One of the first ECM applications TSG ever developed for a client 15 years ago this month was the “Smart CR” where CR stood for change request. When it comes to Change Management, we (TSG) have experienced a variety of approaches and best practices. For this post, we will detail those best practices and how to develop a “best practices” Change Management approach with Alfresco.
Best Practices for Document Change Management
Based on our experience with clients in a variety of industries (Pharma, Energy, Manufacturing…), we would recommend the following:
- Embed Intelligence in the System – This is a tough one to explain but getting consistency into the system across a diverse user base should focus on decisions being made in the system, not having to rely on users to consistently make complex decisions. As mentioned in the intro, the “Smart CR” approach was a Visual Basic program designed to get users to complete the Change Request correctly, thereby avoiding costly mistakes, rerouting and user frustration. Complex business rules including meta-data population, who needs to approve and what documents to attach are all things the system should assist with rather than have to rely on user knowledge to do correctly and consistently.
- Mass Change rather than Document Change – For production environments deployment, nothing is worse than having to coordinate a variety of documents associated with a change. For users, nothing is worse than having an inbox overloaded with approvals that are related but not grouped by the system. The intelligence in the system should allow for changes of related documents in one change management package. Most “out of the box” approaches from ECM vendors focus on Document Change, not the bigger mass change.
- Configuration rather than Code – To really embed intelligence in the system, business users need the ability to change the interface and business rules to adapt quickly to business changes. For our Pharma clients, this can’t be code as that would require revalidation. The system should support a number of different scenarios that can change, via configuration, very quickly.
- Signature Reduction rather than additional signatures – Early on, we did a non-system effort where we helped a client reduce the average number of signatures required for a change request from 12 to 4 via a simple matrix that asked questions. The intelligence in the system should ask questions to REMOVE signature requirements rather than add additional signatures (and time/expense/frustration). For example, a system that asks if this is “a simple editorial change” had the intelligence to know that an editorial change does not require Regulatory approval.
Implementing Change Management and Alfresco
Alfresco is an excellent platform for developing a change management solution. Some of the recommended components include:
- Intelligent Form – The driving component behind the “Smart CR” was an intelligent form. At TSG we lean on our Open Source option, the Active Wizard, but there are other options within the Alfresco community. The configurable form should allow the business to:
- Specify a series of questions about the change (Embed Intelligence)
- Attach multiple documents to the change package (Mass Change)
- Support Dynamic Routing (Signature Reduction)
- Dynamic Workflow – Too many times clients get caught in a “well just route it to that person” trap that results in inconsistent routing and approvals. The Intelligent Form should ask the questions that drive the workflow rather than having a static template or user driven choices. Alfresco currently utlizes jBPM as the primary workflow engine. The most recent Alfresco Community Edition now incorporates Activiti, a lightweight Apache licensed BPM platform which will further extend these capabilities.
- Simple Review and Approval – Users should have all the information to approve the document(s) easily available. Typically, we recommend an email to:
- Alert them to the change being required with a link to the approval screen
- A simple interface that has access to the Change Request as well as all attached documents
- In addition to Approve or Reject allows for Delegation, Single document reject (and the other documents continue on the approval path), Annotation (for the Review Cycle)
- Publish – Once approved, typically documents are released as a PDF rendition with headers/footers with meta-data for overlays.
For our Documentum readers, you might be saying “Hey, DCM doesn’t really do any of those best practices out of the box” and you would be right. DCM, before it was the Documentum Compliance Manager, was the Document Control Manager (for SOP’s at one point in time) and has always been focused on Document Control (Versioning, LifeCycle, and Approval). Our very successful add-on for form and workflow with the Active Wizard came as the result of some insight from some smart customers (shout out to Tim- Smart CR/Configuration and Jerry-Signature Reduction/Mass Change) and their vision for how a Change Management system needs to work for business benefits. We have moved the Active Wizard, OpenAnnotate as well as HPI, tools that support current production changement solutions today, to support both Alfresco and Documentum and are working on adding support for Activiti for enhanced workflow. That being said, the Alfresco community has created a number of components and add-ons to support many of these best practices utilizing open source components like iText (PDF Toolkit – we use it as part of our OpenOverlay product), jBPM (Workflow), xForms or Orbeon (Forms) combined with core Alfresco repository features like configurable rules, actions, and behaviors. Alfresco Share also provides an extended framework for form creation and configuration vs. customization.
For those readers that know TSG (or MWDUG participants), the developer on the CR SmartForm application 15 years ago was Ellen, TSG employee #2, who just celebrated her 15 year anniversary with TSG. Over the years, Ellen has put together a comprehensive requirements document in regards to change management that we often use as a starting point with our clients. If you are interested in receiving a copy, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any thoughts or best practices you would like to add, please comment below