Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Managing Digital Documents in Business

Today, I’d like to share the presentation that I used in a training course organized by the Asociación de Archiveros de Andalucía (the Andalusian Archivists’s Association) yesterday in Seville.
They asked us for a panoramic vision that matched our experience in the business, about how to work with electronic documents in businesses, throughout the entire life cycle of the document.

My presentation talked about how, through all my years of working in the ECM market, we’ve come across needs that have not been completely met or fixed by the document management software on the market.

In this post, I’ll attempt to reproduce the training session.

Slides 3 and 4: The beginning: Storage and Online Access 

The first problem that businesses attempt to solve when they’re thinking of document management has to do with getting rid of paper and having documents in an electronic format which, businesses know, will result in documents that are more accessible than if workers had the documents in paper format. Basically, what they want to do is to make things more powerful: collaboration, accessibility and ubiquity. When we talk about making these three things more powerful, we assume that, in most cases, we’re talking about active documentation; or, at least, documentation that is frequently used.

These were the first document management projects that our business came across. To solve them, we started to work with a open-source software solution: Nuxeo. Even though Nuxeo is a powerful tool that’s well-designed and very useful for solving the basic problems of document management, we gradually discovered that, from time to time, Nuxeo fell short of what our clients needed.

Slides 5 and 6: Work Flows and BPM

The first point in which we saw that the solutions on the market fell short was with the topic of making complete work procedures electronic, as well as procedures or other business processes that were rich in complexity. In this situation, new concepts appeared, such as a case, which aren’t completely assimilated by existing document management systems. For ECM software, a case never stops being a type of folder. However, for those of us who work in this field, we know that a case means much more than being a mere folder: it implies relationships with other organizations (procedural paperwork, solicitations for procedures, phases, tasks, specific document types, etc.) Many times, converting those business processes into digital processes is critical for the business, as in the case of CRISA, which needed the process of approval and signing off of plans, for the engineering department, to be meticulously monitored.

Slides 7 and 8: Document Capture

Once the management of electronic documents was solved, we realized that our cases needed to take one step further. Once again, document management solutions didn’t offer a solution to processing documents that were currently on paper, or to send documents that were stored in the system after being received by e-mail and processing them (not just storing them). We came upon cases such as that of ICOGAM, which needed to conduct document imaging and processing of up to 3,000 cases a day. We needed to make it possible for the document management system to recognize document types and extract data from them.

Slides 9 and 10: Records Management

We started to get a lot of requests from government agencies and large businesses that were interested in complying with certain pieces of legislation. They wanted our help with managing records or inactive documentation on a trial basis. The problem, in one particular instance, was that the system in use was better prepared for working with active documentation and that the system didn’t require scrupulous storage practices. There was a need to work with the system internally to get it to somehow reproduce concepts such as classification boxes by functions, series, conservation schedules, etc. We had to make it possible for the document management system to understand concepts like activities, functions, procedures, and the like.

Slides 11 and 12: The Enterprise Content Management Roadmap

If we take our focus away from the specific needs and we focus on the wider view of document management or Enterprise Content Management, we realize that, if a document is going to make the complete run through all the phases of Enterprise Content Management (Capture, Manage, Deliver, Preserve and Store), a business needs at least four separate applications to cover all the needs. And that’s a huge problem, because of:
  • Investment in IT: multiplies the costs of licenses, users, hardware training, etc.
  • Integration
Slide 13: Integration 

Integration is an authentic nightmare: if the four applications that we buy aren’t correctly integrated, our staff has to work four times more. The problem, however, doesn’t just exist among ECM applications. It turns out that if we’re not working with applications that follow standards and which can communicate with the rest of our business software, we’re facing a real problem and, probably, a significant loss of money.

Slides 14 and 15: What have we learned? 

We’ve learned that, without a doubt, there’s got to be a better way of doing document management. There’s got to be a way that lets people work less and inflicts fewer headaches on business when it comes time to try covering the needs of content in all of its life cycles. And we decided that Athento has to be prepared to take on this challenges with three lethal weapons:
  • Intelligence
  • Interoperability
  • and by being an integral tool.
With these three lethal “I”s in mind, we’ve undertaken the development of Athento version 3.0, which offers an integrated solution to attack problems that can be automated by using intelligence, which is capable of communicating with the tech environment of businesses.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Press Release: Athento Explains Why ECM Software Needs to Get Smarter

Athento explains this lesson learned during the last seven years in the Enterprise Content Management Market.

During the first month of this year, Athento has published a series of blog posts in Spanish and in English that tries to explain the lessons that the company has learned in its years in the ECM sector. The lesson: there are reasons why the software that’s available on the market still has many problems to fix in order to become a real solution for the troubles that businesses face when it comes to document and content management.

