Thursday, February 27, 2014

Press Release: Smart Document Management Software and Alfresco help retailers to automate the tax-free shopping process

Athento has presented a new case study: this time, the subject is the use of Smart Document Management to automate the validation of sales refund checks that have been provided by some retailers.

Many stores, wholesalers and businesses offer foreign citizens a “Tax-Free” shopping service: the option to buy and to be refunded sales taxes such as IVA, VAT, TBW or GST (the different value-added taxes collected by different countries). The method used to refund these taxes to foreign citizens before they return to their countries of origin is the use of checks which can be cashed or processed in airports.

These checks have to be validated before the refund is carried out. Athento can make it possible for those checks to be validated automatically. Once the checks have been processed using document imaging, this validation is carried out using recognition and reading of bar codes or QR codes included in the checks. In addition to validating the tax refund checks, Athento extracts the data contained in the codes and sends this information to other systems.

In the case presented by Athento, once they’re processed, the checks are stored in Alfresco, and the data from the checks are sent to Microsoft Dynamics NAV.

This document validation technique can be applied in many other cases, in which users aim to confirm the veracity of documents and obtain information from them. The advantage of using this mechanism is that it avoids needing manual validation of documents, manual data entry in other business applications; and, additionally (thanks to storage in Alfresco), documents can be kept safely and be accessed 24/7.

According to José Luis de la Rosa, CEO at Athento: “Implementing automatic document validation processes means that clients can reduce the amount of time needed for processes, optimize the resources used with them and, for sure, increase the amount of money they save.”

Bar codes and other codes such as QR codes constitute a simple way that businesses can use in projects for automating processes where documents need to be validated or data need to be extracted. Currently, Athento is able to recognize the majority of standards, including QR codes, Code 39, Code 93, Code 128, EAN 8, EAN 13, UPC_A, UPC_E and PDF417, among others. In addition to extracting metadata by using codes, Athento offers other possibilities like extracting data using textual parameters and zonal OCR.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Extracting metadata from a database in Athento

There are times when you might be interested in connecting to a database in order to obtain data. For example, with clinical documents, Athento could extract the number of a clinical history in the way in which it’s always done (looking in the document content), but obtain more metadata – the patient’s name, date  of birth, gender, date of last consultation, etc. – by using the connection with a database.

Now it’s possible to do these kinds of operations and configure them from the interface. The way in which it has been implemented is:

  • Defining metadata types “ID SQL” and “SQL Field”. 

What Athento basically does is to conduct a consultation with a database starting from a piece of metadata extracted from a document. The metadata extracted from the document corresponds to the primary key (PK) of a table in a database. For example, in the case of the screen grab below, you can see how we’ve defined the “ID SQL”, which is called “SocialSecurity” and which corresponds to Social Security number, which is the PK in the “Employees” table:

 What we’re basically telling Athento is: You’re going to look in the Employees table for the data in which the row corresponds to a determined value of the column called “SocialSecurityNumber”.

If Athento finds the 344-08-7456 Social Security number in a document, it’s going to go to the database, then it will look for the table being used and position the row in which the “SocialSecurityNumber” column contains a value of 344-08-7456.

SQL Field
What Athento does now is bring the values from other cells in the row that it has found using the ID SQL field. Each SQL field is a piece of metadata that we want to bring from the database (such as First Name, Family Name). In other words, if we define an SQL Field by calling it First Name, Athento will bring the name of the employee whose Social Security Number is 344-08-7456.

This new possibility in Athento offers better speed and precision in extracting metadata when you’re counting on the data stored in a database.


Friday, February 21, 2014

What kind of scanner drivers support Athento? [FAQs]

In our previous post, we saw some of the most popular drivers for scanners. This time, we’re going to explain which types of drivers support Athento.

Athento uses the Morena 6 library, which brings a framework which takes care of communication between a device and Java applications. This framework allows the use of an API to achieve that communication. What Morena 6 provides Athento is the capability to work with:

Operating SystemType of Drivers (Specification)

In the future, Morena 6 will also support the following standard interfaces:
•    WIA
•    ISIS Share

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Drivers for Scanners

Today we’re going to talk about drivers for scanners. A driver is a computer program that is in charge of controlling a hardware device. These programs are specific to a specific device, just like an operating system. The objective of drivers is that they can develop applications for users, independent of the hardware device.
Scanners need drivers to function; and for applications such as Athento, which have to communicate with them, these drivers need to be taken into account. Some of the most common drivers include:

The latest version is version 2.0, and offers support for various Unix platforms and various 64-bit platforms. Additionally, TWAIN supports document types like PDF/A, DjVu and JPEG2000. TWAIN is fairly popular because it goes beyond just being a simple driver and is more like a communication protocol (TWAIN uses a driver called Data Source.) TWAIN contains an API that allows developers to construct applications and drivers. It’s also popular among developers because its creators don’t charge for the use of the development API (which is LGPL).
TWAIN will surely continue to dominate the market for drivers for scanners, given that this project is being backed by large businesses like Kofax, Fujitsu, Epson or Hewlett-Packard.
SANE stands for Scanner Access Now Easy. It was originally developed for Linux/Unix operating systems, although its creators say that, in accordance with the standards they have followed for its development, it should work on any operating system. It’s available under a GNU license and is an API that permits the development of drivers according to devices, instead of having to develop a driver for each pair of device and software. SANE has been created to answer one of TWAIN’s weaknesses: TWAIN doesn’t separate the user interface from the device driver. When we have several scanners linked over a SANE network, you can get access through each console.

