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Report management and mining— Adding value front to back

With the evolution of the global enterprise, data once maintained in a single system and routed to one destination for a purpose like sales trends analysis, must now be captured from a variety of different sources and in an increasing number of file formats. Doing that manually by copying and pasting data from systems as diverse as enterprise resource planning (ERP), legacy accounting and others is time-consuming and costly. Report management systems automatically index and import vast quantities of "fixed content" like banking statements, invoices and check images into easily searchable reports for targeted user groups. Report mining then lets users analyze the data using spreadsheets, databases and other conventions and functionality that might be provided by the vendor or a third party.

Report management from the major content management vendors typically involves converting data in mainframe or host-based print stream formats, once stored in computer output to laser disc (COLD) systems, to other formats—most commonly PDF—on a day-forward basis. Then it can be redirected via multiple channels according to pre-set policies to archives and distributed to content management systems, desktop hard drives and wireless devices. That eliminates reports otherwise output and stored as paper, film and tape (as well as the equipment such as printers needed to produce them). The information can be more conveniently and resourcefully output to analogue media or more efficiently archived on electronic or optical media. It also eliminates scanning and rekeying.

Report mining usually comes with report management in enterprise content management (ECM) suites, but often it is OEM’d, says Ken Chin, a research VP at Gartner. He calls report mining "BI for unstructured content." By leveraging indexes, users look for key reports and attributes and, by using templates, can do so even if the data isn’t indexed upon capture.

Mining tools also let users perform complex sorting so that segments from reports can be recombined into other reports, then distributed as necessary—often in different formats to spreadsheets or databases. They offer standard templates for advanced analysis of reports so users can granularly analyze archives for business intelligence.

Users can identify individual statement pages within reports as separate PDFs, and most systems also provide access rights management and can be programmed to run in the background after-hours to improve response times. Some will integrate seamlessly with their document management solutions, use the same repository and process images as well as print streams.

Open Text

Open Text offers two report management systems, Livelink ECM Enterprise Report Management and the Vista Plus Suite, with comparable functionality but different target customers.

According to Art Sarnow, marketing executive with Oracle Solutions Group at Open Text, Vista Plus targets large customers with big print operations, receiving data from ERP systems like SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft (acquired by Oracle). Vista Plus is tightly coupled to those applications so that each application has an internal report structure, with rights managed by the application, and all of that is propagated to the Vista archive, so users can create a single report and allow the system to logically create user/group views based on security profiles.

That not only eliminates printers, but it also archives the print streams, and offers analytics so that users can look at column or row data, just as they would in a database and move it into a graphical output, according to Sarnow. They can then "burst" data to one department, for instance, by segmenting it for different user groups in the department, or bundle multiple reports by segmenting pertinent data in them, then reassembling it in one report for a user group requiring the aggregated data. Its distribution output manager also guarantees delivery of every report. Vista Plus runs about $100,000 per server and $200 a seat.

Targeted at departments and SMBs, Enterprise Report Management is comprised of report, capture and distribution modules that run natively on the IBM AS400 iSeries, as well as Windows and Unix, to play with ERP systems like JD Edwards (now Oracle) and Lawson in their environments. The product came with the Gauss acquisition so when customers pay $30,000 per server and $750 a seat, they have free access to other modules like document management in the Gauss suite. Both products readily integrate with the greater Livelink platform, so reports can be dropped into those systems as needed.

EMC Documentum

EMC Documentum’s Archive Services for Reports transforms print streams into PDF/A or image format for storage and access by index and ad hoc template searches as well as portal presentment. It is especially tightly integrated with Documentum’s content management platform, so reports can be added to production workflows, and records management functionality applies retention schedules and audit trails for compliance purposes.

According to Brant Henne, product marketing manager for Archive Services for Reports, users can export reports to any ODBC-compliant business intelligence tool. Using the add-on, he explains, they can extract data directly into Excel or export to XML or CSV formats, and, by running the mining tool against reports, they can determine which of the available field types to mine against, as well as run conditional filters to further narrow the scope of the results. He adds that the mined data is managed according to a cache, so users can retain the mining data for a pre-defined period.

The product is sold as an add-on to the core Archive Services for Reports Processing Server, and runs from $25,000 (Windows) to $50,000 (Unix) per CPU.

IBM FileNet

IBM FileNet Report Manager is a component of IBM FileNet Enterprise Content Management (ECM), so reports converted from mainframe and host system formats of legacy systems, like ERP, to PDFs or images are migrated to a common repository in Image Services for permanent storage and report mining. That mainframe-oriented expertise is an obvious plus for the company because it has such a large installed base of traditional mainframe customers to which to cross-sell Report Manager. Reports can also be leveraged by other components of ECM so users can, for example, make annotations to reports in related components. In addition to exporting to other suite components, Report Manager can export to other applications like customer service or claims processing via APIs. Report Manager also offers object linking and embedding (OLE) functionality, so users can embed reports in Microsoft Office applications and view them there with the product’s database view.

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