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Spotlight on ECM and BPMS

Recently I watched the movie Spotlight, the 2016 Oscar winner for Best Picture. The movie was excellent and I’m a big fan of the investigative journalism genre. So how does this relate to business process management (BPM)? At the core of many Business Process Management Software (BPMS) platforms is the content and that content can be handled by BPMS or, more commonly, an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system (or Content Management System, if you prefer…one thing about the tech biz, there is no shortage of acronyms!).

BPMS and ECM are perfectly partnered software for an efficient and well maintained digital business process solution. ECM provides the ability to capture, classify and store content while BPMS allows you to do something with that content by moving it through a workflow. A lot of times companies stop at ECM and don’t add BPMS to what they have and, in my opinion, are significantly short changing themselves. ClearCadence encounters this situation quite a bit with our clients as we consult with them on solutions involving OpenText, Alfresco and K2.

But what does all of this have to do with Oscar Winner Spotlight? Mainly it was centered around my fascination on how the reporting team, known as the Spotlight Team, went about doing research for the story. For those unaware, Spotlight is based on the true story of the Boston Globe working to provide proof of a scandal and publishing the story about that scandal.

It's in the “provide proof” that had me very intrigued. This story happened in 2001 and during that time, I was working at a health insurance company that had an image processing system (or BPMS as it’s more commonly referred to now) that had been in place for at least six years. Apparently, the Boston Globe was significantly behind the technological times compared to that insurance company I worked for.

And this is kind of the point. Companies, like the Boston Globe, may be missing an opportunity to greatly improve their business efficiencies in terms of collaboration, time to market, cost savings related to equipment, floor space and office personnel.

There was one montage during the movie as the investigative team was pulling news clippings on victims involved in the scandal they are investigating. Their goal was to collect as many stories as they could find to see just how big the scandal was. And it was during this montage that I thought how much easier would it have been if they had all of their content and data on an ECM system and how much quicker would the story have been released if it was tied to a BPM Case Management workflow? And thus, because I am a BPM geek, I proceeded to plot it out.

Scan It All!

First and foremost, everything needed to be scanned into a common repository with a solid indexing schema so each news clipping, interview, and report could be found easily. In the movie, all of this content was stored in lateral file machines (the kind with rotating shelves to make better use of space but the best use of space with file cabinets is the space that doesn’t have one in it at all); microfiche (I cringed when I saw people searching through those); and, of course, shelves and shelves of old newspapers. To scan it all into an ECM repository would be a big undertaking. Luckily, they apparently had the content under an indexing schema that made it somewhat easy to find. Our plan would be to replicate that schema within a digital content repository and maintain some continuity between the old way of finding content to the new way.

You could even take it a step further and add full text indexing to each piece of content. This is where all of the text in a news clipping, for example, is captured, stored in a database and is available for keyword searching. For what the Spotlight team needed, this would have been invaluable.

Establish the Roles

A proper BPMS workflow needs to have the right roles defined and established within the system. Not only does this give the proper separation of work but roles help define workflows, user interfaces, and security levels.

For the mock system I’m developing here for the Spotlight team, I have the following defined:

  • Indexer – This is for the task of doing manual indexing of the content added to the content repository and any new data coming in which would be just about all the time. They manually index data that cannot be captured through OCR and ICR.

  • Research – This person is mainly responsible for finding mass amounts of data that the Reporter role cannot spend time on. Yes, it will be easier and quicker for a Reporter to find content in a digital repository but with a story like the one being done in Spotlight, where hundreds of files must be pulled, a Researcher role is needed to take on that task. Basically this is the file clerk who was searching the lateral files and collecting everything into a cart to take to the reporters, so the job function hasn’t changed that much, it would just be all digital now.

  • Reporters – These are the guys reading all of the collected content and deciding if it’s useful to their story. They initiate the request for the Research role to pull items from within a range of dates, searching for specific criteria. They can and will do their own searching but passing the brunt of the research to someone else frees up their time to read what they already had, conduct interviews and track down leads. They would also have the ability to remove any collected content that had no bearing on their story after they performed their due diligence.

  • Editor – Once the story is done, the Reporters would send the story as the main piece of a digital case folder to the Editor. Here the editor can read the story and have immediate access to all of the background data, cross references, and backups used to support the story. The Editor could then return it to the Reporters for more information, flat out reject the story and send it to archive or move it to the Press role to have the story run.

  • Press – This is the role that takes the finished story, adds it to the paper layout for publication.

Draft Workflow

Now that we have our content in a digital, managed state and have established our roles, now we need to figure out a workflow the reporting team will use for drafting a story (i.e. the Draft Workflow). The following represents the standard process from initiation to when the story actually goes to press:

As you can see, the workflow starts when a reporter performs the Initiate Story action which would be an online form where basic information about the story, such as date ranges and keywords to search for, is captured and a request for research is sent to the Research role. Since this is going to be a very collaborative and basically unstructured workflow, we will use a Case Management approach to this instead of a more standard, rules-driven workflow.

