Tuesday, April 30, 2013

From filing cabinets to Virtual Boxes over the past five years

Five years ago, those of us who are passionate about document management thought that, in the future, people would better understand the importance of the discipline, and that all businesses would embrace the idea of abandoning large physical files because their inefficiency would be totally proven in an era when tech tools would be strong enough to let them take that step.

Maybe we gave people the wrong idea – that the one and only enemy was paper. This idea was pushed by business information systems gurus; and, maybe, how easily electronic content duplicates, digital documents would soon become the panacea for document management problems.

That’s when we started rushing to digitalize and scan everything we could, and we went to the digital world and that’s where the equivalents to the those huge filing rooms (where we kept all our documents) were born. First, it happened on our own computers; but when that became too small, along came intelligent businesses which saw a business opportunity in liberating us from having to store all of our own documents. That’s where those large online storage facilities for our documents came from – the ones we now know, such as Dropbox, Box.net, SugarSync, etc. The lack of clear document management policies in businesses made it easy for employees to use tools such as these to share and store documents.

But if these tools make it easier to share and store documents, why aren’t they considered to be part of document management? 

The ECM cycle has five phases: Capture, Manage, Store, Preserve and Deliver.


1. Capture
When it comes to digitalization, there isn’t much to say regarding these tools because they don’t offer any kind of related functionality. There is no OCR, ICR or mark recognition. There is no indexing, and the integration with third-party applications is nil. These means that users have difficulties in finding documents and it means much more manual work when it comes to extracting information from documents.

2. Manage
Here, the only functionality which these services offer is allowing us to organize our content in file structures. When it comes to seeing the history of everything that’s happened to a document – nothing. Version management is also something that is not fully available. The problems for the user and the system: very little control over important information; loss of work carried out if you can’t, for example, go back to a previous version of a document when it’s needed. With management, it may be functionality which is the greatest advantage offered by these tools, especially when it comes to collaboration, because they have facilitated and simplified the way in which we share documents (but at a cost to control). A DMS offers work teams the chance to work in a coordinated fashion through work flows, maintaining strict control over changes in documentation. 

3. Store 
This is the function that gave birth to virtual boxes, allowing users to free themselves from having to use up this space on their own hard drives. However, these systems are certainly not made to store a large number of documents, and once you’ve gone over a specified limit, retrieving of a specific document can turn into a nightmare.

4. Preserve 
Terms like “long term” and backups gain great importance here. We’re not going to get into everything here that each provider offers. Certainly, to meet certain quality specifications and legal requirements which affect specific types of documents, these virtual boxes don’t seem like a good option.

5. Delivery 
Delivery talks about carrying documents from our document system or other external systems (or those external to the business), such as integration with intranets, extranets or other applications. Dropbox has a REST API which allows developers to develop integrations. In Dropbox’s specific case, there are certain integrations that have been developed by third parties, though Dropbox doesn’t provide support for those integrations. On this point, document managers have a much more extensive history, with official integrations that have been designed for the business world. 

In our opinion, the moral of the story is…. 

For businesses: Managing your business’s documentation with one of these tools means making huge sacrifices in terms of control, speed in finding and recovering documents when it comes time to work in teams, without running the risk of losing work. 

For ECM developers: If this kind of solution becomes popular in professional circles, something could be happening with traditional document management software. These tools have figured out how to maximize simplicity and straightforward-ness. At A
thento, we’ve realized this and we’re working to show you very soon that a document manager doesn’t have to be something that is complicated. 

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