Monday, January 28, 2013

More Semantics and Artificial Intelligence in the next version of Athento

Last Friday , our team offered us a series of reflections on the latest trends of Semantics and AI (Artificial Intelligence) and which of them will be considered in the next version of Athento. The goal of our team is to make Athento able to give meaning to information that is stored and managed in ECM platforms.

For Victor Sánchez, our CTO, these technologies will help to improve the accuracy of ECM platforms when recognizing (without human intervention) the different types of documents that they manage (contracts, invoices, budgets, etc.) by analyzing documents' content. In this way, many processes of document management can be automated, such as workflows associated with those types of documents, or any specific process of a business associated with each type of document for said business, in the way that the work will be done in a faster and more secure way. That way, implementing semantics and AI into the management of the information of any business will allow that business to save time and money, thanks to the multitude of complex actions which will now become automatic.

Our innovation men have no doubt that the next phase of semantics in Enterprise Content Management and Document Management will be searches based on simple phrases (Natural Language Processing - NLP), and not on the complicated screens of advanced searches.  Although we are currently using some NLP in Athento, the idea is to apply it directly to searches.

We are already using AI to improve results of classifying docs in our product Athento Capture, but our challenge is to continue using Machine Learning technologies (not only Neural Networks what is what we are using right now) and Artificial Intelligence in other fields as interfaces and searches.

Another point we are working on is that Athento can make possible to avoid tedious interchanges of e-mails for sharing and asking for information between and among businesses. It will be the ECM platforms (through Athento!) which will be in charge of requesting information that they need among themselves at every moment, and use it to carry out timely tasks. That way, documents will always be updated and available at that moment, without human intervention.

For our guys, having a document management system or any ECM platform is fundamental for a business because it’s the most efficient and easiest way of managing all that red tape that running a business involves. And, what’s more, if that system can also incorporate advanced technologies as NLP, Semantics and AI, it would be capable of identifying any time of document and would group information by labels, locations, etc., as well as carrying out automatic tasks, depending on what type of document it was.







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Monday, January 21, 2013

Learn a little more about Document Management

Since the first large businesses and contemporary institutions came into being, man has had the onerous task of overcoming the cumbersome difficulties involved in managing information.

We know the importance of information in the administration of companies, and all of the processes involved, so this isn’t just consumables that a company needs to operate. Information represents constant operations and output that people in an organization carry out. That is, businesses and institutions don’t just need information to function: they themselves also produce tons of it.


If a business doesn’t keep on top of the flow of information, it’s certain that its management is headed for disaster. However, the management of everything that information represents isn’t an easy task, never more than when businesses reach a certain size and a certain degree of bureaucratization. At that point, documents take on a fundamental role in the lives of organizations, not only for operating and controlling every process at an internal level, but also because legislation in countries demand that businesses maintain a certain amount of control over all of the documentation that a company produces. As such, information and documentation, as the way in which it is stored, also demands to be managed.

Managing this documentation certainly generates costs, and not just in economic terms; it also represents an expense of time and, until we were well into the 20th century, great expenses for space, too. Imagine how it must have been, towards the end of the 19th century, for businesses like daily newspapers, hospitals and other large organizations to organize and access all of their documents – literally, tons and tons of sheets of paper, stored in never-ending rows of files, that somebody had to run up and down, day after day, to organize and classify contents. Rooms with rows that had been ploughed between stacks of paper, where finding that one specific, particular piece of paper could turn into a complete odyssey.


Imagine, too, what could happen to a business if, for any particular and unfortunate reason, years and years of documentation fell victim to, say, a fire, or something as natural as a moth infestation or the passage of time. How much money must those businesses have had for the upkeep of storage facilities, paying people to manage – and, more than anything, how much money must they have spent, once upon a time, on paper?

Businesses were screaming for solutions. Thank Heaven that we haven’t stayed stuck in the Age of Paper! Computers, databases, general digital storage systems and, above all, the introduction of the real concept of Document Management have all meant a dramatic change in the way of we do the dirty work behind the day-to-day operations of businesses.


What hasn’t changed significantly since those dark days of the filing room: needs which are solved by the solutions that document management can give:

  • Documents, by necessity, don’t provide structured information, something that complicates their organization and classification.
  • Since physical documents take a physical form, they’re susceptible to deterioration and disappearance, either by the passage of time or the actions of third parties.
  • The more documents you produce, the more trouble you’re going to have storing them and accessing them – each and every one of them.


