Technology Focus: Document Management Searches for an Identity

Document Management
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Is controlling documents properly called document management, content management, records management, or something else? And can the market meet the future under this cloud of confusion?

 

Next to money itself, documents are the lifeblood of virtually every enterprise. Whether they are electronic or paper, documents help businesses keep track of what they are doing and where they are going. But ironically, despite this importance, document management as a product type seems to be suffering from an identity crisis.

 

Currently, there is a proliferation of terms relating to document management that, depending on who you talk to, are either merging into each other or have specific individual goals. Where to draw the lines is terribly unclear. A good place to start sorting this out is to try to make some formal distinctions.

Definitions in Theory

A consensus definition of document management is that it's a software system of one or several programs that helps users track and store either paper documents or images of paper documents. Included are tools for tracking different versions of similar documents, indexing and retrieving stored documents, and retrieving metadata about the documents (e.g., date, creator, topic). Also included are distribution aids and security against unauthorized access and tampering. If the system is tracking images of documents, there's a need for translating paper to electronic forms, usually called an imaging system. In addition, some kind of search mechanism is always good, an ability to integrate document information with other applications is important, a way to publish docs to, for example, the Web is terribly handy, and a means of helping workers collaborate on documents and channel that workflow is hard to do without.

 

That seems clear enough, but then what about records management? That term refers to maintaining business records throughout their lifecycle, from creation to destruction. The International Standards Organization has issued a standard, ISO 15489-1:2001, which defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person . . . in the transaction of business" and sets out a list of duties that a Records Manager-type official of an enterprise is expected to carry out. These include identifying what information must be tracked, identifying and storing such records, enabling access to those records, and setting policies for records destruction. This seems as clear as document management's definition, and it's easy to imagine something like a hospital handling patient records and needing policies to govern all that. The problem is that, for most businesses, "records" means invoices, tax documents, bills of lading, and similar standard records that most anyone would also call a "document."

 

If we turn to content management for a little help, we don't really find it. Content management refers to the means and methods of collecting, managing, and publishing information. By implication, this information is in digital form, although the original content could have come from anywhere. Beyond that, content management sounds pretty much like the other two because it puts emphasis on such concepts as tracking digital files containing "content," managing multiple versions of content, publishing content to a repository, and defining workflow tasks.

 

As if this isn't confusing enough, in the IBM i world, at least partly due to the platform's prowess in processing database-related information, we see a traditional demand for production of reports based on business data. Despite the fact that most of these reports are documents, which are made up of content, and are often clearly business records, producing such entities is referred to by a fourth term, document automation.

 

It kind of makes you yearn for something easy to think about, such as how to get a room full of cats to agree on what's best for breakfast. Maybe talking to a couple of vendors will help.

Definitions in Practice

"At the end of the day, our industry has tried to come up with a nomenclature from practicality," notes Gary Langton, CEO and co-founder of Intellichief, a major document-management vendor in the IBM i market. "Companies in different industries handle the nomenclature differently. The customers are sorting through [these terms] but are still somewhat in the weeds. The real differentiators for vendors depend on the needs of the customer companies. From [the customer's perspective] what's usually most important to them is 'what are we doing with our documents electronically?' The attributes of their documents and their uses are the differentiators."

 

Dan Forster is president of InFORM Decisions, a vendor specializing in document automation for IBM i. "Document automation overlaps with content management," he admits, "and document management also gets into our area. We do output, distribution, and direction of documents. But [the difference is] most often about workflow: how documents are filled out and routed and what business rules are associated with those docs." And rather than defining the docs/content/records boundaries, Forster sees the most troublesome product-category boundary as being between document automation and business intelligence. "Storage and retrieval are different [among different product types], but we're specializing in grabbing whole documents and translating them to other formats, such as PDF or Excel files."

 

Richard Schoen is president and CTO of RJS Software, a company that defines itself as a "leading provider of document and data capture, management, distribution and security solutions." He differentiates more precisely between the three terms. "Document management is the technology for capturing and storing paper and electronic documents as well as providing intelligent access and distribution of the documents. Content management is more about managing a Web site and its various pages," but sees it as a complementary technology that "has been overlapped with document management quite often. Records management can include document management [but it's] really about managing the physical location and destruction of physical records. Document management simply incorporates the electronic elements of records management, not necessarily the managing of physical documents stored in a warehouse."

