Thursday, December 9, 2010

From System of Record to System of Engagement

OK, we've established that organizations are quickly moving away from simply informing customers and users, to engaging them.  This has an immediate impact on the way we do ECM.

Well, futurist and author Geoffrey Moore is also onto this trend.  He's doing a webinar sponsored by AIIM on Tuesday, December 14th at 3PM Eastern.  Title: A Future History of Content Management.  Moore is author of Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado and Living on the Fault Line.  You don't want to miss this one.   Here is the link:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How about some Pulp with that ePaper?

Nooooo! Don't Do It!
Dunder Mifflin's stock continues to rise despite an all-out assault by the entire ECM industry.  Are we going to continue to furnish paper executives' offices with rich, burled walnut, or will we finally wake up?  

AIIM says it doesn't look too promising:

- We now print 1 trillion pages annually
- 115 Billion of those pages are printed from personal computers
- Printing of web content is expected to triple
- Fastest growing devices initiating print: mobile devices - huh?

What in the world is going on here?  Are the Dunder Mifflins out there out-marketing everybody else?  Are paper printing and postage costs unexpectedly dropping?

Doubtful.  Our perspective on this is that it's generational.  Are Boomers to blame?  We Boomers built solid eDelivery frameworks, but the end result is merely an electronic copy of paper.  We call it ePaper.  Turn all your paper into a searchable, hyperlinked PDF, and guess what users do with it?  Print it.  We were in Best Buy last night, and some of us thought the coolest product was an iPhone printer which can wirelessly print photos.  Stop and think about this!  After spending small fortunes to develop 960x640 color displays on mobile devices, all we want to do is print photos at half the resolution!   

In order to break the Dunder Mifflin stranglehold, AIIM has some tips like "focus not on 'paperless' but instead on less paper.  "Focus on the the business process".  We agree, but there will have to be some paradigm-busters the break the hold, and we think we smell some on the horizon.

1. Proliferation of tablet computers.  When asked why users print ePaper, many responded that they could not easily view the information on their mobile phone and using even a laptop is too cumbersome.  Enter the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, and a raft of new entrants and we suddenly have ubiquitous instant-on delivery platforms for compelling information.

2. Interactivity.  ePaper will literally melt away if users are presented with a more interactive experience that THEY customize to their preferences.  The folks in finance don't want the boring AR Aging Report, they want the color chart that shows who is delinquent, past due and on-time with payments. 

3. Loss of opposable thumbs.  OK, not likely to happen but it would seriously reduce our need to get the paper in our hot little paws.

For more on this topic, please check out our upcoming webinar Wednesday, November 17th at 11:30AM.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Secret to Dunder Mifflin's Success

We hope you’ve all been enjoying the latest posts on the convergence of ECM and Business Intelligence, but we have a unique opportunity this week.  We had the great fortune to run into Mr. Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin, and Michael agreed to an exclusive interview, just for ECM Trends From the Field.  Michael is one of the most successful regional managers in the paper business with an impressive resume delivering results, and building a talented field organization.

First some background.  You probably know of Dunder Mifflin from the wildly successful reality TV show on NBC which follows the daily, sometimes embarrassing interactions of the Scranton branch of one of the fastest growing paper products companies in the U.S.

Despite compelling newer technologies, Dunder, founded in 1949, continues to thrive by selling more and more paper to corporate America.  In 2009, even though Michael had several near-mutinies, he was able to grow sales by over 30% with smaller headcount than in 2008.

ECM: So Michael, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview.  We are hearing about your company’s success because our industry, ECM, claims to be reducing paper usage, and yet there you are growing sales by 30%.  What do you attribute this success to?

Michael: Well, let me first say that my office is much more spacious and luxurious than this dump.  I’m even thinking about some walnut paneling, just because, you know, I’m kind of a big deal.

ECM:  Er, well of course, but our readers are very keen to know why so many of your customers continue to pay for vast quantities of paper while they are at the same time investing significantly to drive content to the web?

Michael: Maybe they’ve realized that by using paper they perpetuate the whole circle of life thing.  Check out our website, buddy.  For each and every metric ton of paper we ship, we plant a little tree:

ECM: Yeah, and we love the tagline: Dunder Mifflin, Green as We Have To Be. 

Michael: You bet, that was my touch.   

ECM: So, can you also tell us a little about any competitive pressures you are feeling either from other paper companies, or from disruptive technologies like online reporting or eStatement delivery?