However, as we were saying, document management came into being and, as a result, the applicable technology also progressed. So, what is document management? It isn’t anything more than a collection of technical norms which are used to administer the flow of documents within an organization, which then translates into simplicity, speed and savings in both the access and storage of information in a business.

Document management gurus arranged it so that we could count on systems that were less flashy and which allowed for better control when bringing documents into the system – as less time was needed, owing to digitalization of physical documents, the geographic space got smaller and the traditional storage of documents (and the associated costs relating to upkeep and care) also decreased.

Nonetheless, for reasons of security and legal requirements, getting rid of so much paper seemed like a Utopian fantasy. Although digital documents were used, these never had the weight to prove the validity of something, nor did they have the legitimacy of traditional documents. As a result, businesses dedicated to taking charge of storage sprung up, usually located in the outskirts of cities, where space costs ended up being lower.

There’s no doubt that there was a lot of room for improvement and solutions ended up moving beyond the role of simply “copying”, which was what digital documents had been doing. A lot of work was needed for security, for legislation and culture, to change that perception, so that, more and more people could access digital documents. Currently, efforts are being directed in this way, as long as this perception is not totally disseminated. Nonetheless, in the case of Spain (which has, since 1995, been involved in a process of digitalization which has been promoted by the State), we now have a legal framework which allows for the use of digitalized documents that are equally valid as the traditional documents for the average citizen, even for large organizations which make up part of the fabric of the public sector. These days, in this country (with improvements such as the electronic ID card, electronic certificates, digital signatures, and everything connected to the digital signature), citizens and government agencies can access a flow of information that is faster, more flexible and safer to use. Even the private sector has seen various improvements, such as with mobile communications companies, where traditional invoicing is giving way to digital invoices.


At Athento, we’ve been on this wave of modernization for some time, in order to offer our clients document management with top technology, and, more importantly, to adapt ourselves to the needs of the client. The question is this: Is your business still in the Age of Paper? If the answer is yes, there’s no doubt that we know how to help you.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Alfresco hires new CEO (and why do we care?)

Image representing Alfresco as depicted in Cru...

Our partner Alfresco, the de facto leader in open source ECM, has replaced its CEO (John Powell, co-founder of Alfresco and Business Objects, later acquired by SAP for 6.78 billion) for a seasoned Silicon Valley executive, Doug Denerline. Doug was the US Enterprise Software VP of Sales for Salesforce.com and SuccessFactors CEO, as well as the chief executive of the Webex division at Cisco Systems, Inc among others.
Some words from Doug Denerline:
“While the future may very well be everything to the cloud, that isn’t the current reality,” Dennerline said. “In order to be relevant in the enterprise and stay ahead, you have to be able to answer the bottom-line question. Alfresco is offering a connection for organizations that want their employees to freely collaborate on content beyond a firewall while at the same time making IT happy by keeping the control needed to meet industry requirements.”

The move clearly shows intentions to move headquarters to the Bay Area, and more so, a focus on an IPO for 2014 to be done in the technology stocks market (NASDAQ, New York).

Alfresco has about 7 people in the Bay Area, some of them like Luis Sala, Peter Monks and Jerome Agnola, we've met in person and are all great professionals.

The move to the Bay (most likely San Francisco) will double Alfresco's team very shortly, adding up to 14 new positions.

Why should we care?

Well, our offices in the US are also in Silicon Valley (USMAC, downtown San Jose), and this will add value to Silicon Valley partners such as Formtek (Oakland partner focused on engineering companies) or the likes.

We have a roadmap ahead of integrations between Athento and Alfresco products, developing verticals with a focus on e-Government and e-Health. We have been publishing apps on other platforms such as cloud vendor Box.com, but it is in pure ECM vendors like Alfresco and Sharepoint where we see a potential to grow and add value.

The offering for document capture for Alfresco seems still limited and there's also space for more players . The more, the merrier, being this especially true for customers.

