There are many things you can do “out of the box” with an IBM FileNet P8 system. It’s a rich and dynamic Electronic Content Management (ECM) environment with extensive configurability and functionality that you can use with no custom development needed. However, there are also many cases in which custom coding is required to give you the user experience and productivity you’re looking for. Here are five ways you can significantly improve your IBM FileNet P8 system with a little custom development:
1. Integration with a Business Application
Have you ever wished that while you’re in that key business application you use every day, you could just click a button and see the “stuff” in FileNet that’s related to the data on your screen? Many business applications have “hooks” that enable custom functionality to be added, especially document-related functionality. The FileNet P8 Content Engine API for Java or .NET provides components for retrieving content from P8 that can be displayed with viewer applications installed on your workstation, or with the JavaOne viewer that comes as part of P8 Workplace and WorkplaceXT. You can open individual documents, folders, or even the results of a stored search in P8, all based on data currently displayed in your business application. Even if your business application doesn’t provide the “hooks” I mentioned above, there are ways to automatically read the data from your application screen and use it to display related content. It’s not magic – but it sure looks and feels like it!
2. Document Import / Export
What if you want to automatically pull documents into P8, but you don’t have the budget for IBM’s Content Collector for File Systems? Maybe you have a very specialized set of documents that need to be imported into P8, either for a one-time system migration, or on an ongoing basis. Wouldn’t it be great to have a solution tailored to your specific import needs without the exorbitant price tag? Sometimes you may need to pull a lot of documents out of P8 at a time to send them offsite, perhaps for an auditor, for litigation, for archiving, or for migration into another document management system. You could do searches using the search functionality in P8 Enterprise Manager and add the results to the export manifest, then export the results to XML and a directory for the content files, then create a process to get the documents and metadata into the format you want. Maybe you’d like to have the documents in a folder structure based on the document’s metadata, or have the metadata output to XML or CSV files or into database tables. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to just feed an export application a list of search values and have it output the documents and metadata from your P8 system just the way you need it? These are all things you can do with a custom-developed application leveraging the Content Engine APIs. Almost anything you can imagine to get documents into and out of P8 is possible with the right tools, approach, and development team.
3. Custom Search
When you create a search in P8 using the Search Designer, you can choose which fields a user can specify as criteria for the search, and you can choose which fields to display in the search results. There are, however, several things you can only control with a custom search:
- Controls to use for specifying input – Here are some input controls that you can’t use from a standard P8 search in Workplace, but you can use in a custom-developed search: numeric steppers / selectors, sliders, radio / option buttons, checkbox groups for multiple selections, list boxes instead of dropdown lists, tag clouds.
- Dynamic choice lists – Have your choice lists populated based on database lookups, selections in other search criteria fields, the selected document class, or even the type of user performing the search.
- Validation of search criteria – Allow users to only specify valid search criteria via input masks, lookups, or business rules.
- Formatting of search results – There are many ways to enhance the way your search results appear:
- Control how you want dates, numbers, and currency values displayed
- Include a thumbnail image of the first page of each document
- Have results appear in an intelligent grid that enables ad-hoc grouping and filtering of results
- Have functional buttons or links next to each result for quick access to functions that may be used often in your processes, such as emailing or downloading
- Have results from different document classes appear in separate results tabs
- Have results appear in a tree view by class, category, or other metadata grouping
With a custom search page or application, you can control all of these factors. You can also create a custom-developed search as a page within Workplace/XT, or as part of an external Windows, Java, or web application.
4. Custom Workflow Step Processor
If you’ve processed work on work items in your workflow inbox, you know that the functionality and feel you get with the out-of-the-box step processors is limited. There is an API available for creating custom step processors. These can be tailored to populate choice lists with values, have a styled look and feel, use different controls for entering values pertinent to the step being performed, even display an attached image file in the step processor rather than having to open it separately. Want to add documents to P8 quickly and use a workflow to add the metadata for the document using a custom indexing application? You can do it with a custom step processor.
If you have the good fortune to have – or be able to acquire – FileNet eForms for P8 Workplace, you have some very nice user interface options for your workflow system. Unlike the out-of-the-box Java and HTML step processors, an eForm lets you populate dropdown lists, even dynamically from a data source. You can also use electronic signatures on your eForm to keep track of who signed what sections of information. The downside is that with eForms, achieving what you want to do with just the designer interface can be difficult. The good news: eForms comes with a powerful custom scripting language that provides access to do amazing things with eForms, including intelligent, dynamically-populated dropdown lists and grids. Data entered on an eForm can be used for routing future steps of the work item. Also, once an eForm has been filled out, it can be saved in the P8 system as a document with its own content and metadata.
There are many ways to accomplish tasks with IBM FileNet’s powerful P8 system. Sometimes to get the most out of a P8 system, you need to streamline tasks or processes with a little custom application development. Whether you need to more efficiently add, search for, display, export, send, or add metadata for documents, the flexible and capable FileNet APIs in the hands of a skilled developer can get you where you want to be, and save your organization time and money. If you’re having difficulty configuring your P8 system to work the way you want, consider a custom-developed FileNet P8 API-based solution.