Michael: Doug, it is our expert opinion that paper is a treasure handed down from the Greeks, and that sure, you can present the information online, but there will always be customers that demand to have the good old papyrus, just because, you know, it’s in their DNA.

ECM:  I think we’ll leave that one alone, but we do agree that even though online information delivery is exploding, financial institutions in particular are loathe to take anything away from a profitable customer, even charging $2 per month for paper is not worth it to some banks – they are afraid of a backlash.

Michael: Speaking of backlash, I’m still waiting for the question, Doug.  My limo downstairs is burning high octane…

ECM: Of course, well, just one more question then.  As Gen Y starts to earn the big bucks, don’t you think paper will go the way of the transistor or microfiche?  I mean, what’s your exit plan?

Michael:  Well, I don’t want to give away any secrets here, but first, the show has made us all stars.  Did you know that the paparaz have started showing up at the branch lately?  And, as for the paper biz, I think if I were you, I’d buy more stock, symbol MIFF.  We are a micro cap and we are kicking butt.

ECM: Thanks very much Michael, it has been a pleasure interviewing you and learning some of your thoughts, but just one more question, just for fun? 

Michael: Always here for the fans – what do you got?

Paper Tiger - Michael Scott

ECM: You are the epitome of THE boss in contemporary business. And yet, nobody is perfect.  Could you share some of your faults?

Michael:  Faults?  Sure, I’ve got faults.  I sing in the shower sometimes.  Sometimes I spend too much time volunteering – that really gets on people’s nerves.  And, sometimes I hit people with my car, so sue me.

ECM: On that note, we’d like to say, again, thanks to Michael Scott, Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin, Inc, leading provider of paper products in the U.S.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

IOD 2010 After Math

The curtains are drawing to a close on IOD 2010 and we felt it important to draw some conclusions about what this conference means for ECM.  What were the big trends and numbers this year?

10,000 attendees
3,000 Cognos and SPSS Customers
300+ Customer Speakers

One headline for this conference: “Business Analytics Dwarfs ECM at IOD 2010.”  The sheer number of attendees focused on this maturing technology was overwhelming.  And, yet, there was very little overlap between the content and analytics spaces.  There was some discussion of content-based analytics, but no keynotes, no specific breakouts that went into detail, but there was a mention of it in the ECM Keynote on Tuesday.  One exception was information on IBM Content Analytics, formerly Cognos Analytics, but our opinion is that there was not a ton of emphasis on this key thought.

So, what does this say about our little $10B + industry?  Huge opportunities exist for solutions and firms that articulate the derived value from ECM to fuel visualizations.  With ECM + analytics, you get both the forest and the trees!

What ideas were resonating?

  • Use the content you already have, and the BI tools you are implementing to drive a more targeted customer experience to your most valuable customers

  • Use segmentation to drive visualizations to only your most profitable customers

  • Be inclusive – provide same access to visually or hearing impaired that you do for other profitable segments

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gen Y Impact on Transactional Document Delivery

Gen Y, the 80 million Americans that were born between 1979 and 1999, represents a huge opportunity for financial services, insurance and brokerage firms, but so far, this group is more elusive, even more so than their predecessors in Gen X.  But their impact will be quite clear.  Did you know that this group, also known as millennials, will have more than $3T in income by 2018, far surpassing their baby-boomer and Gen X parents?  We need to think about the impact of this generation way before they hit their earnings stride 5 years from now.

Gen Y will completely alter the way we think about managing content in general, and transactional documents in particular.  Generally speaking, this group has elevated expectations, is willing to use non-traditional financial institutions, and has adopted mobile technology far more pervasively, even compared to Gen X.  After reading about this and talking with customers over the past couple weeks, here are some amazing facts and results that will be driven by Gen Y:

  • Gen Y Loves Making Money!  6 in 10 rate making money is as important to them as it is to their parents, which contradicts conventional wisdom

  • Big Online Adopters – 89% of Gen Y banks online, 30% want to open accounts online.  This compares to only 78% and 14%, respectively for other groups

  • Tech-Engulfed: 97% have a profile on Facebook or similar, fully 35% own an iPod/iPod Touch, according to Alte Media.  Wonder how many have iPads?

