Thursday, January 31, 2008

Document Management and Integration with Business Applications

In the beginning, most of the Document Management and ECM solutions I sold were stand alone applications. Users would scan documents (say invoices) into the repository, and would use the search client to bring up documents by index field, or perhaps do a full-text search of the OCR'ed contents.

What I am finding today, as more and more IT folks get involved in the decision making process, is that integration is King. Applications must play well, and play easy with all other business applications within the organization. What does that mean? What does integration truly mean?

I have found that it means many things, to many different people. Below is a summary:

Basic Metadata Population
Wow, that is a mouthful. Basic Metadata Population, or BMP, involves the pulling of index field information from an existing source, and allowing the user to manually pick the information from a vendor field. The most common used case here is to present a popup list of information for the user to choose. Take for example, one of my customers that has PeopleSoft Financials. One of my engineers created a view within the PeopleSoft DB of all the vendors. When Purchasing is indexing their Purchase Orders, they see a listing of vendors directly from the financial system. This prevents rekeying of data that has already been keyed, prevents duplicate names or mispellings, and insures standardization.

Advanced Metadata Population
Another mouthful, but AMP takes population of index fields a step further, and provides autopopulation of fields based on a database lookup. For example, you might have a Vendor Number field that is entered, and the capture application will go and lookup all the information on that vendor and assign it to the document.

Screen Scraping
This technology is usually used to "scrape" information off the screen from an application, and use it to populate index fields, or to perform a search. Different functions can be tied to hotkeys, or some advanced applications can have a quicklaunch bar that will perform certain operations. For example, if you are in your financial software looking at a particular vendor, you can hit a hotkey and have all the documents for that particular vendor resented.

True Integration
True Integration requires application programming interfaces that will allow two applications to talk directly to each other. For instance, you can create a button in the tool bar of your financial application that will link to a function within your document management system, or ECM system. So with one quick click, you can find all the associated documents, or scan a document to a particular vendor file with all the fields populated.

Integrations always present some challenge, and it is important to make sure you are on the same page when talking to a customer or vendor to insure everyone is satisfied in the end.

For more info on Document Management and ECM, go to the following link:

ScanGuru Document Management/ECM Portal

Monday, January 21, 2008

Document Management and Image Processing

Image processing is an area that is often overlooked when implementing a Document Management, Document Imaging or ECM project. In some cases, it can even be the key to success or failure, depending on how you are using the images. So, what exactly is image processing? It is the use of software to enhance or improve scanned images and the underlying content. An example would be that nasty copy, of a copy, of a copy of a fax. This page would be seriously speckled, very faint and could have a black border on the edges. Image Processing software can remove the speckles, enhance the text, and remove the border, resulting in a legible, clean, small image.

Many scanners on the market include image processing functions within the scanner driver. My Canon 9080 has border removal, deskewing and color drop out included within the driver. For basic, image only applications, this may be enough (Note: Setting these options may reduce the throughput of your scanner significantly). If you are relying on clean images to provide searchability, then you usually have to go with more powerful image processing software, such as Kofax Virtual Rescan (VRS). VRS provides a broad array of image processing features, and comes in two flavors: Basic and Professional. For an overview and comparison of VRS features click on the following link VRS Basic versus Professional Features.

For additional information on image processing and all the benefits, there is additional info at the following link ScanGuru Document Management and Image Processing Article.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Document Management and Disaster Recovery

Disaster Recovery is always on the forefront of any solid IT strategy. Companies are becoming so dependent on technology that even the simplest power outage can wreak havoc on business operations. I am always surprised at the lack of attention paper files receive when it comes to the Strategic Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity plan. Companies will spend ten of thousands of dollars on the latest backup and recovery software, offsite data storage and redundant secondary sites, but when asked "What will happen when a fire hits the corporate office and all the paper is gone?", I usually get a blank stare. This is mostly due to the separation of duties within any organization. IT Managers see the data as their responsibility, and go to any length to protect this vital resource. Paper files are almost always managed at the departmental level, by managers who are usually not aware, or educated on disaster recovery and Business Continuity planning.

When examining the overall process, Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning are usually split into separate, but co-dependent processes. Below is a listing of each process and what they include:

Business Continuity Planning (BCP)

  • Plan and Scope organization
  • Business Impact Planning and Analysis
  • Plan Development and Implementation

Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP)

  • Planning process
  • Testing of the plan
  • Recovery procedures

So where does Document Imaging and Document Management play into this process? Paper needs to be a primary focus during the Business Impact Analysis and overall planning exercise. How important are the file cabinets? Can business carry on if all is lost? Is the paper just a redundant copy of existing data? How easily can paper records be recreated?

The whole disaster planning process is a long and arduous task, but organizations need to take into account all their assets to insure business continuity and full operational functionality. Implementing a Document Management and Scanning solution will backup necessary paper files, making sure all required information is available after a disaster.

See the ScanGuru planning section for additional articles and information on planning:

Document Management Planning

Document Management and Data Backup

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Document Management and Data Backup

It is amazing how often data backup is left off the planning list when it comes to Document Management, Enterprise Content Management and Digital Imaging. For larger scanning projects, creating 600MB per 4-drawer file cabinet can wreak havoc on even a robust backup system.

When planning for backup, there are several areas on which to focus:

Size of Data Repository - You need to take into account the size of your repository today, and perform some projections to estimate the size as years go by. This will help decide which backup technology you will need to choose to support your backup and restore operations.

Speed of the Backup Technology - This is so important, and yet often overlooked. You can have massive backup storage capabilities, but if you only transfer 1 MB to tape every hour, your backups will never finish. When examining backup options, do some quick pencil math, and figure out how much data transfer you will require to complete the backups.

Recovery - How will you recover your data in the case of a disaster? Remember, if your server room burns down, and you were using a $5,000 tape drive to backup, you will need to have another $5,000 tape drive to recover data once you rebuild your server room. Other technologies can offer recovery capabilities without requiring a specific piece of hardware to recover your data.

Testing - Always test both backup and recovery to make sure your data store is complete. Also, perform some testing before you go live to uncover any issues you might have in other areas, sucsh as network bottlenecks, etc.

There are many areas that are vital in planning for a Document Management System, and backup and recovery are essential.

For more specific information on backup options, I have another article on specific backup technologies Document Management Data Backup Options