It has been said that we live in the information age but, unless the have it electronically stored. Eric Doyle looks at how this situation needs to change. data underpinning this information is unlocked and accessed, we are only living in the information storage age.
During the course of a day, a substantial amount of the useful information that flows through any company is lost. Notes and minutes of meetings may be taken, documents generated and received, and sketches and diagrams drawn up. However, these are then locked away in filing systems, both physical and electronic, never to see the light of day again.
Information that does survive tends to do so because of back references in future documentation, so it follows that nearly all information eventually dies away as attention moves on to new projects and ideas. Document management is a way of ensuring that potential business critical intelligence is not lost within the system.
Document management systems had a reputation for demanding a high overhead in terms of storage requirements and processing power. Tony Heywood, Open Text's executive vice president for Europe, explained: "If you look at the document management market over the 10 years prior to January 97, the benefits of document management were never really in question but the problem was that for many users - the casual knowledge worker - the cost of implementing a document management system was prohibitively high.
You had to have some sort of IT infrastructure to support it and you had to have the software, which meant going client/server. What you ended up with was an equation that dictated that, if you had an intensive requirement for a relatively few number of people in a relatively well-defined area, you could justify spending the high amount of money that implementing a document management system required.
"Changes in the cost, nature and power of the underlying technologies that form a company's IT infrastructure have been a major driving force in the development of document management systems from the earlier, less ambitious text retrieval systems. One particular development has been in the use of Web technologies."
The growth of the intranet has boosted interest in information access and, because Web servers are basically collections of documents, the need to manage this information is becoming more critical. In a sense, this is object management because a Web document can be video, audio or even a virtual reality environment as well as text or graphics. So, to avoid a narrow interpretation, some vendors prefer to refer to document management as information management.
Mark Medley, director for process industry development at Documentum, said: "The supporting technology has not only become affordable but, over the past few years, it's become relatively realistic to implement full document management systems - but documents can be anything from Word to full multimedia. We've got a Web front end for our product and this makes it easier to deploy document management on a global basis. It also means that the training requirements go down quite dramatically because of the significant number of people who know how to use Web technology.
When you apply this to document management you get into the re-use of the information so you can store things like standard operating procedures and a variety of other documents and make those generally available to all the users so they can start sharing documents."
In such an environment it is impossible to search for multimedia objects in their raw form, so the use of metadata tags is becoming more widespread.
Information management companies have been using metadata with standard text documents to allow a simpler and faster search method as an alternative to the slower, but more thorough, free text searches. Metadata for a text document, or the textual content of a diagram or graph, is just a precis of what the document contains and usually takes the form of keywords contained within the document and other information, such as the author.
In a multimedia context, metadata becomes a keyword description of the contents of the audio or video clip. An advantage of the intranet environment is the use of URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) to describe the location of a document. This enables the manager to store each document only once.
In turn this simplifies the locking of documents to be read only when a copy has been checked out for updating or annotation. This is important in an environment where the move is towards mobilising the workforce and work on the documents may take place away when the user's notebook PC is disconnected from the corporate network.
The effectiveness of information management systems and the growing synergy with Web technologies means they can step up from their traditional role into the realms of Web server content management. This stirring of the waters has muddied the pool and is already obscuring the dividing line between traditional document management companies and Web server providers.
Add to this the interest shown by database vendors and it is easy to see that the market is fragmented and prime territory for predatory take-overs.
If evidence was needed to support the notion that the market is covering more bases and encompassing more industry sectors than before, a quick look at the development of Lotus Notes from a basic messaging environment to its present span across messaging, document management and workflow should convince any sceptics. Documentum is also changing, according to Medley: "Obviously we're continuing to develop our core product and improve it because it's the foundation for everything that we do. Within that, the Web technology is maturing. Not only can we manage the documents that are associated with the Web, but we can manage the Web sites in their own right because we can manage the links between various documents - linking from one Web page to another is what a Web site's all about. Not only can we maintain the integrity of these links but we can also allow multiple people to work on a Web site at the same time.