  • Alerts – This group is way more apt to use SMS alerts to notify them of payments and money movements due to (currently) tighter cash flows

In talking with an exec at a large brokerage firm, the topic of Gen Y came up, and in context of eDelivery of brokerage statements.  The exec has a 22 year old son, who never even opens his bank statement, forget about opening it and using it to balance the checkbook.  His son’s attitude, is “why spend time working off some paper which is 5 days old before it hits my mailbox?”  Instead, he is online constantly, and through his mobile phone, to track and monitor what is going on.

Does this mean the end of the “old think” SEC regulated statement?  Does it mean that the frontline view we show customers may be more like the online experience, with the SEC document as backup?  Another take on this is from a Xerox whitepaper which states that transactional documents in general will be transitioning quickly from vehicles that inform to online experiences that engage.  Maybe I was wrong when I wrote that …”Transpromo is for the Birds.” Perhaps, it is the first shot at making transactional history more relevant to Gen Y.

Here are the great resources I read for some of these facts:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bridging the Gap Between Reports and Visualization

"Old Think" Reporting

Some savvy, wise souls commented on our last post COLD Reporting Meets the New Think of Biz Intelligence.  The comments express doubt about whether or not one can reliably, efficiently extract actionable information from print and harvest it in Biz Intelligence Visualizations - you know, the Executive Summary version of all that data.

Well, we’re here to tell you it is not only possible, but possibly preferable in some situations.  In fact, it may be the only data source you've got.  Let me explain:

The report-data nay-sayers rightly posit that going back to the source data is always preferable and we agree.  Why parse an abstract of that original data when you can easily tap the original source itself?  To which we must also say: Bravo!  But here is where the rub meets the chafe; the original source data is sometimes no longer available or so obscured that it would take an offshore army to reconstruct it.   Reports are really nothing more than a view to your organization's valuable finance, sales, operations and customer data.  Think of reports as the digital pics on your camera phone; they are accurate, though somewhat ugly snapshots in time.  Recreating the moments without the snapshots is difficult at best, and I have a real customer example that proves this point.

Same Data, but in a User-Driven Visualization

 A very large North American phone company is persuaded by the marketing department to change the way they present information to customers.  Does this sound familiar so far? They are fine with the way phone bills are dynamically presented in PDF instantly, but they claim that large commercial customers are demanding a more interactive experience, the ability to sort call detail columns, the ability to link to more information on the bills' tax section, and a more drill-down look and feel vs. the regular phone bill, which can be hundreds of pages for some customers.  The phone bills are assembled from dozens of billing systems and the billing detail really only exists in the bill itself.  So there are two options.  Go back to some data warehouse that contains all this data, or mine the bills themselves to generate the more dynamic experience.  Because there was no comprehensive data warehouse available, this customer chose to parse the bills during each cycle and generate the interactive experience dynamically.  
Because the report data was in a digital print format they were able to extract all of the pertinent data, call detail, tax, department breakdowns into reliable XML structures and then dynamically present a much improved customer experience.  Because the extraction process happens in advance, the actual user experience is fast and reliable.

We would agree that this use case does not represent all your Biz Intelligence scenarios, but we see this often enough to suggest it to our readers.  Please keep those cards and letters coming! And, please consider those trusty HVTO reports next time your marketing department comes calling!

Our next post: How to balance the need to present more relevant, timely transactional data to Gen X and Y while still complying with SEC, FCC guidelines.

Monday, October 11, 2010

COLD reporting meets the New Think of Biz Intelligence

We've discussed the unique, even peculiar nature of COLD systems, or HVTO archiving, and the conclusion is that there is a place for these beasts at the table, or at least a place for tools that enable traditional ECM’s to handle this content efficiently.  But the question remains: is there a newer paradigm? 

“Old Think”: mainframe compute, generate standard reports, archive reports, wait for users to retrieve, repeat, repeat.

“New Think”: Don't generate anything, give users interactive tools to "pull" data from reliable data stores, and generate only "their" own reports in real-time.  Users Rule!

New Think Impacts:

  • Huge reduction in mainframe MIPS costs
  • Reduction in effort to maintain voluminous report archives
  • Users get what they want
  • Shift in report ownership to rightful owners – report geeks themselves
  • Drive content through new channels, iPads, mobile, SMS
  • Absolutely necessary if you have made the decision to move off the mainframe anyway

This shift presupposes that you own some BIRT Open Source or Enterprise equivalent like Actuate or Business Objects, and it assumes you've made the cultural and ownership shift, but man is the business impact for real!  We’ve talked to several organizations that have done this due to cost reduction initiatives, and if you are looking for both cost takeout, and improved efficiencies, this one is for real.

