Managing Business Documents On The Web? Easy!


Posted on 18th October 2015 by admin in Uncategorized

mbdotwGot some documents to deliver? Why not code them into HTML and let ’em rip over the Net? It’s a cheap and easy solution that could put those big, proprietary document management systems out of business in no time, right?

Well, no. If your documents consist of a five-page employee handbook and an official list of company holidays, you’ll probably be able to make do posting the materials on your company’s intranet. But as companies of all sizes are discovering, if you need to capture, store, index, review, revise, locate, retrieve and protect strategic documents, a full-fledged document management system is still the way to go.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a place for the Internet or intranets in document management. In fact, the combination of a World Wide Web browser front end and document management back end is one that many organizations are finding keeps both users and the IT department happy.

Just ask Jeff Hill. As vice president of technology at The kms Companies, a commercial printer in Woburn, Mass., Hill needed to find a way to give customers access to their own data after kms printed it–in essence, to let kms become a de facto data manager for its clients. But security and workflow concerns were still paramount, and for that reason, the company was committed to staying with its document management system.

“The documents were already in a secure database [Interleaf Inc.’s RDM document management system], and that database had revision control,” Hill explains. “What we wanted next was a way to let customers view, download and possibly add documents.”

That need, however, brought up what Hill calls “all the old issues,” i.e., how customers should be connected to the database, how security should be handled, what an interface should look like and who should write it.

The advent over the last 18 months of front-end Web tools specifically for document management provided Hill with a solution. “The Web browser just levels all the issues,” he said. kms is now piloting two projects using Interleaf’s Intellecte/BusinessWeb software, which lets customers use any Web browser to access documents stored in an Interleaf repository.

Gateway to the Web

According to several data managers, Web gateways have much to add to document management systems, which companies buy into primarily for such features as library services, including annotation, access, revision control, document locking and restricted branching; customizable security; workflow and routing capabilities; and powerful SQL-based and “fuzzy” search engines.

Add to that mix a Web-browser interface–which is becoming familiar to a wider audience–and such systems become easier to train for, implement and manage than the customized, often proprietary client interfaces of many document management systems.

Web clients also can more readily accommodate multiple platforms, notes Jay Kilby, product data group manager with Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif., which this month plans to go live with a six-site document system housing product and marketing information built around Novasoft Systems Inc.’s NovaManage software and its NovaWeb Internet gateway connection.

Cisco will maintain Novasoft client software interfaces for employees who actually perform transactions on the system. The other 80 percent–users who simply access rather than update documents–will have viewing capabilities via Netscape Navigator, Kilby says.

A browser-based solution also allows companies to add other documents to the mix. A user working with a Web browser simply points and clicks at will, unaware that some items are stored in a document vault and others come from disparate databases.

Finally, Web-based document management allows companies to maintain one system for both internal and external use, according to Laura Crabtree, manager of information systems and technology for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, in Pittsburgh.

The bureau recently launched Common Information Service System, a search-and-delivery system built around Information Decisions Inc.’s BASIS Intranet Solution software that allows both internal workers and external clients to locate and download research reports.

Parts of the database are open to the public, others are for specific clients and some areas are for use by bureau employees only.

Rather than having to program these types of Web connections from scratch, managers now have a wide variety of Web document management bridge products from which to choose.

Many heavy hitters in the document management arena have already complied or are just now coming to market with Web products. Offerings from Interleaf, Novasoft and Information Decisions share the market with @mezzanine from Saros Corp. and Accelera from Documentum Inc., as well as forthcoming packages from Open Text Inc., PC Docs Inc., Action Technologies Inc. and Intergraph Inc.

In fact, Web software is becoming all but de rigueur in the document management industry, according to Linda Myers-Tierney, an analyst with International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass. “All document management vendors need to have a Web-enabled strategy by the end of the year in order to survive,” she predicts.

Forward thinkers

These products may go a long way toward bridging the gap, but IT managers warn they’re not plug-and-play, primarily because the other parts of the equation–the document repository itself and the browser-friendly front end–require programming and customization.

Technology professionals from a wide variety of organizations, from small businesses to global operations, say a Web-based document management plan takes, on a very rough average, about six months to implement, with large systems completed in 15 months or so.

When deciding what product to buy, managers stress that companies should look for a system that’s both flexible enough to provide quick development now but open enough to accommodate as-yet-undeveloped standards and objects, a key consideration when dealing with an entity as fast-moving as the Internet.

“I would recommend finding a vendor that’s flexible enough to change with ebbs and tides of the Net,” says Christopher Shockey, an information engineer at Hewlett-Packard Co.’s InkJet Supplies Business Unit, in Corvalis, Wash.

HP is poised to roll out this month a document dissemination application, built around Documentum software, which houses some 32G bytes of data and will eventually serve 5,000 users. “We want the flexibility to even change vendors and still keep the [document] vault in the middle,” Shockey says.

Checks and balances

Security–one of the primary reasons companies buy into document management in the first place–is understandably still a paramount concern as companies consider opening up their document repositories to a much wider audience.

The good news is corporations lose none of the back-end security checks built into most systems when they choose to open the front door to the Internet.

“When you go through the Web, you’re still logging into the database,” says Cisco’s Kilby. “If we ask for a password to get in, we still verify [Web-based] access with that same Novasoft password.”

Flexible security options are crucial for managers who want to be able to let some users in while locking others out on a document-by-document basis.

Ironically, all that security is often protecting a business’ key strategic data, an element that can get lost in the mix, managers said. Data consolidation, consistency and maintenance are issues that should be mapped out and tested before a system goes live.

“The biggest place where people fail … is in making sure the data they’re managing is accurate,” says Kilby. When a new document system is unveiled, “people see this data in a much more visible form, and they start to notice errors.”

As an antidote, Kilby recommends that companies undergo a rigorous shakeout period for a selected group of testers.

“The challenge is the commonality of data,” says Rich Duncan, manager of project planning for the IT Program Management Office at Frank Russell Co., a Tacoma, Wash., investment-management company that is rolling out a sales-force automation system using Saros’ software.

When companies launch a new document system, “there is a certain amount of integration that goes on. You want to make sure data you’re using is consistent.”

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