Document management for the masses
[intro] The idea of a paperless office, promoted and prophesised for the past three decades, has never really taken off. Paper is just too useful. It can be easily read, marked, transported and converted. People don’t like to read documents onscreen — even if they originate from a digital transmission or online source. The result is that businesses still need to handle large numbers of paper documents, and they want them converted to easily searched, easily retrieved digital form.
[main] At the same time, companies are bombarded with data from innumerable sources, in innumerable formats: HTML pages, Microsoft office documents (DOC, XLS, PPT), images (TIFF, JPEG), online documents (PDF), faxes in several formats, messages and the like. To make all of this information useful, it must be stored logically and accessibly, preferably with centralised search capabilities and supporting functions, such as capability to annotate and to immediately copy, fax, print or email the result.
Enter document management. With document management, all of this should be possible. Alas, there is no panacea. There never were many solid products in this space, and they are getting fewer. Part of the reason is that larger enterprises often integrate document management with the main ERP (enterprise resource planning) solution, since scanned documents will include items such as invoices that need to be securely monitored. For smaller enterprises, Microsoft’s dominance in the document creation area through its Office Suite has led to a reliance on Office search capabilities — bolstered in recent versions with Document Imaging, which scans and stores documents and renders the graphic image into text. The advent of workstation search engines, such as Google Desktop, has made this sort of hybrid Office/DIY solution even more attractive.
[xhead] Port of call
For smaller companies, organisations and government departments with heavy document management needs, however, the dominant standalone product is Nuance’s PaperPort. PaperPort has accumulated a wide following of users. For many years, it was the only product in its price range to provide anything like a complete document management solution. The only other program to come close, Papermaster Pro (now in version 7), sold by J2 Global Communications, was poorly marketed and never really rose to prominence after some initial success. Later versions also came out with installation limitations and activation, which, combined with a proprietary storage format for documents, could potentially make the entire document catalogue unavailable. Another product, askSam (now in version 6), from askSam Systems, offers extremely powerful search and storage capabilities, but lacks the OCR (optical character recognition) and scanned document interfaces that are essential to a complete solution.
After this, there is always the DIY approach, using Office capabilities and desktop search engines. The other possibility is to go with a specially built system designed to meet specific needs, such as New Zealand developer Reliance’s ONE Document product.
Nuance, a company perhaps better known by its previous name, ScanSoft, is the clear leader in the desktop/workgroup document management area. The company’s key products are OmniPage, PaperPort, PDF Create and PDF Converter. It has the Dragon line of voice recognition tools and also licenses its OCR engines to enterprise vendors.
“New Zealand market growth has been good, and comparable to Australia,” says Nuance ANZ sales manager Derek Austin. “We are distributed through Mistral, which offers a one-stop shop for document management products. Growth has been fairly rapid over past couple of years.”
Nuance’s key document management product is PaperPort, which has just gone into its 11th version. PaperPort is oriented towards scanning paper documents, reading their text and storing them in a searchable database along with documents in a wide variety of other formats. It began as a scanner program and retains that emphasis, but its ability to import web pages, office documents and images and output to graphics or PDF documents has greatly improved functionality.
There have been a number of key drivers for the Nuance line of document management products. “Multifunction devices have been critical in driving down costs and making scanning accessible to all,” says Austin. “Additionally a gradual move towards acceptance, then standardisation on Adobe’s PDF format as a document delivery format has been important. Also, recently, with release of utilities such as Google’s Desktop Search, document searching has been greatly improved for most users.”
[xhead] Multiple benefits
Document management software provides a number of key benefits for companies. It provides a mechanism for converting documents to digital form and taking advantage of the searching, retrieval, storage cost reduction and transfer capabilities of digital storage. It also provides capability to create documents in paper form for reading once they have been found.
“The chief benefits are savings in time and money,” says Austin. For the user, some of the advantages are:
- reduction of document loss through permanent electronic storage
- reduction in search times through indexing and retrieval
- elimination of retyping through reuse of printable PDFs
- reduction of real estate costs required for paper storage
- reduction of costs and time for physical transmission of documents both within and outside the organisation
- easily demonstrated ROI
Chief benefits for PaperPort are that it provides an affordable yet powerful solution, with low investment required. It also integrates with workgroup and enterprise software, such as MS SharePoint and ODMA (open document management API).
”There are still great productivity gains to be made now that the hardware is dirt cheap,” says Austin. One of our channel managers said to me yesterday about our products: ‘It's simple. It's basic. It'll get you into bigger projects’, and that still applies. With our products, document management is evolutionary and our workgroup-oriented approach makes it easy. Our products integrate with the standard Microsoft environment.”
PaperPort version 11 has just been released. “Over the coming year, look for opportunities to add scanning and searching capabilities to customer's sites using the upcoming Microsoft Vista operating system and PaperPort 11,” says Austin. “Resellers need to talk to customers. Document management is easy to add to a sale, especially with multifunction devices. Just ask customers where bottlenecks are.”
[xhead] ONE for all
A Kiwi-built document management contender, and example of a system put together for a specific purpose, is Document ONE, a Lotus Notes document and records management system originally developed by Reliance Software for use at New Zealand government sites. “We are an IBM business partner, developing Lotus Notes solutions,” says Reliance managing director Kathy Tremain. “Document ONE is now being used in a number of New Zealand sites, as well as in a government site in Tasmania. Uptake has been relatively slow, but some of our clients have been using the system for five to six years.”
Document ONE captures or creates electronic documents inside document libraries. Users can file both sent and received emails into document libraries directly from within Notes mail files. It includes workflow, permitting users to assign documents for action, review or approval, and track their progress. Users can search within or across libraries using a wide range of search criteria, and records can be managed alongside documents. An optional scanning database enables hard-copy documents to be scanned and filed into document libraries.
“Document management systems require a lot of change across the organisation,” says Tremain. “This is a key impediment to take-up. The challenge is not in the software, but in areas such as determining a file classification scheme that everyone can agree on, and getting the culture changed to accept a document management system. The need to add metadata to stored documents means that jobs initially take longer; the advantages come later when information is being retrieved.
“We developed Document ONE in 1998–1999 for the Department of Internal Affairs. The department wanted to address a lack of control over documents and lack of information sharing. They didn't want a big IBM product and wanted something easy to use. We jointly own our solution with Crown participation and the crown still retains an interest.”
Plans for the product include addressing the archiving and document lifecycle processes. For marketing, the company is leveraging its relationship with IBM, which is pushing applications that run on IBM technology. It is also doing some web-based marketing, with a site that provides product download. While Reliance remains the sole supplier in NZ, Tremain is open to options — such as looking at a firm that wants to provide a hosted solution as part of its solution suite.