Data deluge

New Zealand businesses face many hurdles moving processes online, not the least being able to manage documents effectively. Justine Banfield looks at how local organisations are taming the data deluge.

New Zealand businesses face many hurdles moving processes online, not the least being able to manage documents effectively. Justine Banfield looks at how local organisations are taming the data deluge.

At the heart of the move toward e-business and online processes is managing the flood of data — both structured and unstructured — swirling around the workplace.

The rise of the internet, intranets and extranets as channels of business and information, the transfer of information externally to customers and suppliers, and the growth of unstructured data - expected to mushroom 200% each year for the foreseeable future, according to market research firm The Yankee Group - makes this an often monumental challenge. And because most business data is unique to companies, to implement an effective end-to-end document management (DM) solution across the organisation can be like opening a can of worms as information spills over into various categories and processes.

Nevertheless, the common goals of easy access to clear information, improved communication and time saving continue to draw organisations toward considering a DM system.

The good, the bad and the muddly

When looking at the business case for DM systems it is generally agreed that the benefits include faster knowledge distribution compared to traditional methods of distributing documents and information. Web content management so“[However], some DM systems have obscure names and you have to go chasing documents. Sometimes you don’t have simple implementations, [as they are] proprietary and you cannot access the data unless you buy another package by contrast with those, which are open and simple,” says Belding.

Commenting on expensive implementations, Information Specialists’ Sallie Keegan says if the correct analysis is done at the start of a project this can cut costs. “Things can be done not on a budget scale but at a reasonable cost if the analysis is done in the beginning … This should be done before the system is selected and designed. Also try not to be overwhelmed by integrating absolutely everything.” Information Specialists helps design databases for document management.

Another issue arising with increased data exchange between organisations is the size of data, says Jordan Reizes, Pacific marketing manager for software vendor Adobe Systems. “The issue that we always talk about is increasing bandwidth, however, while Adobe believes this is important we also have built aggressive compression into Adobe Acrobat and PDF technology. This saves bandwidth and also file storage space on servers and archive systems.”

Secondly, he asks whether documents are easily searchable with Boolean commands (if/then statements) that allow the searcher to pinpoint the exact document. “Mostly this is not the case,” he says.

“Finally, any archive format must allow you to embed markup data (or tags) that will allow you to take that data later and use it in different applications - hence why people are looking to XML and other languages for archiving.”

Also, managing everyday documents is crucial to the business’s bottom line. Those Computerworld spoke to say savings are made due to improved relationships with business partners and customers, thanks largely to having real-time accurate information at one’s fingertips. And with increased productivity more business is conducted. It is also easier to keep track of in-house processes.

Getting the team on board

To ensure the transition flows smoothly and to keep the data flood at bay, it’s imperative that solution providers and/or the IT department understand the nature of the business as the first step in a successful project. And, more importantly, get the buy-in from users as needs and skill sets can vary greatly across an organisation.

“You don’t want to change your whole workflow just because you buy a particular package so the software has to reflect to a certain extent [the company’s] processes and procedures,” says Keegan.

IT contractor for Manor Park Hospital Martin Jorgensen agrees. He designed the hospital’s EDM system working with senior nursing and administration staff.

“The [biggest challenge] was designing a system that was easy to use because it was going to be used by non-IT professionals, (such as nursing staff), that provided clarity and ease of access to the documents, by being able to call them up directly from the library system and review them or print them out and ensure there is a comprehensive system, which is flexible enough to cater for future requirements,” he says.

The system, the bulk of which was written in Microsoft Access, runs on the hospital network and can be accessed by any employee with a password. The key behind buy-in, he adds, was the system being developed in accordance with the ideas and daily work requirements of staff using it.

Proving just how important buy-in is, AUT IT services director Wendy Bussen says accepting the new system has slowed down the EDM programme she is currently involved in. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t implement the system in an area unless the manager has a conceptual understanding of what we’re trying to achieve, and is prepared to drive the project through and work individually with certain groups as they go through the changing process.

“Using the system takes more time – that’s a paradigm shift as people usually like using things because it’s convenient.”