ISIS stands for Image and Scanner Interface Specification. This specification belongs to EMS, who you’ll already know for its Documentum product. Many production environments that carry out massive document imaging use ISIS drivers. Although EMC talks about ISIS as an open standard for the control of scanners, the use of the framework for the development of drivers and other computer programs implies having to pay costs which allows them to be catalogued as ISIS drivers. Currently, more than 400 models of scanners function with these drivers, although for drivers for household use, ISIS doesn’t tend to be very popular. According to its owners, ISIS supports advanced functionality at the scanner level (in terms of compression, formats, etc.) and has the advantage of offering functions at the module level. 
Isis Drivers

Windows Imaging Architecture o Windows Imaging Acquisition. This is the platform used to develop drivers for scanners that are going to work in Windows environments. Microsoft’s web site contains an excellent definition of the work of drivers and the development platforms used to build them: “The WIA platform allows applications that work with images or graphics to interact with document imaging hardware and to standardize the interaction among different applications and scanners. This permits all these applications to communicate and interact with scanners without software developers or manufacturers of scanners needing to customize the application or the drivers for each combination of software and device.”
WIA allows us to connect devices to machines which run on Windows and which are recognized automatically; that way, we can have several scanners connected to the same computer. In contrast with ISIS, programmers don’t have to pay to say that the drivers that they develop are WIA.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The gaps in document management software (Part 4)

Today, we’re going to finish this series of posts that we’ve been writing about since the start of 2014. Before beginning with the final installment of this series, I’d like to review the previous points:

  1. To date, software is incapable of helping businesses win the war on paper, because it still hasn’t completely provided a real solution to problems such as collaborative work, control over shared documents, difficulties when people need to work quickly on documents, the lack of connectedness between capture software and document management software, etc.
  2. Current document management software is very complex: This has helped the rise of other applications that allow users to work on documents (Dropbox, for example) which are simpler and which provide greater flexibility and speed when it comes time to work on documents. 
  3. Document management software providers push clients to acquire different applications to resolve the problem of managing the entire document life cycle of content: This creates problems of compatibility, integration and, for sure, burdensome licensing costs for clients.

Finally, today, we’re going to look at the topic of code NOT being available.

A member of our sales force once asked a client about the things that he liked the best about Athento. This answer was among the answers that the client gave:
“I really like the fact that it’s not a black box like the majority of document management software.”
With the majority of ECM products, when clients acquire them, what they’re getting is a bunch of binary figures that they can pull out and put into action. Neither the technical staff nor the day-to-day users ever see one single line of code. Users of this software don’t know how it does what it does, and they don’t care, because it’s easy enough. That said, for organizations and businesses, not being able to have the code available creates various problems:

  1. They can’t adapt the application to the particular needs of their company or organization.
  2. When they are able to adapt it, there’s a problem with locking in with the software provider: in other words, they’re chained to it. Any services which might be required for the software can only be provided by the provider, or by an exclusive group of businesses that have been authorized by the provider. 
  3. They have to tackle problems of compatibility, given that software providers who sell proprietary software tend to adapt or create their own standards in order to limit competition and to push clients towards a series of complimentary applications. 
  4. This system, in turn, creates “support dependency”, since only the provider has the know-how and the access to the code to fix problems.
  5. The dependency on support is aggravated by the problems of testing that comes with proprietary code. With applications that have proprietary code, the numbers of testers is always smaller than the number of people who try a software package whose code is available, where mistakes in code can be detected in a much faster way. In a binary product, code inspection does not go beyond what the creators do; when code is available, inspection is a routine. Additionally, bugs can only be found by the provider, which makes the dependency even more redundant. 
  6. Results produced by software can be incorrect or anomalous and, on certain occasions, if you can’t see the code, it’s impossible to know whether the result is incorrect or because, on certain occasions, incorrect results are produced. To give you an example, problems with slowness in searches can happen frequently in ECM systems when a large amount of information is being processed. Without being able to aspect the code and see the processes that the software is carrying out, the consultations that it’s processing, it can be complicated to discover the mistake. 

These are some of the reasons why not having access to an application’s code can be harmful to companies that acquire ECM software. Personally, I think that the worst of all of these reasons is the limitation that businesses have when it comes time to adapt software to their needs, because the reality is that business is its own world; and, for better or for worse, without being able to get at the software that comes by default, it isn’t possible to make it so that it resolves each and every one of the problems that millions of clients all over the world have.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Previewing AutoCAD documents in the document manager

We’ve been working on a function to help one of our clients who works with architectural plans and other documents created in AutoCAD. This function helps users preview files with .dxf or .dwg extensions, WITHOUT NEEDING TO DOWNLOAD THEM FIRST.

