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Technology behind document management solutions

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Michael Powell, product marketing manager at Kyocera Mita South Africa,
looks at the intelligent technology behind document management solutions.

As a field, basic document management has become a rather mature technology.
Looking at the typical multifunctional devices that customers are buying
today, just about all of them offer some kind of basic document management
functionality bundled with the machine itself.
This is more than a nice-to-have feature. It really adds value to the
device, what it can do and the impact it can have on productivity.
The basic document management system can handle a small number of users and
is really aimed at the individual machine and the few desktops that connect
to it. It is largely useful in allowing users to manage their own documents
and workflow. It's helpful to have the most frequently used documents and
templates stored for quick access.
What has inhibited expanding these abilities into the main IT network has
been a historical dependency on proprietary systems. While you can interface
with these and connect a group of desktops to them, the full use of remote
management and monitoring has been complicated by the range of different
systems that vendors have produced.
Right now, there is a gap in the market for third-party solutions providers
offering products to resolve these integration issues.
Equipment manufacturers have, perhaps somewhat belatedly, realised that the
primary need in the modern office is to get all the equipment onto the same
network. It's a trend in telephony solutions and it is no less a concern
when it comes to scanners and printers. Achieving this integration has been
the problem, but most vendors are now offering software development kits
(SDKs) that enable different machines to work pretty much seamlessly with
the main software platforms and back-end systems.
It must be noted that, to unlock the full value of document management, it
is necessary to interface with enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer
relationship management (CRM), workflow and database applications. There is
a lot which can be achieved, in terms of cost savings and productivity, just
by managing from the user end or some central point. But the real business
value is in how you utilise the information in these documents and make it
accessible to the rest of the organisation.
This is still an early trend in the local market. The need for it and the
demand from customers is very pronounced. There are solutions providers who
can offer the kind of custom-built middleware to make this a reality but we
have yet to see the 'killer app' that makes it easy.
In fact, looking at it from the outside, it seems obvious that this has
always been a priority – simply because of the enormous business advantages
it can provide. It seems ridiculous that there isn't already a pervasive
solution for this, until you take into consideration the vast number of
different systems that manufacturers have developed and the fact that there
has not been an emphasis on open standards, such as you see in the
enterprise software market.
That said, there is still a lot which can be done, even with the tools that
current equipment is bundled with. We have the basic document management
features on the machine and we have the ability to take these to a network
level using the SDKs which are often available.
We are, however, still short of the next step, which would be a full,
out-of-the-box integration with the applications that are commonly found on
a business network.
The good news is that manufacturers are well aware of this need and there is
a trend towards making the equipment software more generic and standardised,
facilitating integration with other applications.
At the moment, we are still in a space where user intervention is required.
You scan a document and manually load it into some sort of fileshare or
portal application.
What we want to see – what the customers really demand – is the ability to
scan a document, populate it with some metadata tags and have it immediately
available for authorised users. We are getting close, but we're not there
yet. Yes, you can do this if you bring in third-party solutions but the goal
is to have this as a built-in feature.
Studies over the years have shown that up to 80% of the real information in
a large business sits on individual desktops, not on a central database, and
is often difficult to access without user intervention.
A really intelligent document management system would meet the need to
expose this information to the right people at the right time, cutting down
on the overheads of search and all the productive time that gets wasted in
that process.