According to this ongoing series of articles, some of the aspects that need to be improved include:
  • The inability to offer an integrated solution that manages documents and content through every stage of the life cycle: For the company, it’s just as Ken Burns (Analyst Relations Manager at Hyland) stated it in an article by David Roe in CMS Wire. ECM providers have provoked a state of “suite-fatigue”, where companies are tired of having to acquire, integrate and work with a collection of tech solutions which don’t end up solving their problems when it comes time to work with documents. According to José Luis de la Rosa, 
“Businesses have to obtain a document management solution such as Alfresco or Documentum, but then they’ve also got to buy software like Kofax or Ephesoft to solve the issue of document capture. If, additionally, they also want to have their business processes automated, they’ve got to develop ad hoc solutions for their ECM systems. At the end, what we give them isn’t a complete solution: it’s a series of difficulties of integration and connection, and a lot of hours of work so that they can really get results.”
  • The remote possibility of automating processes: To automate processes, the applications have to understand and interpret the information contained in documents and offer enough power so that businesses can manage to automatically reproduce their businesses processes. For this to happen, the software still needs to be even smarter. “In this sense, we need to work so that the applications have the capability to learn from the users, and that businesses can take full advantage of the information contained in documents. Currently, ECM software on its own does not offer these possibilities: it’s the capture applications which are working on these kinds of ideas, but that just takes us back to the original problem we had before,” Mr. de la Rosa affirms. 

Other shortcomings of current ECM software that are laid out in these articles are:
  • How complex these types of applications currently are
  • The lack of interoperability of ECM software
  • Prices which put the software out of reach of many companies.

Our developers have taken these shortcomings into account as they work on the development of Athento (the 3.0 version of which will be released in the first quarter of 2014.) “We believe that there is a smarter way to do document and content management and we are taking these software gaps into account for the Athento road map. The feedback we’ve received from ECM customers makes us work harder on making Athento more intelligent, interoperable and integral. As we believe in that, we offer value by allowing Athento to run on top of ECM software as Alfresco, SharePoint, Open Text or Nuxeo.”


Friday, January 24, 2014

Athento Version 2.4.36: Roles, Permissions and Other New Features

Starting from now, you can create roles and assign permissions to them. With this new basic permission management, you can allow groups of users to manage everything, or simply give them read-only permission. We will continue working on group and users management in upcoming versions of Athento. Additionally, we’ve added the ability to share a document with external users. Details about v2.4.36 in the Documentation Center.

Other improvements and new features:

  •     Two new web services  (SearchDocument and nextStateLifeCycle)
  •     Two new life cycle stages
  •     Athento now recognizes PDF-417 codes
  •     Athento core has been update to 1.3.4 version.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

How can I export the results of data extraction in Athento? [FAQs]

In its 2.0 version, Athento includes the exportation of metadata in CSV format. The roadmap of this product plans on continuing to incorporate other ways of exporting results. In this post, we’re going to explain how we can export metadata extracted by the system in CSV format.
The first thing we need to do is go over to the Administration menu.

 Once we’re in the Administration menu, we go to the “Exports” tab.

Now all we have to do is click on the “Export CSV” link. A new window will open, asking us if we want to save the .CSV file, or simply open it.

CSV files can be opened in applications for managing spreadsheets (Excel, Open Office or Libre office), among others. It’s important to remember that when the application we’re using to read the file asks us what kind of separator we should be using, we use the hash symbol (“#”).

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

The gaps in document management software (Part 2)

Today, we’re continuing with our series of posts about the gaps that exist in document management software.

The gaps in document management software (Part 1)

In the first part of this post, we analyzed why the battle against paper had come to a standstill, and the possible reasons why things weren’t moving ahead on that front. 

In this second part, we’re going to see another gap that exists in current document management software:

2. The complexity of ECM systems has caused scores of users to abandon ECM systems.

Today, I have no choice but to cite a new article from CMS Wire which features an interview with Ken Burns, Hyland Software’s Analyst Relations Manager:

"...[]Many of those enterprises, he says, have been struggling under the weight of larger, heavy, custom- development platforms that offer far more than is needed, but which have dominated the ECM industry until recently."

Traditional ECM applications offer more than what users really need, but not in a way that’s flexible enough so that users can simplify the tools according to what they need. As a result, those users end up going to the applications which come up as being the easiest way of working with documents – a folder where they can drag and drop documents into.
"...[]As a result, many users are turning to file sharing and syncing applications to carry out some of the basic collaboration functions that they expect to get with ECMs, but the difficulty or cumbersomeness of ECM suites inhibits use in many everyday case scenarios."

