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Flexible Middleware Solutions

10 Nov, 2009 By: Ron DesMarais & Marc Paskett imageSource

Flexible Middleware Solutions

First, let’s review the predominant reasons we have seen companies move from
a hardcopy Document Management System (DMS) to an Electronic Document Management
System (EDMS).

Digital Files:

1. Require less storage space

2. Are retrieved faster

3. Simultaneously shared

4. Last longer; paper can deteriorate

5. Are less likely to be misfiled and lost

6. Are easily recovered due to disaster

7. Are more portable than hardcopy

8. Are more secure and easier to track

There is a ninth reason EDMS’s are becoming popular and that is an
organization’s embrace of a Green Initiative.  Within an organization’s green
strategies, moving to an EDMS can have the most dramatic and visible impact. No
matter what the reason(s) to move to an EDMS may be, they will help an
organization do 1 of 3 things:

1. Produce & do more for the same cost

2. Produce & do the same for less cost

3. Produce & do more for a little more cost

Be it a back file, day-forward, or scan-on-demand conversion from  DMS to
EDMS, the hardcopy will get from a scanner to the EDMS in one of 3 methods:
scanning a file to a network destination and then dragging the file to its final
resting place, using the scan tools that come with a prepackaged EDMS, or by
using middleware and an EDMS.

The first method of getting hardcopy into an EDMS is to scan a file to one
network destination and then drag it to another.  Here, scan-to-email is the
most prolific process we encounter as it is easy to grasp and is one that that
all of our clients are aware of.  However, once we bring to light the 10-13
steps this process involves, the time those steps take to complete, the inherent
misfiling those steps foster, and that there are other methods out there, our
clients are eager to explore the other two. 

The second method of getting hardcopy to an EDMS is using a vertical specific
(VS) EDMS. Here, a scan device can be pointed to a hot folder established by the
VSEDMS. Once the file lands in that hot folder, the VSEDMS comes with the tools
needed to name the file (with industry appropriate tags) and place it correctly
within itself for later retrieval.  VSEDMS’s are good to a point.  They can be
easy to install and fairly intuitive to those within the vertical; however, our
clients do get to a point at which the proprietary nature of these VSEDMS’s can
be limiting.  This lays the foundation for a cardinal sin in business: bending
business processes to meet the limitations of the tools being used and not the
other way around.

Middleware is the third method of moving hardcopy from a scanning device to
the EDMS.  Middleware is third party software that sits between the scanning
device and the EDMS.  It can be customized to mimic and enhance existing
business processes, leverage existing hardware, and via connectors, interface
with any EDMS be it complex or as simple as a Windows folder system.  Further
benefits of middleware are that from the scanning device:

1. Files will go directly to the EDMS

2. Destination folders can be created from the interface; scanned files
placed there

3. Meta data files can be created and stored simultaneously

4. Images can be previewed, rotated, deskewed, and despeckled

5. Files can be encrypted and OCR’ed

6. Blank pages can be dropped out thus saving storage space

7. Search and redact operations can be performed

8. A variety of file types can be chosen  and a specific one made the

By far, the greatest advantage middleware has  to offer is that it can be
used to enforce strict, organization-wide naming & filing conventions.  Lack of
this is the reason many clients have wanted to go to an EDMS. They see digital
as the answer to locating lost files, etc.  It is  not!  Because of this, we
make naming and filing conventions the first topic we cover with a client when
we begin the process of piecing together a middleware/EDMS solution for them. 
From our initial planning meetings, we will come away with either a need to
create a new system or refine & mirror an existing one.  If clients must create
a naming & filing  convention, the first thing we do is ask the client to start
cataloging their visits to the existing DMS (digital or hard copy) and  log 
answers to the following:

1. What caused me to come here?

2. What am I looking for?

3.  How am I going to look up information I need?

By the time we are ready to install a middleware/EDMS solution, the log will be
the backbone for the indexing system we will use.  From creating the initial log
to the finalizing of naming and filing conventions, it is crucial that the
client’s end users are involved throughout.  Seriously, they do the majority of
input and retrieval.  End user involvement has turned us onto hidden processes
whose efficiencies we have incorporated in several middleware/EDMS solutions we
have implemented.  Too, if end users are involved throughout, their buy-in and
use of the new middleware/EMS solution is guaranteed.

However the conventions are arrived at, it is the middleware that enforces it.  
Middleware can act as a gate keeper to and EDMS by providing drop down menus
with select responses users must choose from, by requiring things like dates to
be input in a specific way, etc.  These features have been an excellent cure for
“fat finger” misfiles, staff turnover, etc. Depending on the vendor, middleware
can also guarantee that files input do indeed land in the correct location.  For
instance, suppose a file type needs to get to John Smith’s folder and his unique
identifier is 123456.  A user can type 123456 into a middleware equipped scanner
and hit query.  The middleware will ask the EDMS to confirm that 123456 is John
Smith’s unique identifier and a “yea” or “nay” response is returned.  Once
confirmed,  the  file is loaded into the ADF, named according to convention &
then sent to the correct location. In comparison to VSEDM’s, a middleware/EDMS
solution is more flexible and suitable to businesses that desire customization
beyond the tools a VSEDM may provide. 

Ron DesMarais is an executive accounts manager whose certifications include
CDIA+ for  Quality Business Systems (QBSI), a Xerox Company, while Marc
Paskett’s experience includes MCSE certification for QBSI/Xerox.  Visit
www.qbsi.com for further information.

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