Alfresco is getting traction in Latin America, a market in which we are growing and we believe we can provide top notch solutions on top, especially for large companies and government, where the need for ECM infrastructure and information management in general is huge, and still not well solved. For this markets, and in close work with Alfresco's Raul Gonzales, we are establishing partnerships in countries such a Perú and México.



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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to choose a Document Capture Software Solution?

Acquiring a  Document Capture Software solution is a decision in which different factors limit our options. Here we review some of these limitations: 

Support for document management software and content 


A capture software solves a very specific range of needs ranging from obtaining documents from different sources (paper, email, fax) to actually processing them to obtain certain information (extracting precise data from the documents and deducting document types). 

But solving those specific needs is not an end in itself, but a means. What do we do with the documents? Why did we wanted to get information in the first place? What I mean by this is that a capture system is a system dependent on others, at least, part of our platform for document management or enterprise content management. 

And this not only means that buying a capture software doesn't make much sense if there isn't a document management system in place, but also, that this system will determine the document capture software you will end up buying (as they need to be integrated).

The major vendors in the capture market have developed connectors for the most important ECM platforms and that means adding the connector price to the solution itself. In some cases, it's necessary paying for an integration, but even so, there are some cases of totally incompatible solutions.

Make sure your capture solution can integrate with your Sharepoint, Documentun, Alfresco, Nuxeo or whatever your ECM platform in place is, and how this will increase the final price of the solution. For Athento Capture, being a solution developed on Athento Platform, interoperability with other systems is guaranteed. 

Operating System Support 

Most capture software run on Windows environments. Until recently, this was not a limitation, but the percentage of market share as Linux systems continue to increase (1.19% in December 2012.) In the case of Linux, there are very few systems capable of running capture under this operating system. On the other side, in the desktop environment, there are many mac users (about 30% market share in the US and growing rapidly).  So we must consider multi-platform technologies such as Java.

Considering then the capture product compatibility with your operating system is essential. For Athento Capture, being a cross-platform solution, we can forget about this problem. 

Licensing and pricing

You'll pay for the number of documents, number of CPUs or simply for a subscription or support fee. Depending on your needs, technological structure, physical structure (capture from different geographical locations), a licensing model will come better or worse. Make calculations with a broad horizon, as many of these investments involve licensing systems beyond a year. 

The possibilities of the software and your needs 

Not all capture solutions withstand any workload. Kofax Capture in its basic version, for example, is recommended for a volume of 30,000 to 100,000 documents per year. Furthermore, what types of documents do you have? That's another important question to consider. Returning to the previous example, Kofax Capture supports only forms (structured documents). 

In conclusion, there are a variety of specifications to consider when you want to choose a capture solution and if these specifications are not observed with great care, we can end up buying a capture software that later becomes underused.




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CMIS: Nearly a reality in ECM software

Note 1: In May 2010, the first version of the CMIS standard was liberated by OASIS.

Note 2: In the past few months, several Yerbabuena clients have asked me what our opinion is regarding how #CMIS is going to affect the ECM market, in their businesses, and at a global level.

Note 3: The “#” in #CMIS is…just because. ;)

After searching and searching, I found an article by Stefan Waldhauser which clearly explains why #CMIS rocks. I’ve slightly adapted the notes which he explains in his post.

1. CMIS is the SQL of Content Management.

Not a few people think that CMIS is going to have a similar effect on the ECM market than SQL had on the database market thirty years ago. These days, some people criticize the fact that SQL still isn’t a perfect standard. Even if we agree with that, we can’t deny that the normalization of SQL was enough to guarantee healthy business for thousands of businesses that work with structured data in their applications. So, with that in sight, we don’t believe that #CMIS is going to be 100% perfect as a norm, but as long as it’s a reference, it’s enough to create a significant impact on those businesses which work with a great deal of unstructured data.

2. CMIS is not a standard.

Two years ago, some questions were asked related to the adoption of #CMIS in the standard products of various suppliers of multi-nationals. Some critics said that the software giants were not up to the task of making their products friendlier towards the competition. I agree that suppliers don’t particularly like it when their clients go to the competition; but, on the other hand, having a STANDARD #CMIS-back-end will allow us to focus on providing value to Enterprise Content Management systems – just as, for example, we do here at Yerbabuena with Athento.

