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.

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