Alex Riess

Tuesday, 27 September 2005 06:31

Document management systems

The main functions of a Document Management System (DMS) are:
  • Generation
  • Distribution
  • Storage
  • Retrieval
  • Retention

The DMS processes for documents that are internally generated, typically from an ERP application, are described below.

Generation
While document generation might be as simple as consuming an existing file or printed output, it can turn into the involved task of defining the sources of information, processing this information and defining the desired output. However, the result of this task will always be a piece of information that can be passed to the next steps of the DMS.

Distribution
Once the document has been made available by the DMS’ generation function, the next step will typically be some sort of distribution process. When dealing with an internal document like a report produced by the organization’s ERP system, the document might be sent to a printer, stored on a file server or sent to a recipient via e-mail. In addition to making the document available at the desired location, an e-mail could be generated to inform the recipient that a new document is available at a certain location.

If the document is targeted for an external recipient, the DMS needs to know the transportation method, which could be mail, e-mail, fax, Web presentment or some kind of file transfer. A sophisticated DMS will allow for a combination and, should the primary method fail, attempt to use an alternative method to deliver the document to its target.

For example, if the primary delivery method is set to a fax and the delivery fails, the DMS would attempt to send the document via e-mail. As with internal documents, a supporting e-mail could be sent to inform the recipient that one or more documents have become available.

Storage and retrieval
Now that the document has been delivered to the recipient, the next step is to store the document in the archiving system of the DMS. In most cases, there will be a record added to the DMS’ database and the document will be placed into the document storage area. The database record consists of index values and a pointer to the location of the document within the document storage area.

In our scenario, the document was generated internally, so it should be an easy task to retrieve the necessary index values from the underlying application. The DMS will assign the location of the document and write this information, along with the index values, to the database.

If someone in the organization needs to access the document, the retrieval function will allow the user to search for the document through the index values (e.g. invoice number, customer number, etc.). Should more than one document meet the selection criteria, a list will be displayed to allow the user to select the appropriate document and to view it in the DMS’ viewer, from where the retrieved document can be printed or redistributed via e-mail or fax.

Retention
Last but not least, the DMS is in charge of ensuring that documents are kept in storage as long as necessary. The retention function can also be used to determine the physical location of the documents like hard disk volumes or optical drives. A document’s retention time will often be dictated by regulations (e.g. general accounting procedures or IRS regulations). Once the document has expired, the DMS will remove the document from storage and delete the according record in the database. For control purposes, the DMS will keep a log to document the removal action.

Alex Riess is president of Resolutions (www.resolutions.ws), a provider of state-of-the-art document management solutions. Reach him at ariess@resolutions.ws or (678) 714-3400.

Monday, 22 August 2005 05:48

Is faxing obsolete?

When it comes to Document Management Systems (DMS), there is one field in particular that many people don’t even consider being a part of DMS. I am talking about faxing.

It’s easy to think that e-mail might make faxing obsolete, however, quite the opposite is true. According to IDC, an IT market intelligence and advisory company, the faxing industry is an $83 billion global market today and will grow past $90 billion in the next few years. These numbers represent only the transmission revenue and do not include hardware, software, maintenance costs or the most significant cost of traditional faxing — the human cost.

According to a 1998 survey by The Gallup Organization for Pitney Bowes Inc., 66 percent of Fortune 500 companies still prefer faxing compared to other communication methods. Although there are more than 80 million e-mail addresses in the world, almost half are in the United States. According to IDC, however, 1.5 billion people have access to a fax machine. To reach these billion and a half people who do not have an e-mail address, documents will have to be sent via fax.

Probably the most significant reason for the popularity of faxing is that it will not go away. The cultural reality is that people often prefer paper. As a result, there has been an explosion of new business processes that conclude in a paper event.

Business enterprises that set out in the 1990s to replace paper processes with electronic processes have been the first to recognize that faxing is nothing less than remote printing. And that if the completion of the process is best served with printing, they should remote-print the document. In addition, there are a number of Internet-based services available that provide the ability to complete large-scale remote printing of critical business documents with the same velocity of electronic messages, while enabling the recipient to receive the document in the preferred paper form.

