Extending IBM FileNet

For any corporate enterprise, off the shelf software is usually insufficient to address its full business needs. Often, the 80/20 rule applies, where the majority of application requirements are met, but not all. So any software selected has to be powerful and flexible enough to be extensible and customisable.

By design, FileNet P8 is highly configurable out of the box, with the ability to easily tailor the standard front-end (WorkplaceXT), to define content classification schemas, and to engineer business processes through the Process Designer. But quite often that isn’t enough, because ECM applications don’t typically operate isolated; integration with other line of business applications is frequently a key issue.

Within the User interface, the most common element that FileNet end users are confronted with is the Step processor. A default is provided, but does tend to be derided as too cluttered, and is usually one of the first candidates for replacement. A custom step processor can provide the hooks to interface into other applications used in conjunction with a workflow. It can also enable us to visually enhance the User experience.

For simpler requirements, an attractive and more intuitive step processor can be put in place using FileNet eForms. These can accommodate colour/graphics/fonts, coupled with the ability to tailor the layout of fields. JavaScript can be introduced to impose a more dynamic feel, and lookups can suck up data through JSP or JDBC. eForms do have some annoying constraints though, and one wonders if IBM Forms will eventually usurp this product.

Within the My Workplace primary view, custom pages can be quickly added, and its composite portlets are another opportunity to extend FileNet. These portlets can be created using Java, but more often than not, it usually suffices to introduce web pages using the external URL portlet.

More recently, IBM has been pushing its new Widgets technology, manifested in Business Space. For anyone unfamiliar with this, it’s the same paradigm as SharePoint and its respective Web parts. A set of ECM widgets is made available, and these are connected together on a page with simple wiring. Custom widgets can be created using the DoJo framework, and these can also be used in IBM Case Manager.

Another DoJo technology that is soon to make an entrance is IBM’s Nexus portal, which will replace WorkplaceXT. With its inherent plugin architecture, this is designed from the outset to be customisable. This also comes complete with a new buzzword: the Dijit!

Within a FileNet Business Process, workflow steps can automate the interfaces into external applications, most notably through Database Stored procedures or Web service hosting/consumption. ¬†Where these can’t satisfy a requirement, the catch-all approach is to create a custom component integrator in Java.

Finally, for any custom requirement that doesn’t fit any of the above approaches, there is always the option to develop a completely bespoke application, sitting on top of the FileNet API. The API comprises the Content Java API, and the Process Java API. Interfaces to these are provided for .Net platforms, and there is also the two REST services: PE &¬†CMIS.

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