The university is using Saperion software, made by German firm WIN!DMS. It deals with document structure and the indexing and querying parameters involved in archiving such documents. AUT decided to move toward an EDM system because it wanted to manage and share its documents.

“It was also a component of the vision we’ve got.The vision is that the extranet and intranet are taking centre stage as a means of communication and as it does this, it puts the spotlight on those sources of information and how we manage our documents.”

EDM is the best medium the institution has had for bringing together disparate groups and being able to share information between these groups, says Bussen.

Technical nuts ‘n’ bolts

While the human resource aspect of any project is important, the key technology issue for firms moving online seems to be security. With electronic document management this particular challenge is almost a contradiction when the idea behind it is to better enable electronic information exchange.

Oracle product manager for core technology Burke Kelly says one of the biggest challenges of getting content in the broader sense on to a web site is a small number of people who become the gatekeeper of the content that appears.

“Technically we don’t have an issue with that, as built into all the portal technologies are the security infrastructure and rules … what we still have is a cultural thing where people are still quite protective of content. Especially on the internet.”

Dominick Martinetti, director of marketing Asia for content management software firm Documentum, says the issue of security is one all software vendors take seriously.

“The better content management platforms have extended security features from check-in and check-out accessibility to secured measures for contracts distribution,” he says.

Despite security concerns, however, an advantage of shipping documents via the internet is that it provides a common interface for people to access archives, which is good from both a training and familiarity perspective.

The second technology challenge is customisation, as it should complement the culture of the company in look and feel. “Customising is very important – a key thing when looking at certain areas of document management,” says Keegan.

However, customisation can be costly – particularly if it’s on a large scale. It also often makes upgrades difficult. The key, most observers agree, is to implement a solution that allows for add-on applications so the system can grow as opposed to a massive overhaul.

Oracle’s Kelly says that any kind of large customisation by definition is pricy. “Our whole ERP and CRM suite of applications is that customers don’t customise and hack around, they implement and install and get on with it.”

Another technological issue, of course, is having an effective storage system separate to the DM system.

Content to look to the future

These issues will need even more attention in the future as document management broadens to become content management. In the future it will be more common to see web content management solutions and end-to-end knowledge management solutions that combine web content management and workgroup collaboration features to share information.

For now, however, “document management is almost a separate discipline from content management – both are important and the quality of the information that a firm releases or produces is important”, says Belding.

“Content is mainly a management and senior staff review process, whereas document management is pushed down the line to operational staff.”

While most agree with Belding, some vendors are already looking at content management and what it offers future businesses.

Kelly says in looking ahead, Oracle is approaching data management from an internet content management perspective.

“That is all delivered through Oracle Portal – we give people with access rights to specific areas of the portal that they can manage, add and deploy. The other one is a piece of what we call the Internet File System. This is a mechanism that exposes an Oracle database to lots of different interfaces. It’ll manage any kind of office content.

The Oracle 9i database has an ultra search capability which essentially indexes both,” says Kelly. “So if you’re in the portal on your web browser and you do a search it’ll search all the content within the website you’ve created as well as any content that is relevant, according to your security that would have been deployed through the Internet File System.”

Too often firms have different systems for managing the data, says Kelly, which can cause problems. “Oracle tries to treat structured and unstructured data the same – it’s just data and we manage it in the same environment.”

Another problem businesses face by making information available online is the short life-span of content. “From a business point of view, such as point of sale, if something is out of date but still on the internet and people can access it, it can cause at a minimum real conflict. Your business needs to be integrated, so as a business you can make changes that are reflected,” says Kelly.

In the future, if organisations understand how to properly harness the internet and its impact on information exchange they will gain significantly, says Martinetti. “The ability to touch customers, partners and employees quickly and directly means that content will need to be kept in the pipeline. A content management platform ... enables a company to have their content experts, those who are already developing content - such as press releases, product descriptions, contracts - contribute this trusted, reliable and up-to-date content for re-use on a customer web site, a portal or to print.”

However, because content management is regarded as more “technical” this often means the IT department makes the content development decisions without having any of the business executives involved in the process. This tends to result in a focus on content for web delivery only and not a total content management solution, which would enable them to manage their content from the back end straight through to delivery.

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