As with every big move, there is room for synthesizing old and new to bridge the chasm, and this is where the COLD helper apps can still play a role.  For example, did you know that the reports we are discussing have been generated for years, and represent “cleansed” data that has been proven to be reliable and accurate?  Whenever you stand up a data warehouse to use with BIRT or similar, one of the key tasks is making sure the data is cleansed, not duplicated.  This can gobble up a lot of time and resources.  If you do it right, you can use HVTO technology to parse report data and feed your Biz Intelligence engines.  The data in those reports is abundantly available, clean, and can be mined.  By tapping the HVTO report archive, you build in a natural segway to the point at which you can easily connect to reliable datawarehouses to create BI reports, and for those users who are in love with those old reports, you can even maintain some of the comfortable look and feel.  It's all about the users, isn't it?

So, don’t throw the old report apps away.  Combine their intelligence, and ubiquity to carry your organization to the new world of real-time, user driven reporting.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I Only Have Ice for You

In our previous post, we outlined how the big boys have traditionally dealt with large volumes of computer output by storing this voluminous content into COLD systems, aka HVTO archiving.  There are specialized systems for handling HVTO archiving, but many of our customers have attempted to store output into traditional ECM systems like FileNet, Documentum, Content Manager, and now Sharepoint, Alfresco and Nuxio.

The big question is: If you can get by with one ECM, why have two, or three?  Or, as a customer recently told me: “Why do I need another ECM when I already have four?”  Apparently ECM’s breed like guinea pigs.  The answer is: it depends upon a couple key factors.  Some of these factors have to do with your existing systems and others have to do with the nature of the HVTO content itself.

HVTO archiving products like OnDemand, ASR, ViewDirect, and others do an excellent job of working with large reports.  In our last post we wrote that reports represent a whole other conflict.  This is true because reports can require discreet access privileges, bursting by department or user, and some report applications require bundling of reports together into super-reports, comprised of multiple reports for specific users.  I dare you to try this with a traditional ECM!

Another use case well-suited to HVTO archiving is high volume statement generation.  What is interesting about this content is that it is repetitive.  Sorry to report this, but my bank statement is almost identical to your statement, which is the same as Lindsay Lohan’s – really, it is!  What changes are transactions, names, addresses, but the really big stuff, like logos, fonts, fancy tables, and terms and conditions stay pretty much the same, but are repeated millions of times for all the banks’ customers.  What OnDemand and others do to reduce massive resource duplication, is that they store a “stacked” file of these statements.  In other words, they store the repetitive stuff once, with special tags to keep track of individual statements in the stack, and reference the repetitive stuff to the multiple individual statements.  In this way, they are able to retrieve the statement file for me, you and Lindsay, and re-combine it with the fancy graphics, and display the statement in real-time.  Again, don’t try this with a standard ECM without some additional technology, or you are likely to present Lindsay’s statement to somebody else.  Or worse, my statement goes to Lindsay in the slammer.  Does minimum security have Wi Fi?

Having said this, there are ways to turn a P8, for example, into a system that can handle HVTO, but it takes some special technology and know-how.  By using specialized output manipulation software and a web-based presentation layer, you can replicate most of the COLD features like indexing, bursting, and bundling found in OnDemand or similar systems, and then use emerging web presentation techniques to display the content in real-time.  This prevents ECM reproduction.  This will also mimic the storage savings you would have gotten, and enables you to manage some of the peculiar report delivery requirements.  But the rub with traditional ECM systems is that they are object-oriented warehouses, not really built with the stacking thing in mind.  So, if you are storing lots of very large reports, for example, you might be better off looking at COLD or HVTO archiving (OnDemand and others) anyway.

So, my next question is: Is any of this relevant anymore?  Is the old paradigm of creating massive report content with very few actual report retrievals really cost effective?  Do you, or anybody you know, actually download bank statements?  The advent of newer technologies around real-time information delivery and that famous oxymoron, Biz Intelligence, are turning this COLD world on its head.  Check out the next post for answers to these and other chilling questions.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The COLD War Rages On

The COLD war has consumed my entire professional life.  No, not as a secret agent working for "the company" and not the Cold War as in "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!"  I am talking about the struggle to manage and present huge volumes of computer generated content.  The term Computer Output to Laser Disc died sometime between Sputnik and unilateralism but COLD lives on as a term for this struggle, and if you are wondering, COLD warriors never die.

