycle and exploiting its customers’ generally vast supplies of unstructured content as fuel for their business analytics programs. An example: Datacap Insight Edition using advanced imaging, natural language processing and machine learning techniques to classify, organise, and extract business data from documents not already known to the capture system.
  • Cloud – leveraging both its SoftLayer cloud infrastructure to deliver managed service versions of its ECM tools, and its partnership with Box to extend the reach of traditionally on-premise focused solutions into cloud and hybrid on-premise / cloud scenarios.
  • Mobile – with mobile editions of its key ECM tools (for capture, case and access to content) providing functionality on any device extending the breadth of collaboration scenarios into mobile use cases.

IBM’s approach isn’t necessarily to get all content into its own repository; rather it’s able to integrate with third-party ECM related components via CMIS. However IBM-on-IBM integrations will tend to yield the most feature-rich integrations as they leverage extensions outside of the CMIS standard’s core definition.

IBM’s ECM suite clearly presents considerable breadth and depth of potential capabilities for any solution architect… but just as with the company’s big data and analytics portfolio, this is born of lots of individual tools deployed in combination via the Content Platform – so to benefit from the full range of what IBM’s ECM suite can do, you’ll potentially need to purchase and integrate a lot of products; and if you’re integrating with an existing ECM estate from another vendor via CMIS interfaces, you may not benefit from all the potential features, particularly in the field of content analytics – which IBM is touting as the new case / content management battleground.

IBM’s ECM heritage is very much on-premise, and although it’s now supporting cloud-based content stored in Box and IBM SoftLayer, if your data is held elsewhere in the cloud you may need to wait a bit longer for full ECM capability to reach that far. However, if your requirement is already satisfied by the IBM / Box sweetspot, or your use case will benefit from that relationship maturing in the near-term horizon, then the combination of Big Blue’s considerable enterprise experience in content, case, and analytics – and Box’s consumer-savvy cloud experience – will likely tick many of the right boxes for you.

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