 

So, it seems even these three significant IBM i software vendors don't entirely agree on where to draw the lines between the document/content/records/automation terms. Where they seem to agree more is that in a climate where the market's customers may have trouble making differentiations, it's good to offer individualized approaches to try and meet the market's needs.

 

"We [document-related vendors in the IBM i market used to have] our niches but we all do a little bit of everything now to survive," admits Forster. Langton agrees in principle with an example. "We have some records-management components in our software, although in some parts of records management we don't play as strongly as vendors who specialize in records management." Schoen says RJS tries to stay ahead of customer needs with features such as electronic signature capture and Web forms. "These technologies are just starting to hit their stride, and our customers are starting to see the benefits of this technology," Schoen reports, which RJS implemented two or three years ago. "We implemented some key records management functionality into our WebDocs product several years ago so that electronic documents can be located, viewed, and expired with ease from within our software," he adds.

 

Despite such differentiations, the verdict for now seems to be that, yes, the management of documents, records, and  content, and the automation of information distribution all seem to be heading for a similar goal. What that goal is eventually may or may not be synonymous with business intelligence and may or may not eventually be referred to by any one of these terms—or even a totally new one, though for simplicity's sake we'll continue referring to it here as document management. So perhaps a more fruitful question is to ask where document management as a product type is heading.

Document Management's Future in the i Market

When asked about the future of document management for the i, all three software executives have somewhat differing visions.

 

"Our biggest demand is to help 'bring it all together,'" remarks Langton, "Playing nicely with all platforms, integrating all applications, minimizing the costs of training users. Most of our [customer] requests are for helping change the way companies process their documents."

 

Forster sees the biggest challenge as document-format standardization. "[Vendors and customer companies] have to decide what standards we want to work with. IPDF is going away since IBM sold that division to Ricoh. PCL-compatible printers are dominating the i market now, so the standard formats are getting to be PDF and Excel, and more vendors are providing those as output options."

 

"MICR check-printing is also going away," Forster adds, "as electronic payments are taking over. On the horizon I see XML (eXtensible Markup Language) because it gets us away from thinking about documents as graphics. Formless docs are the future. [Even today] we don't need the paper doc, but [people still find it] easier to understand."

 

Schoen differs. "I think more and more products will need to take advantage of mobile technologies, document signing, and Web-based data capture. We're seeing a trend away from scanned paper documents into system-generated or online-entered documents. That trend will continue as the younger 'digital natives' continue entering the work force."

 

What about the i as a platform for future document-management products? All three corporate leaders still see hope for the future.

 

"Off-the-shelf, plug-and-play solutions aren't strong in the i market, which needs stuff that works with existing ERP and other software, such as J.D. Edwards," Langton feels.

 

"We're always asking ourselves if we should continue developing native apps," opines Forster. "And other companies are doing open-platform software that runs on the i. But native versions are faster and more efficient."

 

"We are still strongly supporting all of our i-based products," Schoen agrees. "There are still many customers who believe that a native application on IBM i is better than its Java- or Windows-based counterparts."

 

Of course, all three are keeping a weather eye on cross-platform opportunities. Schoen sums it up best: "As much as we love the IBM i platform, we have to offer solutions for all platforms to remain competitive, especially when customers change platforms."

Social Media and Document Management

What role might social media play in the future of document management? If exchanging information is the general goal, surely social media is going to have its place. Schoen agrees, but Langton and Forster aren't so sure.

 

"As technologies meld, it's hard to stake out boundaries," Langton notes. "Customers are still trying to figure out how to use it, especially with the Web. They can see potential in their organizations but haven't yet identified the best uses of social media. There aren't a lot of specific requirements in that area yet but a lot of potential answers." Eventually, that will change, he concedes. "Facebook or Google will be the next Evil Empire displacing Microsoft," Langton predicts.

 

Forster is even more pessimistic. "We're not seeing anything [behind] a need to get involved with social media [except that] customers think their competitors are [using it]. It's what all the consultants are telling [them and us]. But [for example] I'm having trouble wrapping my head around a business need for Twitter. Two or three lines? What's the value for our marketplace except that it appeals to younger users?"