This post lays some groundwork on the basics of COLD because there are fascinating topics to be explored just over the horizon.  Output management is a very significant focus within ECM due to some peculiar traits about this content type.  Did you know that high volume transactional output (HVTO) is by far the most voluminous content type managed by corporations?  The specific content we are talking about here includes statements, letters, notices, invoices, and reports.  Reports, by the way, represent a whole other conflict.

Most organizations either implement separate COLD systems or attempt to store and retrieve output from their existing ECM's.  There is a hot list of do's and don’ts that will be explored here soon.  The traditional differences between COLD and regular ECM are:

  • COLD data is transactional, and therefore fixed in time, static
  • Other content can be evolving, not static, and is more likely to be linked to workflow
  • High percentage of COLD is repetitive, think of millions of customer statements: the only data on the page that change are customer name, address and unique transactional data
  • Repetitive = opportunity to condense, stack, and "store-once-use-many"
  • COLD is way high volume, usually measured in millions of pages per day/week/month
  • COLD data is often used to answer customer questions about transactions, either internally through front-line CSR's or externally through portals
  • Because of the service angle, there is a huge impact to efficiently storing COLD documents and retrieving them with scalded-dog speed

So, you can begin to see how different COLD is to, say, Accounts Payable Invoice Capture, for example.  Its uniqueness represents a launch pad for other opportunities to consolidate systems, use emerging products like SharePoint, improve customer service, reduce costs and even to look to brand new technologies that might obviate COLD as we know it.  Stay tuned for posts next week because COLD is not dead, just lurking under some new identities.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fire Up with Ignite!

Forgive the minor pause on ECM topics and indulge me for a moment on a global networking movement event that blew our minds last week.

Ignite is a blend of networking, ideas and social awareness, and is attended by all walks of life, but seems to concentrate on us Technocrati.  The event starts out like a regular networking thing for the first 30 minutes or so, (did I mention excellent micro-brews?) but then there are several, presentations given.  These are not your father’s PowerPoints.  Instead, they are EXACTLY 5 minutes long, comprised of 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds.  The topics last Wednesday night ranged from:

-         Impact of delivering 600,000 phone books per year to residents of Fort Collins
-         How Business Can Make Health Affordable
-         How to attract, retain more clients through flat-fee billing approach
-         Go Figure: A Visual History of The Female Form
-         History of Human Kind (In 5 Minutes)

The presentations were laser focused, very funny, and asked the audience to do something at the end.  For example, the phone book presenter had the phone numbers of each of the phone book publishers available for everybody to call.  By the way, does anybody actually use phone books anymore?

One of the interesting people I met included Betsy Craig, Founder, MenuTrinfo.  Her firm provides restaurants with the nutritional information of their recipes.  With New York City’s and the State of California’s recent mandates, many larger restaurants are scrambling to provide dietary information about their dishes.  Her firm employs nutritionists and dieticians that turn a menu into detailed information that can be delivered over the internet.  Is there an app for that?

Miles Kailburn of Old Town Media had some very interesting comments and ideas on SharePoint, which I will explore in a future post.

Check out what Ignite is all about:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mailroom Automation is for Lawyers; TransPromo is for the Birds

No sooner than the day after my post on complex document automation, did we run into yet a new wrinkle.  Some of the post processing experts talk about mailroom automation and the impact this can have on 1:1 marketing, trans-promotional marketing within documents, and the Holy Grail - highly personalized, high volume documents that sell more of your products.  Why is everybody talking about this?  Does anybody actually do this in production?

We have no idea, but the allure of being able to cross-sell large numbers of customers on related offerings through your billing process sounds like a money printer.  The question that always looms though, is whether anybody actually looks at anything on a homeowner’s insurance bill, for example, other than “AMOUNT DUE”?

Well, a very large insurance company has another take on mail automation that has a lot more to do with attorneys than marketers.  One of the benefits of really nailing down your mailroom automation is a concept known as Registration of Mail (ROM).  An interesting thing happens in insurance when you mail notices of cancellation or bills.  Sometimes, insureds, or soon-to-be non-insureds, claim that they did not receive legal notices or bills.  Think of the impact when a newly cancelled non-insured drives his car into the Dry Cleaners, literally.  How do you overcome this if you have millions of folks that you insure?  You likely do not use FedEx or Registered Mail to deliver all of these documents.  Instead, through a registration process with the US Postal Service, and through very careful sequencing of documents by zip code + 4 + last name sort, you can put in place a process that ensures delivery to customers.  Or to put it another way, you can ensure that the courts will believe that it is highly likely that the intended recipient received the critical document, on time.  This translates into an effective evidence vehicle in case litigation is ever required, and at the same time, reduces postage expenses to the insurer. 

