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Document management targets the enterprise and beyond

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

It has been a mantra for quite a while—KM doesn’t just encompass documents, it encompasses all content, including Web pages, e-mail, instant messages and a host of images and other files. And KM isnt just for managing information internally, because documents and users from outside the organization need to be part of the overall workflow, storage and retrieval process.

While industry experts admit that broadening the scope of document management systems is not a new idea, the concept is now becoming reality. Many document management systems are being prompted—mostly through cries from users—to handle all kinds of content from a variety of sources from within the organization as well as trusted partners.

Document management companies are also linking up with enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors like SAP, Oracle and J.D. Edwards. There is also a move afoot to image-enable all kinds of business applications, from accounting software to customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

“These days, document management is more about enterprise content management, and the industry is shifting its technology focus to address those issues,” says Dru Anne Walz, director of product management for Optika. “It is something that everyone has talked about, but not everyone does a good job of pulling it together.”

The push to Web-enable ERP systems is driving document management systems to develop interfaces to Web portals. “As ERP vendors start to push Web portals and Web-based services, our strategy is to image-enable the process and become part of the portal view,” Walz says. “A Web-based services strategy makes it easier to share information between systems and lowers IT costs.”

Interfacing with ERP systems is also a key focus of Mobius, according to Mitchell Gross, president and CEO. “Document management systems can provide a seamless interface to ERP. A main function of this integration is to reduce the dynamic creation of reports. As ERP systems get older and older, the databases get larger and larger, and that can slow retrieval considerably,” he says.

The technical challenge is being able to merge disparate types of documents together seamlessly, Gross says. “We really see two types of documents. One deals specifically with what people refer to as business-critical documents, such as Word documents, e-mail and Excel spreadsheets. Then we have what we refer to as operational documents, which are produced by application systems. For example, an auto manufacturer has systems that control the process from the production line to the showroom floor. But when a customer comes into the dealership to finance a car, that is a different system. How do you make sure that the documents created when the customer signed the financing agreement end up in the production system so that the factory produces the car with the blue interior that the customer ordered?”

When a user sends a request to an ERP system for a general ledger report from five years ago, for example, the system typically goes back and regenerates the report from the information in the database. That can put a severe strain on the system when you have 500 of these kinds of requests every day and you have four or five years worth of data, Gross says.

The document management system can be the central storage and retrieval mechanism for those types of requests by integrating with the ERP to archive completed reports. “What we’re seeing is companies using our software to offload transactions from the database. By offloading these transactions, they can reduce overhead,” Gross notes.

And incorporating those outside documents and users into the workflow is getting easier. “Previously, document management systems required that you go through a process being named, defined and specified ahead of time,” Gross says, adding that that didn’t allow a user or a document to be incorporated into the document management structure on the fly.

In June, FileNet announced plans to integrate its extended enterprise content management (ECM) solutions by the end of the year with the major enterprise portal offerings, including SAP's mySAP Enterprise Portal, Microsoft’s Sharepoint Portal Server and Plumtree Software’s Corporate Portal 4.5WS, the latest version of its platform. FileNet has already completed the integration with mySAP Enterprise Portal, which enables access to FileNet Enterprise Content Management applications through the mySAP Enterprise Portal environment.

“We recognize the growing importance that portals are playing with organizations seeking to streamline corporate access to business-critical applications—such as content management and business process management—and are working to ensure that our products support the portals our customers rely upon,” says Michael W. Harris, FileNet’s senior VP of products and strategy.

Many industry observers point out that integrating document management with ERP systems is just one piece of the puzzle. Optika’s Walz says there is a push to image-enable line of business applications such as CRM and accounts payable. “We’ll really be pushing an image-enabling line of business applications over the next couple of months,” she says. “It is a feature that our customers have been asking for. For example, being able to work in a CRM and hit a button to seamlessly access all of the documents surrounding a customer is key moving forward.”.

As the push to integrate with a variety of systems continues, document management technology is evolving to better handle a variety of data types. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in the management, storage and retrieval of content that includes audio and video,” says Mobius’ Gross.

The move toward Web-based forms is also creating document management challenges, according to Eric Jordan, CEO of PureEdge. “We’re definitely seeing a move toward Web-based collections of this type of information, but when you hit the ‘submit’ button, the information is stripped and goes to a database,” he says.

Many companies are turning to document management technology to store the form as the user sees it on screen. Jordan notes that in some industries such as insurance, it is important to maintain a copy of the document in its original form—including the fine print as well as the customer-specific data—for legal purposes.

“There is definitely an increased interest in capturing rich content, particularly instant messaging exchanges, as more and more collaboration is done outside of the traditional documents such as e-mails and Word documents,” says Tom Hintz, VP for product development for Comsquared.

The move toward recognition and capture of rich content, along with other documents in the business process, will evolve over the next year or two, Hintz says, adding that accounts receivable is a likely application because invoices come in a variety of formats from a multitude of vendors.

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 732-636-3612, e-mail kimzim2764@yahoo.com

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