That said, the big players have to accept (and they do accept) that the point of no return has passed with the launch of version 1.0 of #CMIS. Six months after the launch of the initial version of this norm, the market leaders – IBM, Microsoft, OpenText, Nuxeo, Yerbabuena and Alfresco (among other) have already launched the versions of their systems which support CMIS.

3. Clients adore #CMIS. :)

Two years ago, a survey was carried out among a group of AIIM members, with the following results:

  • 15% of them acknowledged that CMIS would be an important factor in deciding on an ECM in the future. 
  • Twelve months later, in a survey conducted by Generis (www.generiscorp.com), 77% of participants knew/had heard of CMIS. 
  • 42% of participants acknowledged that this norm would be a key factor in choosing their ECM projects in 2011.

Even if this survey isn’t a representative survey, these figures are very promising and they make us look to the future of the adoption of #CMIS among businesses in a positive way.

4. Not being “married to” your ECM provider

Practically all clients aspire to a vision of CMIS, even if they don’t know it. CMIS helps us to separate the repository of documents from the management layer. Even just a year ago, this was only a vision, but today, thanks to CMIS, this vision is becoming reality in projects. Several weeks ago, we signed an important contract with a company of note. They were looking for an ECM solution for the management of various critical processes; they had evaluated a proprietary system provided by a leading supplier (I won’t $ay who they are); but, in the end, they went for our solution – and the reasons why they chose us were the following:

1. Application developed in open code; 
2. Proximity of the supplier; 
3. And we supported CMIS.

I hope that this tendency becomes the theme for projects in 2013, for those Document Management projects in Yerbabuena. ;)

5. With #CMIS, ECM infrastructure will become a product.

Thanks to CMIS resolving the back end of ECM applications for ECM suppliers, more attention can be paid to more and better development of value-added layers for business. This is what we’ve been doing in Yerbabuena for more than two years, “forgetting” the back-end side of applications and thinking about the value generated for our clients. It’s what has allowed us to launch applications that are as interesting as the first mobile client based on #CMIS, flat management systems, or developing the first intelligent OCR on the market.

6. Applications based on CMIS will become the differentiating element.

The year 2010 was the year in which the most prominent ECM brands incorporated CMIS into their products. We hope that, in 2013, these businesses demand that their Document Management Systems suppliers give them systems that support CMIS.

 7. CMIS 1.0 was just the beginning.

Critics of the current version of #CMIS talk about the limitations that CMIS has at this moment, even though they’re certain that CMIS v1.0 is just the beginning. Last year, CMIS 1.1 began its public review draft state.


8. What we are hoping for...

Current implementations of CMIS in the most common ECM platforms have brought only limited possibilities. Actions as “create a document” and “save a document” are some of the currently possibilities they give us, but we are expecting to get the real power of CMIS implementation that will make us able to do awesome things. We are not satisfied with only method definitions.

Update: There's a CMIS book just recently published:
http://www.manning.com/mueller/
Authors include Jay Brown from IBM and Jeff Potts from Alfresco and Florian Müller the Chair of Apache Chemistry, from SAP.



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Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to tag documents automatically in Box.com: Athento + Box integration

One of the problems of document management is the tedious work of labeling documents. Adding metadata to documents seems like something that only takes 10 seconds, but every time you upload a new document to your choice DMS, it starts to become more and more tiresome.
And the real problem is not that it's that hard, it really isn't. The problem is that somehow, you have your taxonomy in place, your rules in place, you've discussed metadata with external consultants, and at the end of the day, and once the system has been in place for three months and everybody is a little relaxed about the rules, then it happens:
You find that most documents are not tagged in the system. Metadata is nowhere to be found. Nada, cero, finito. And it hits you like a punch.
You see that performing a search is harder than it should.
You see that going through that tag of clouds makes no-sense, because you know those are the tags that users placed after the first two months the document management system was in place.
And it gets in your nerves, because users have no excuse. "It's only 10 seconds!!" You think.

The other side of the fence is the actual user, the worker of the company, the document intensive star of the document management system. Whoever it may be, a lawyer, a doctor or a records management professional.
I was at a law firm north of Palo Alto (Alston + Bird) and remember what an important IP lawyer told me: "It's my job to get that contract or IP document reviewed, edited etc., and then, after all this work on this .doc file, then I have to upload it to the system, and complete this form... again!"
And he kept going on: "I've already placed the document title IN THE DOCUMENT, why do I have to do this again?"
And you know people hate doing the same things over and over. It feels stupid.