Once the Research Role has gathered as much data as they can find, they will forward the Case Folder to the Reporter Role where they will review, follow up on the items they need to follow up on, possibly send it back to Research for additional information and once the story is done, they will forward to the Editor role for review and approval.

The Editor role, as previously mentioned, will either ask for more information from the Reporter role, shut the story down by sending it to archive (or even possibly deleting it all together) or sending it to the Press role for the story to be published.

The Press role would just receive the finished story without all the captured content that was used to write the story. Once the story was published, it would be sent to archive with all the other digitized content.

The Elements of the Story...uh...Workflow

So we have our content, roles and workflow. Now we need the tools. As stated, we are going with a Case Management approach to the Spotlight workflow. While we could work with a standard, structured workflow, Case Management allows us a bit more freedom.

First of all, the content we need is typically researched from past stories which have all been put into the content management system. This is easier to reference within a case folder type structure. Let’s take a look at a mock-up of the base form:

The form has fields for the following:

  • Reporter Name – Name of the reporter initiating the request. This would automatically be filled in based on the user name of the person starting the case.

  • Date of Request – The date the case was initiated which would typically be the current date and auto-populated.

  • Begin Date Range – The starting date of when the reporter wants to focus his research.

  • End Date Range – The end date of the range the reporter wants to research. This could easily be defaulted to the current date if that made sense.

  • Story Deadline – The anticipated deadline for the story to be sent to the Editor or when it is actually supposed to be published. This would be useful to track total time spent, initiate follow-up and escalation notices, etc.

  • Story Subject – A very brief description of story.

  • Keywords – A list of keywords the Researcher would use to find relevant articles.

The form will also have a number of placeholders for holding content. When the Researcher finds content based on the keywords, they would use the Add button to add the reference to the case folder. This section would be expandable to allow for as many content placeholders as needed. In addition to adding content from the ECM/CMS system, Reporters could also add their own documents, video clips, and other content that may be outside of their existing system. The top placeholder is reserved for the news story itself.

A series of buttons are at the bottom of the form to control the movement of the case through the workflow. This is where having the roles defined is helpful. The roles can be used to show only the buttons needed for that role. For example:

Case Initiation:

Researcher Role:

Reporter Role:

Editor Role:

News Reporting is a Collaborative Activity

With a story as big as the one featured in Spotlight, the need for the reporters to collaborate on the story and to keep a record of that collaboration is critically important. This is another aspect of the Case Management approach since anyone who has access to the case can add notes, tasks and content to the case. With our Spotlight workflow, we’ve added a second tab to the Case Folder that allows the reporters to do such collaboration.

In the example above, you can see on the left side is a discussion style notation pane. This feature is generally a standard, out of the box function with most BPMS systems that support Case Management (and even in some that don’t). A discussion can be started and replies made directly beneath. Further functionality can also be added so that people assigned to the case, presumably by role, will receive notifications that a note has been added to direct them to the case and provide responses or give opinions.

On the right side of the above example is what the case looks like once content has been added. Again, further expansion to this case folder can be done by adding tasks that can be assigned to a specific person. In the above example, since Robinson wants collaboration on Clip_15.467.2, he could have assigned a task to that content item for Rezendes to investigate. Once Rezendes was done, he would complete the task which provides verification that it was done along with when it was done.

With today’s BPMS software, not only could this be done by accessing a web based Case folder from their laptop, but also could be done on a smart phone as an application which would allow the reporters to get notifications, make updates, review content, and add notes from wherever they are.

Time to Press

This all adds up to a much quicker time to press, which is a very important metric to any publisher. During the movie, the Spotlight team was asked periodically “How much more time do you need?” and the response seemed to always be measured in weeks or months. With quicker access to the content they need, the ability to find relevant stories to what they are working on, online collaboration, and other features that we only just touched on, a story that took about a year to investigate and write may have only taken 6 months or even less time with access to such technology.

Getting to the Point

So, what’s the point of all this? Obviously things would have gone quicker during the investigation cycle if the Spotlight team had access to this type of technology. That’s pretty evident without having to go through all of the examples I’ve brought forth. The problem is that it should have been available. Maybe some of the case management methods and other tools weren’t quite there yet but both ECM and BPMS were definitely around during this time and could have been used.

And this is the problem. Often, companies only consider BPMS and/or ECM when they are faced with a specific business problem they feel these technologies can solve and so the basis of their implementation is only around solving that one problem. The truth is, if they consider both BPMS and ECM at the enterprise level and implement a foundation of both within their company, they don’t have to wait for a problem; they can act, almost immediately, on using the technology in place to solve the problem, or, even better, avoid the problem altogether.

In other words, put a spotlight on your business and see what BPMS and ECM can do for it.

Kevin Beddingfield is Managing Director at ClearCadence and heads up ClearBPM, a packaged service for companies to help gauge their BPM readiness in addition to doing full analysis, requirements documentation and functional design for a BPMS project from a software agnostic point of view.

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