I know, it sounds so pedestrian, doesn’t it?  Just remember though, it was income tax evasion that brought down Al Capone.  It might be that the hype of trans-promotional marketing and 1:1 personalization will finally bear the promised fruit.  In the meantime, the attorneys will find a way to use auditable technology to win, all the time.

Friday, September 17, 2010

We Do the Hard Stuff

People in my company are often challenged with how to give the best “elevator” description of what we do.  We are not an application.  We are not really middleware.  We don’t solve any single problem.  But we do work with companies on very vexing problems, the kinds of problems that seem oh-so simple at the start of the project.

The abstract view of what we do is complex document automation.  More simply put, “we do the hard stuff around document generation, archiving, printing and presentation.”
A Simple paradox in life is that what at first seems easy can sometimes turn out to be the hardest to accomplish.  This is very much true in the world of document automation.

Why is it that we can construct new secure portals for outside access to sensitive content, find ways of locking down even Blackberries, but when it comes to reliably putting pixels on paper, the wheels can literally come off?  The answer is not that it is complicated - that goes without saying.  What we are facing is the gap of where printing is in our heads vs. where it really is circa 2010.  Let me elaborate with a quick for-instance:

A large investment firm needs to consolidate customer statement print from two centers into one and create mailings from these systems into a single, mail piece for hundreds of thousands of customers.  There is a huge opportunity to drastically reduce costs by consolidating centers.  Ok, you say, just "merge" the print and maybe transform the print to the format supported by the newly consolidated center, right?

If only it were really that simple!  Over the years, the guys and gals in the print shop have implemented a slew of tricks to improve efficiencies and reduce costs, especially mailing costs.  Here are some of the tricks that need to be accommodated in order to consolidate the print into the new center:

  • Recognize the arrival of print packages, and unzip them
  • Parse related .csv file that contains instructions for manipulating the print
  • Translate the .csv information into a specialized data format for downstream mail systems
  • Consolidate multiple print files into a single print file
  • Add other metadata for downstream processing, archiving, discreet presentation
  • Transform or normalize the print into a single format supported by the printers
  • Add Barcodes to the printed pages so they can be read by envelope inserters
  • Add banner and trailing pages to ensure that batches of print are kept separate

These are the kinds of requirements that drive our business, and sometimes drive our customers a little crazy!  Let me know what you think – if you have any war stories that you can share, I’d love to celebrate or commiserate with you.  DK

Monday, September 13, 2010

Enterprise Content Capture

The ECM Trends I follow include Web Content Management (WCM), High Volume Transactional Output (HVTO) and ePresentment. The field of document imaging and capture is a little off my beat, but we’ve been seeing some significant advances in capture that make sense to talk about.

In the old days, organizations would use capture solutions to scan, index and OCR documents, and then “release” the documents and metadata to the backend archive or workflow solutions. Very simple: Capture, Index, Load. Often, organizations would supplement this process with customized management systems to ensure that the expected number of documents was actually “captured”, that the metadata contained the right number of fields or characters, etc. Additionally, as requirements around capture expanded, additional custom utilities would be added to unzip the odd file, or notify the user upon failure. These systems were usually confined to one or two departments, such as Accounts Payable for incoming invoices, or Claims for insurance claims, for example. In short, the dirty secret in the old days was that the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) was rarely “Enterprise” but more departmental.

Fast forward to today. Now, organizations are not only scanning and indexing document content, and loading ECM systems from many departments; they are truly deploying content capture across the enterprise and linking the capture process to Line of Business (LOB) applications, and it is completely bi-directional. In many cases, data is being extracted from LOB systems to assist in populating or validating the indexes for the documents. Content is also being included in LOB processes for decisioning, so there is now a requirement to use document content as part of a process. Plus, today, we have web applications that are using the documents to do their thing. So, today, it is not so simple: Capture, Index, Validate, Load, Extract, Notify… you get the picture!