So both for the users, the stars of document management as we mentioned previously (document management is about people, not documents) and for the admins, we exist as a company.
And it is for them that we created the Box auto-tagging tool, named Athento Cloud Services (as it will be expanding with other features coming up).
Take a look at the video, with a real example of a DMV document (a real one, from San Jose, California) getting auto-tagged. The quality of the tags is impressive. The amount of time spent, less than 5 seconds. Bum, your tags are there.



Auto tagging Documents in Box.com: Athento

And the app is here free, to download!
Please, give us feedback, let us know how we're doing.

We are planning to integrate with other cloud tools, like Salesforce.com, and best of breed ECM tools like Sharepoint and Alfresco. Who should be next? We would love to hear your ideas.

More in the Press:
USMAC corporate blog: Athento + Box integration for Document Auto-tagging.


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Using OCR In Enterprise Content Management Software

In its simplest form, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) Software consists of extracting text from images. According to Wikipedia, it is the mechanical or electronic conversion of scanned images of handwritten, typewritten or printed text into machine-encoded text…It is a common method of digitizing printed texts so that they can be electronically searched, stored more compactly, displayed on-line, and used in machine processes such as machine translation, text-to-speech and text mining. OCR is a field of research in pattern recognition, artificial intelligence and computer vision. 


We’d like you to see the video below, which shows that an image is worth more than a thousand words; you’d have to get your calculator out in order to get an estimate of how much it’s worth. ;-)




For sure, “interacting via a text editing program” has many implications:
  • being able to look for documents within our internet, document manager or corporate ECM platform, conducting a full text search, or maybe while looking within the document. 
  • being able to pass the document (in .TIFF, .JPG, unindexed .PDF, .PNG or any other image format) to a Word (.doc) format, Open Office (.odt) or any other editable document format that we choose, so that we can edit and improve the text. 

This also has its own implications in the Intelligent Document Management field, which we, at Athento, are moving on:

  • We can convert information into metadata automatically, since we can already reason about the content of the documents; 
  • We can improve the result of any OCR software via ICR; rather, we have the capacity to infer, in an automatic way, the content of a word that could not have been scanned correctly (because the paper was folded at a corner, the ink on the paper was smudged, or for any other reason.)

There are other exclusive solutions, such as Kofax and Abby, and many others, which can be integrated with ECM.

As always, the advantage of our OCR is that it’s based on open source code, which gives it the advantage of having a much better price, without losing any of the tech power; and, winning, more than anything, with freedom: you can choose another business to develop the software that we provide to you, if you feel that that is necessary, without any kind of limits.

Additionally, these proprietary solutions can mean significant prices increases: normally, you buy a license for each user, so if your organization has two thousand users, you’ve got to multiply the cost per license by two thousand (with the corresponding volume discounts.)

In the case of our OCR module, the cost is only the cost of implementing the system. We’ll charge you for the motor of the car, but we don’t care if you drive the car while it’s full of passengers, or if you go by yourself. We don’t get involved in that.

Evidently, and especially when an organization reaches a certain size, the cost goes from being a fraction of the system of exclusive OCR systems, without losing trustworthiness (unlike exclusive solutions, which don’t incorporate semantic technology to perform ICR (Intelligent OCR).

You can see more videos on Yerbabuena Software’s YouTube channel.


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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Digital Signatures And Document Management

English: Diagram illustrating how a simple dig...
Diagram illustrating how a simple digital signature is applied and verified. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
According to Wikipedia, a digital signature is "a mathematical scheme for demonstrating the authenticity of a digital message or document. A valid digital signature gives a recipient reason to believe that the message was created by a known sender such that they cannot deny sending it (authentication and non-repudiation) and that the message was not altered in transit (integrity). Digital signatures are commonly used for software distribution, financial transactions, and in other cases where it is important to detect forgery or tampering."


Digital signatures make Document Management more powerful, since digital signatures offer all the same advantages that a regular signature does (identify the author, show agreement with the terms of the document, confirm that the document has been read and guarantee that the document cannot be modified). We also have the advantage that the document can be signed collaboratively, connecting a document and its signing process to a workflow.