If we click on the link that appears next to the word content, it will open Athento CAD Viewer, which allows us to preview the content of the CADfile, as you can see in the screen grab below:

As you’ll be able to appreciate, the previewer is not embedded, which gives us greater usability when users have to pre-visualize the plan.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Presentation: Athento and the phases of Enterprise Content Management

Today, we’d like to share this Athento presentation with you. The presentation describes the phases which make up the Enterprise Content Management Life Cycle, and the problems that businesses face when it comes time to cover them. The presentation also explains the functionality that Athento brings to each phase of the ECM cycle.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

New FAQ section about Athento in the Athento Documentation Center

We’ve been working on answering some of the frequently-asked questions that you’ve asked us regarding the product, and now you’ve got a new section in our Athento Documentation Center to solve any doubts you might have.

The FAQs are divided into two sections: Questions about the Cloud service, and questions about purchasing Athento for the in-house mode (on your own servers).

Some of the interesting questions that we’ve responded to include:
•    What does a subscription include, and how does it work?
•    What’s the process for purchasing Athento?
•    Are there permanent contracts with Athento?
•    What are the differences between the Starter Plans and the Entreprise Plans?

If you’ve got any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask us!


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The gaps in document management software (Part 3)

In this series of posts, we’ve already addressed some problems with current ECMs. The problems we’ve talked about are:
  1. How the fight against paper has come to a standstill
  2. The complexity of available software
This time, we’re going to work with a problem that’s even more serious than the previously-mentioned ones:

3. Businesses have to acquire different applications to solve one single problem.

To explain this problem, I’m going to rely once more on the words of Ken Burns, Analyst Relations Manager at Hyland Software.

“There is also a problem with overkill. All of the suite vendors currently operating in the market produce suites consisting of a collection of technologies, but none of them can solve all business problems. This has led to suite-fatigue, Burns says, which stems from the fact that ECM vendors have been trying to provide too much functionality to users, without looking at what users are actually trying to achieve.”

In addition to Mr. Burns’s words, I’d also like to illustrate this problem using the “ECM Roadmap” diagram, from the AIIM. This image shows all the distinct technologies used to cover the  life cycle of content, from capture right through to preservation. As the image lays out very well, there are a lot of technologies that a company needs to acquire, when, simply, all that businesses want to do is to manage and maintain the information that’s vital for their businesses.

AIIM - ECM Roadmap

We ECM software providers have developed a different software package for each thing that comes up. I can give you a couple of examples:

  • Provider: What content do you want to manage? Client: We’re an audio-visual producer. The information we’re most concerned with managing forms the core of our business – videos and other graphic materials. Provider: Then what you need is digital assets management software. Client: And if we want to manage our invoicing, too? Provider: Then what I’d recommend is document management software.

  • Provider: What is the problem that you want to solve? Client: We have a substantial number of invoices from suppliers whose expenses need to be approved before they can be paid. We’ve got a lot of people taking information from the invoices and putting them into digital format in the application that we use to manage costs. Provider: In that case, I think that what you need is capture software.

  • Provider: What documents does your institution want to manage? Client: We are a government agency. For us, it is fundamental to find a system that covers archived documentation and documentation connected with the cases we carry out for our clients. We must define a life cycle for all this documentation, like a conservation calendar, and that the documentation falls in a classification table. Provider: So…I think that what you need is a record management system.

For a client, various questions might come to mind:

  • Does that mean that my multimedia content isn’t considered enterprise content? 
  • Shouldn’t ECM software also be capable of helping me manage multimedia in the same way that documents require management?
  • By chance, capturing information and documents isn’t an integral part of the life cycle of information? Why do I have to acquire additional software?
  • Why won’t my ECM software allow me to manage my records? (OR:) 
  • Why do I have to buy an additional module? Is it because. somehow, my records aren’t documents?
We providers of ECM have made it it so that we can either answer those questions, or clients, for lack of knowledge, have left those questions out. However, the problems of having to acquire various applications for the management of business digital content do come up, sooner or later: 

  1. The nightmare of licenses, or other costs: Users have to pay more to solve problems that the licenses should have already fixed; and what’s more, they have to battle with complex licensing systems that work “seats-style”, extra support, etc.
  2. Problems of integration and the systems “talking” to one another: If that wasn’t enough, for that information to be managed throughout its life cycle, the connection between systems has to be covered, In 80% of cases, guaranteeing this “ability to talk” means development, development that is subjected to software versions, updates, changes, etc. In this integration process, the non-compatibility of the different tools can become an authentic nightmare for businesses.
With these problems, it’s normal that (to use the term coined by Mr. Burns) “suite fatigue” happens in document management.