But these Internet-based fax services provide a lot more than traditional faxing methods. The more-advanced online fax services offer the ability to accept incoming faxes via an assigned phone number and automatically route the received faxes to the user’s e-mail address. Should you work on a computer which doesn’t have the fax driver installed, some of the fax services offer an e-mail-to-fax interface, where sending a fax is as easy as sending an e-mail with an attachment to the recipient’s fax number.

A case study
A business owner was wondering whether to install fax servers on his company’s network or to go with an Internet-based fax service. The company had four dedicated fax servers, each with four fax cards, handling four fax lines each. These 64 fax lines were idle most of the week; however, every Thursday night and Friday they were extremely busy. That was the time the company’s manufacturing software produced weekly purchase orders. These orders needed to be faxed to hundreds of vendors. It took the company almost twenty hours to send the faxes when all fax servers were working properly, which wasn’t always the case.

The owner was slightly skeptical of using an Internet-based fax service, so he gave it a trial run. He provided copies of an entire run of the purchase orders to run through the Internet fax service. It took less than thirty minutes to transmit the faxes to the service, and less than two hours later, all faxes had reached the recipients.

The owner switched to the fax service a few days later. It just made a lot of business sense.

Alex Riess is president of Resolutions (www.resolutions.ws), a provider of state-of-the-art document management solutions. Reach him at mailto:arises@resolutions.ws or (678) 714-3400.

Monday, 23 May 2005 09:11

What's it worth?

How much is your company worth?

"Just see our latest balance sheet" is a common and logical answer to this question. But is it really that easy?

There is no doubt that the balance sheet paints a fairly realistic picture of the value of a company's tangible assets. It is quite simple to put a value on cash on hand, machinery, office equipment and accounts receivable, just to name a few items.

It becomes much more difficult to assign a value to a company's hidden treasures, the intangible assets such as owned patents or trademarks, customer contracts, software and other know-how. But a well-organized Document Management System (DMS) can help to identify and valuate some of these intangible items.

Fictitious InfoBrain Inc. is a reseller for a number of software products. To add value to its product offering, InfoBrain developed a suite of integration tools that increases the efficiency of the software products it sells. Once InfoBrain sells a product, its customers purchase a support and maintenance agreement.

InfoBrain's support desk helps its customers during installation, setup and operation of the programs. If a customer calls InfoBrain's support number, an incident number is assigned, the details of the problem are noted and the information is passed to one of the support engineers to take care of it.

The next available support engineer looks into the incident and, once a solution is found, calls the customer back, explains the solution and guides him or her though the necessary steps.

In a traditional environment, the documentation created during the described process would be stored in file folders, most likely grouped by customer.

If, a few weeks later, a different customer places a call with the same or a similar problem, it would be very difficult to find the documentation and, therefore, the entire process of investigating, isolating and solving the problem would have to be repeated.

If InfoBrain used a DMS, the scenario would look like this: During or after the initial contact, the information would be entered into a document. This document would be stored in the DMS, together with index information such as customer number, customer name, date and time of the call, incident number and a brief description of the issue.

The DMS would then route the document to one of the support engineers and place it into his queue. Once the support engineer processes the call, he or she would store additional documents and notes in the DMS using the same index values. Once the issue is resolved, all information, including any accompanying documents, would be available to all authorized users of the DMS.

Through methods such as full text search, the DMS would enable the whole group of support engineers to search for similar problems and the appropriate solution, before they have to initiate the investigation process.

The advantages of InfoBrain using DMS are obvious. Because the support engineers are put in a position to solve a client's issue more quickly, they would get a much better resolved call/support engineer ratio and, thus, increase their bottom line and, consequently, the company's value.

The same benefits of a DMS could be gained for documentation of patents, trademarks and other intangible assets owned by a company.

Ales Riess is president of Resolutions (www.resolutions.ws), a provider of state-of-the-art Document Management Solutions. Reach him at (678) 714-3400 or ariess@resolutions.ws.