In this way, within any organization (whether it be a business or a public agency) located in various places, we can carry out collaborative signings of documents, among people who might be located in different countries.

Let’s take the examples of selling a business or changing the deed to a residence. Both of those processes involve documents that have to be read by various parties, and each of those parties might need various copies of the documents. Using a document management system integrated with digital signatures  is a much more efficient way of handling the process, so that each of the users can read the document and sign it from anywhere, at any time, from their own computer (or even from a mobile device.)



There are many ways in which this application can be applied. If it costs between €7 and €12 to send an invoice nationally by courier (including the costs of work time, a stamp, an envelope, printing the invoice and paper), reducing material costs (which then go to €0) and an estimated 90% reduction in the time it takes to generate a digitally-signed invoice (an e-invoice), it means that we can carry out this process at a cost to the business that’s less than €1. It definitely means making gains in efficiency, not only by saving money, but also in control, security and time: we can offer better customer service if they can be sent invoices, or signed contracts that they may need, etc., instantaneously.

What’s stopping you from making the move to digital signatures?



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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

We've finished the first phase of Spain's DMV Document Management and Interoperability project: Mission Accomplished!

Aerospatiale AS 355N Ecureuil 2_DGT_EC-GVH
Aerospatiale AS 355N Ecureuil 2_DGT_EC-GVH (Photo credit: COSAS DE VOLAR)
As we mentioned in previous post, Athento and Nuxeo have been elected by Spain's DMV for implementing its document management system. The project was named "SDGD-document management system" and has a € 750,000 budget (Over $ 1 million). Thanks to this investment, the Spain's DMV (from now on, DGT) is expected to generate yearly savings of over one million euros. 

It took nine months working on this project with really rewarding results. Last December we delivered the first stage, consisting of 50%, of this Document Management and Interoperability project. 

How is the system structure of the DGT's ECM? 

SDGD is divided into two subsystems, the first of which is responsible for meeting the basic needs of Document Management (SDGD-gd) and the second subsystem provides interoperability and interconnection between different systems (SDGD-i) with SDGD-gd. SDGD-i component is crucial because it allows the overall system to comply with the Technical Standards for Interoperability -NTI- and also with the Elimination and record keeping procedures that this Government Agency has in place. 




Nuxeo, was chosen to be the DMS at the heart of DGT, ie as document repository and Athento Platform as the core for the SDGD Interoperability layer. Athento Platform is a platform similar to the known Enterprise Service Bus that through a set of services enables communication between different systems that work with documents. With the ENI (Esquema Nacional de Interoperabilidad, National Interoperability Framework) component  of the document repository Athento Platform can connect to applications used by administratives in their daily work. 

Present and future of the project 

The SDGD is currently in pre-production. During the past nine months of work it has achieved significant milestones. Today, we can say that it has managed the deployment of most of the requirements arising from the implementation of applicable NTI to Document Management, and its adaptation to the operational reality of the DGT. 

During this phase of the project has achieved things as: 
  • The implementation of the Electronic Document with the minimum mandatory and complementary business metadata
  • The implementation of the Electronic Record 
  • Traceability and auditability of the system has been guaranteed 
  • Deployment of the document search system, using Google Enterprise Search (GSA)
  • The implementation of electronic signature functionality
  • Establishing mechanisms for digitization, management and configuration of system users, etc.. 

What makes this project amazing? 

For the first time in Spain we are implementing an e-Government system that obeys documentary requirements of national interoperability standards. These regulations are relatively new and are still in development, but are very important because they seek to convert government agencies into more interoperable organizations that are capable of supporting eGovernment best practices with all the desired guarantees. 

SDGD is a pioneering project in Spain that provides document management tasks, making them more accurate and maintaining the most strict control over the citizens' documents. 

An example of a relevant feature is the integration with Google Enterprise Search -GSA-, which will improve the relevance of search results to documents and the response time of queries of officials, plus: integration with DGT's electronic office, high availability (HA) configuration of the system, backup management, integration with a Data Warehouse, electronic processing system, process management, web content management, etc.. 

When will the system be in full performance? 
Within nine months, at the end of 2013, employees of the DGT will make full use of the platform. Once completed, the system will manage over 150 million documents and will continue to grow from there.



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