 

But it may ultimately depend on how it's used, he concedes. "I can see Facebook for personal use, but it's difficult to get people to think about it as a business communication, and I think it's unprofessional to show employees' personal lives [in a business context]. LinkedIn and [realtime] discussion groups are OK, but we still don't see demand for this," Forster concludes.

 

Schoen is more optimistic. "Since social media is content that companies may want to archive and also track, I believe it will play a more important role in document, content, and records management. We are currently working on technologies to capture information from social media outlets for archival and distribution purposes. Social media has driven quite a few new sales for our organization and helps keep our employees connected as well."

Today's Market Players

There are a number of document management solutions for the IBM i, the major ones of which are summarized below. Please bear in mind that the descriptions offered for each product are simply summaries of the most pertinent features and are in no way a complete description of each product's capabilities. You should consult the links provided and other documentation available from the respective vendors to get a true picture of each product's feature set. 

 

And as always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.

Document Management Solutions for IBM i

ACOM

EZContentManager

EZeDOCS

EZ Content Manager helps users manage content via document depositories, version controls, subscription and notification lists, PDF conversion, audit reports, and custom archiving and retention policies.

 

EZeDOCS is an electronic-forms design and document-delivery system that helps users create invoices, purchase orders, reports, checks, forms, and other business documents without requiring pre-printed forms or custom programming. Documents produced can be printed or distributed electronically as fax or email messages.

 

EMC

Captiva

Captiva includes modules for scanning and capturing documents from scanners, faxes, emails, multifunction devices, and other digital sources. It also delivers intelligent document recognition, data capture, business rules recognition, and data capture from tables. It also provides a browser interface, automatic document indexing, data encryption, and audit trails.

 

InFORM Decisions

iDocs

iMap

SmartRouter

The iDocs solution monitors output queues and routes reports and other documents to recipients based on predefined business rules.

 

iMap helps users map spooled data to correction locations on forms and reports, sorts and collates/decollates options for all reports and docs, and retrieves routing information from databases and spooled files.

 

SmartRouter automates filtering and distribution requirements for reports, forms, spooled files, and other business documents.

 

IntelliChief

IntelliChief

IntelliChief offers forms processing, electronic forms creation, document search and retrieval, doc printing, and a workflow engine. It supports document imaging and distribution that works with imaged docs, e-docs, faxes, and emails.

 

Inventive Designers

Scriptura Engage

Scriptura Engage provides centralized content storage, document creation, design and production of customer communications, and control of output processes. It also features security, regulatory compliance tools, and the ability to handle multiple languages and business logic in the same document template.

 

ITM Associates

inFusion

The inFusion suite of products, designed for use with IBM's Lotus Notes/Domino, includes inFusion eForms, which is a workflow solution for creating and routing of electronic forms, and PDF inFusion eReview, which supports online, real-time collaborative review of documents and graphics in files using the PDF format.

 

OpenText

ECM Suite, Content Lifestyle Management

The ECM Suite offers content management tools for the entire lifecycle of enterprise content. It includes features for records management, workflow processes, imaging, and intelligent storage management within a single enterprise repository.

 

RJS Software

DeliverNow

Enterprise Workflow

Scan Workstation

WebDocs

DeliverNow is a document automation solution that monitors, converts, and delivers reports, forms, and other documents from business applications on any platform. It can take reports from IBM i spooled files and AIX/Linux/Windows apps and convert them into a variety of file formats.

 

Enterprise Workflow manages and routes documents in a Web environment, lets users build workflows, enables control of user access, and generates audit trails of all activities.

 

Scan Workstation digitizes and stores all documents electronically, using any Twain- or Kofax-compliant scanner. It also enables passing of any document values into other applications.

 

WebDocs is a browser-based document-management system that lets users digitally manage, store, and distribute all business content. The vendor offers both a server-based version of the software and a cloud-based service offering that uses the product.

 

S4i Systems

S4i Express

S4i Express is browser-based and handles electronic forms, preprinted forms, spooled files, and server documents. It captures, separates, indexes, bundles, and delivers or archives reports and documents. Output formats include PDF, HTML, Excel, Word, and others.

 

Vanguard Systems

IMS-21

IMS-21 offers scanning, archiving, storing, backup, and retrieving of business documents. It also links documents to software applications and provides a workflow module.

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