As a matter of fact, these days, according to the Forrester “What File Sync and Share Customers Have Learned” report, some 25% of information workers use this type of application today. Not only is it a question of simplicity in manipulating documents; to that, we can also add the ease with which they can share documents.

The solution for makers of ECM software isn’t in allowing users to simplify the tools: it’s in adding the functionality of synchronizing and collaborating that these applications offer. The Forrester report says it loud and clear:

"Most of the old guard is playing catch-up. Established vendors like Google, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, and have recognized the value of file sync and share as a natural add-on to their offerings, as well as a critical mobile competency, and moved to include this capability. Not surprisingly, they trail some of the early market entrants in terms of functionality and are playing catch-up. For example, Citrix and EMC have fast-tracked their market positions by acquiring established offerings ShareFile and Syncplicity, respectively. "

This isn’t just true for makers of proprietary software; Nuxeo itself incorporated this into Nuxeo Drive last year.

We, the manufacturers of ECM software, can hide behind the premise that file sharing and ECM are two totally different markets, that our applications resolve different situations, but the truth is that, in the minds of users, when it comes time to work with documents, users are still lacking a huge degree of ease of use, even though 79.5% of them know that working with these applications would mean ending up with organizational problems. 


Monday, January 13, 2014

Ways to import documents: Athento AFM [FAQs]

We’re continuing to respond to the questions that all of you have. One of those questions is which mechanisms can Athento use for the massive importation of documents. Well, today, we’re going to look at one of those methods, known as Athento Folder Monitoring (or AFM, for short).

Known in the industry as the “hot folder”, the functionality of folder monitoring allows you to run a demon in the background that, from time to time, reviews your folder(s) to see if they contain new documents and uploads them to Athento to be processed.

Once the documents have been put into a specific folder, those files will begin to disappear from the folder, as they get uploaded to Athento.

To activate this functionality, we should go over to the “Administration” menu and choose the “Administration” sub-menu:

Once we’re there, we go to the "Sources" tab, where we check the box which activates monitoring of folders. 

Currently, the path of the folder to be monitored is defined in the database, in the “athento_properties” table. This has been a new improvement (before, you had to identify the path in  file). Soon, we’ll be able to configure this path from the application’s own interface.

FSM.PathDocuments is the parameter that indicates the path of the folder that Athento will monitor.

Additionally, the AFM receives other configuration parameters related to the times in which the folder is monitored. AFM works with a cron, which is a small program that allows the user to program the work to be done. In other words, we can tell Athento when it should begin to monitor a folder (FSM.Cron.Expression.Start) and when it needs to stop the monitoring (FSM.Cron.Expression.Stop). To program the monitoring of the folder, the parameters that only have a cron expression should then be configured. There’s free software that helps you construct these expressions, as is the case with cronmaker.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

The gaps in Document Management Software (Part 1)

On the 30th of last month, CMS Wire published an interesting article called "A Look Back : A Mobile, Cloudy World for Document Management in 2013", in which they said some things that reveal that, in the Enterprise Content Management industry, something’s not being done right.

1. Stuck in the war against paper

"...[] organizations still appear to be struggling under the weight of paper despite developments in enterprise technologies that should make managing all that information a lot easier.

In fact, the view from December 2013 is much the same as the view was in December 2012..."
In December of 2013, we were still talking about the same topics in the war on paper as we were in December of 2012. There are still many reasons why businesses (even those businesses that rely on ECM software) continue to work with paper:

  • Difficulties when it comes time to work collaboratively on documents.
  • Difficulties when it comes time to know what’s happening with digitally-shared documents (document control with electronic documents).
  • Uploading and downloading files in the traditional way (forms) to document management applications which makes our work go more slowly. 
  • Users still face a lot of problems finding what they’re looking for.
That’s just for the documents which are created digitally. Not that this changes much for those documents whose originals are created with paper.

This concurs with what the AIIM paper "Winning the Paper Wars", mentioned in CMS Wire, says:

"While 74% of survey respondents said that they are responsible for developing paperless strategies, or with building environmentally friendly work places, only 24% were able to say that they had specific strategies in mind." 