So, the old custom code from yester-year no longer cuts it for truly enterprise-scope deployments with multiple departments loading and extracting content and using webservices as the glue to get it all done. What is needed is an enterprise content capture approach that has the following:

• Single Infrastructure with multiple events and processes

o      Webservices, http(s), ftp(s), email, sockets, command line, others

• Load high volumes of document content into the archive

• Validate successful loading

• “Rollback” the load in case of failure or inadvertent load

• Easily connect to multiple backend systems, databases for extraction or loading

• Ability to do mundane things like unzip files

• Normalize or transform file formats (transform to PDF, or .CSV or TIFF, for example)

• Extract content from the archive to pass onto other web-based processes

• Ability to easily notify users or administrators of errors in the process

• Manage it all from a web-based GUI with process flow design and preflight

So What? The cost to large companies to constantly replicate custom capture systems is huge. We’ve seen some organizations looking at spending several $ million to extend departmental capture to just 1 or 2 additional departments. These processes are complex, involve a lot of users and custom code, and the risk of getting it wrong is too great. And, don’t even get us talking about compliance as a reason to do things once, and do them right.

A company I’ve found to be a thought leader on ECC is Vega ECM. They have been involved for years with organizations on content capture approaches, and as consultants, helped write a number of the custom approaches I alluded to above. Vega now sees this as a discreet discipline within ECM, and is helping organizations move from the custom approach of yester-year to more modern, single-infrastructure approach bulleted above. Check out for more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Storage Is Not Cheap!

For years, there was sort of a dark joke going around that the cost of storage was dropping so quickly, that there was no need to think twice about ordering that additional Centera Drive, “just open up another Clip-ID and go!”

It is urban myth that storage is cheap. Maybe the 1 TB USB Drive you can buy at Best Buy costs less than a full tank of gas, but that nifty backup drive does not have to live in a redundant, arrayed, hot-site-backed- up data center with security I am not allowed to describe in any detail. Here is the math for reducing storage for one firm we’ve helped recently:

Above figures depict the cost difference to store AFP compared to PDF for insurance policy and billing documents at a major insurance company.

We encounter this all the time when working with clients that are making tough decisions about whether to store in PDF format or store in a “native” format such as AFP, metacode or PCL, and dynamically transform to PDF when the documents are retrieved.

Several important facts:

• If you are storing high volume transactional output like statements, policies, EOB’s or 1099’s, the biggest part of that document are the repetitive graphics, fonts, and overlays used to make the document attractive when printed.

• By storing the native format, you can store those repetitive elements ONCE, version them, and then re-combine with the variable data upon retrieval.

• This makes even more sense when you consider that on average; only about 3-5% of any transactional document is ever retrieved from your archive. Why redundantly store all those expensive graphics over and over?

• Retrieval performance for dynamic retrieval and transformation has improved so much that users typically do not even notice that their document is being dynamically rendered.

As we all try to find our way out of the Great Recession, ideas like Storage Reduction are getting the attention of senior managers looking to cut costs.

ECM Trends - Maiden Voyage

OK, this is very frightening! This reminds me exactly of the time when the editor of my college newspaper asked me to write sports articles, mainly short snippets about how our Alma Scots faired against their bitter rivals. And, for some unexplained reason, I said yes.

Maxine Buttons, editor-in-chief of the Scotsman was wonderful, persuasive, and had an intellect that could instantly summon prose on any topic, all with the Who, What, Where, When, Why included in the first paragraph. I, on the other hand, labored over how to describe anything that happened in the Alma soccer team loss to Albion, 2-1.

So, as I set out to describe what is happening at the project-level with Enterprise Content Management (ECM), it is with this humbling experience that this blog commences. And yet, there are some insights about this field that are not being talked about, ideas that are not being developed, and secrets that, if shared, could benefit us all.

ECM includes a whole host of technologies and methodologies for organizing, storing, categorizing, discovering and retrieving vital corporate or organizational documents, website pages, videos, in short anything created by or for the organization. My experience, and therefore the focus of this blog is primarily on computer generated content, or High Volume Transactional Output, but because I have over 20 years of experience in this field, I often hear about eDiscovery trends from my clients, or am privy to specifics on developments in the document capture field, for example. The ground rules of this space will be no names will be used at any time, other than the talented Maxine, above, but that genuine insights, with specifics, are fair game.

Let me know what you think at any time – your feedback and input are like nuggets of gold, and your payback will be the collective intelligence of us all!