Only 24% of businesses that took part in the study have specific strategies to put an end to paper. Could it be that we software manufacturers aren’t making things easier for CIOs so that they can develop specific strategies to fight paper? I can think of several reasons that support that theory:

  • Capture software is totally unconnected to document management software. Even though capture forms an essential and natural part of document management (since it guarantees the intake of documents into the system), the ECM market is inventing applications which only fix the problem of capture, but which don’t make sense by themselves if they’re not integrated with a document management system. And achieving that integration isn’t easy, given the current situation: problems with accounting, the need to conduct development work where plug-and-play integrations don’t exist, etc.
  • Capture and document imaging software which is too costly and out of reach for many companies. 
  • High costs of software connected to this type of project. If this really is being solved with the  capture software offered by SaaS, up until now there hasn’t been a clear cloud-based model in which any business, at any moment, can pay and start to use this software (without getting sales people involved, phone calls, or other complications).
  • Certain government regulations.
  • The lack of management involvement in the war on paper.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Information Workers are Sick of Looking for Documents

Just as we were mentioning to you a couple of months ago, in one of our infographics about  searches in document managers, searching for documents continues to be a worry and a factor contributing to the working inefficiency of information workers.

Today, we’d like to share an infographic from SearchYourCloud which follows the same lines and which brings us interesting data taken from a studio of more than 300 workers in the US and the UK:
  • In their daily work routines, information workers conduct up to eight searches to find the documents they’re looking for.
  • Only one out of five searches gets the right results on the first try. 
  • 57.56% can’t conduct searches from their mobile devices.

One more reason why ECM applications should be smart 

The problem with locating and recovering information has a lot to do with the capacity that ECM and document management applications have to be smart. As they are, these applications offer us a powerful search mechanism: metadata.

However, the reality is that even though these applications offer the possibility to associate metadata with documents, those same metadata, in most cases, have to be filled in manually. As a result, the metadata end up not being completed, and the power that these systems offer ends up being lost. 

One of the solutions to this problem (goes by) the smart capture of data which makes it so that applications, and not people, are the ones that fill in the metadata, which is the case of Athento.

However, there are various smart functionalities that are able to make life easier for information workers when they’re looking for documents. Here, we’ll leave with you some of the functionalities available in Athento’s case:
  • Semantic Auto-tagging: The system extracts key terms from documents (tags) so that when users are moving around documents, they can access those documents which contain those tags. You can see this Athento functionality in this video, which shows Athento integrated with
  • Relations between documents: Automatic relations are built every time that document share the same piece of metadata and the same value. For example, if we upload two documents (a university degree and a national identity number), and the two documents share the “national identity number” metadata whose value matches, the systems will automatically create a relationship between them so that if we access one document, we can get to the other one, too (and vice-versa).
  • Full-text indexing of document content: Here, the OCR functionality plays a fundamental role since it allows the searches to include not just metadata (like the title of the document), but also the content itself.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Press Release: Athento Empowers Users, Customers and Partners with New Community Tools

Athento, the smart document management software, has provided its community of users, developers, clients and partners with a set of tools to interact and share expert technical and business content. 

During 2013, the company has been working to give its clients and its network of partners a series of tools that helps them to solve any doubts they may have about technical issues and usage. This allows the community to stay up to date with the latest news on the product and collaborate on the development of where the product is going. 

Athento has put many tools at the fingertips of the members of the community, such as a series of blog posts with questions that webinar participants have asked and a forum for questions and answers in which Athento’s technical team can work together to solve problems. This forum is known as Athento Answers and, in it, doubts are resolved, as are questions from users of the software. Without a doubt, however, the most important tool that Athento has given users is the Athento Documentation Center, which contains all of the information needed so that any developer can begin working with Athento technologies. This documentation center is also important for those tech partners who want to create software integration with other products, and who want all the necessary information on how to use Athento’s API.

"Resources like the Documentation Center lets users be up to date on new releases of the product and anything new surrounding it."

The feedback received from current clients has been especially positive. “We live in an age in which users don’t want to wait to get answers. They want to get the answers themselves; and our obligation as software manufacturers is to provide the necessary channels so that users can always find solutions,” says José Luis de la Rosa, the company’s CEO.

The tools with which Athento empowers its community are not just online places that developers can depend on to resolve problems. They are also spaces in which users can share best practices for the product’s use and those in which the Athento team pours years of experience in the development of this smart document management and document capture product. “What’s more, resources like the Documentation Center lets users be up to date on new releases of the product and anything new surrounding it,” de la Rosa adds. In fact, this week the company published the release notes for version 2.3.34, which was recently made available, and which features considerable improvements regarding administration and software management. 

About Athento:
Athento Smart Document Management incorporates leading-edge technology such as Machine Learning, Semantics and Image Processing to automate processes related to work on documents. Athento helps businesses automate processes related to the capture, management, storage and delivery of documents. With Athento, a company can get the traditional functionality offered by a document management system, as well as all the functionality of a capture system; and, with modules, also cover needs of delivery, storage and BPM. For businesses, this means a significant reduction of costs and a global document management system that’s robust and integ
rated within their IT systems. Athento is used by business such as the DIA Group and Leroy Merlin.