"At the moment if someone wants to put out a press release, the release would be passed to the Webmaster who would then publish on the Web site at the appropriate time. If the Web site is within the document management system, somebody can either check out an existing document or put in a new one and the Web site can dynamically build without the need for additional controls. Obviously, we've got the necessary security in there to ensure that only certain people are allowed to do this so we can maintain the integrity of the information."
Alongside the Internet/intranet explosion, there has been tremendous growth in the use of Email to the point that it will probably be the main method of communication within a company and between business partners. To remain effective, any information management system will have to be able to deal with the various types of Email system and be able to make sense of embedded URLs and attachments.
At the moment there is a gap in the market for evaluating Email. Some messages are business critical, others are transient and unimportant - and others involve matter of a personal nature which is of no interest to the running of the company business. At the moment the best that can be achieved here is the manual weeding out of the useful from the mundane by the users themselves. This is leaving a lot to chance but within the structure of the information management there is the possibility to derive a system that will parse incoming Emails for specific keywords and determine their potential usefulness.
As yet there have been no announcements of such a product but, if the pundits are to be believed, the booming growth of information management systems will soon spur some enterprising company into investigating the development possibilities.
The growth in the numbers of players in the market is also being reflected in the interest shown. According to market analysts at IDC, in a report published in January 1997, the market which had grown up over the preceding 10 years was only an estimated 1.1 million seats. Heywood believes that from the date of the report to January 1998, Open Text had shipped 0.5 million seats. It follows that, given that Open Text is not the biggest of the vast number of vendors in this field, the number of seats sold in that one year probably exceeds greatly the total for the preceding decade.
The move to the intranet infrastructure has opened up new possibilities for product development and the current in-technology is knowledge management.
At the recent IMC 98 (Information Management Congress) show in London, there was a lot of talk about knowledge management but there was very little in terms of product, according to consultant Carina Birt of the Sarum Consultancy, a UK company that specialises in document management issues.
"The marketing arms of people like FileNet, Eastman Software, Kodak, and all of the big guys all believe they should be talking knowledge management and the systems are trying to catch up - but nobody has clearly defined what knowledge management is," she commented.
Birt feels that a definition is evolving as developers, such as Coopers & Lybrand Kinesis, produce systems for their customers. "At IMC 98 there was a system built for Ove Arup and Partners, the engineering consultancy, using Oracle's WebServer and a host of other technologies," she explained.
"It uses information management in the respect of text management and it uses knowledge in the respect of the knowledge people have internally within Ove Arup - what we would have called a skills register some years ago.
"What this delivers is a system where I can find out the core information that keeps the company running - not the data we used to concern ourselves with. This is the underlying information about the company, its assets and its people. I think the way that knowledge management is going is in drawing on the knowledge retained within these people and the investment we make in them. It's the management and delivery of that information that should underpin knowledge management."
Lin Knapp, chief knowledge officer for Coopers & Lybrand, defines knowledge management as being "the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organisation's customers and people".
This is causing companies to look at new ways of capturing all of the currently elusive "transient" information that comes from meetings and seminars.
Andy Mulholland, technology markets director at Cap Gemini, has the job of evaluating new technologies and seeing how they fit into business frameworks.
He said: "One of the topics we're discussing is how we use data and information wisely and in a process. But what we're saying is that there is now the possibility that some of the information is on paper, some of it is electronic, some of it may even be sound recorded digitally. We need to put all of these forms together to make the process."
He explained that Cap Gemini has an initiative, called FutureWorks, which shows people how to use technology in terms of what it can do for them.
"One of the things we concentrate on there is the meeting - the last major bastion of paper," he said. "Most people work electronically at their desktop until they go to have a meeting. In preparation for the meeting, they print out copies of the relevant information. At the meeting things are discussed, written on whiteboards, notes and minutes are taken - all of which has to be captured again electronically.
"There is a dislocation in the process. What the FutureWorks meeting room shows you is a whiteboard which is in fact a touch screen. You can draw on it but you can also pull up a document, all electronically.
A folder can be created for the meeting and all of the drawings, sketches, diagrams and electronic documents used can be stored here as a reference point for everyone involved. This is one of the ways in which the old definition of document management is being given a vibrant redefinition."
The result of the information age will be a corresponding boom in storage technologies. With more and more data being captured and stored, there will be increasing interest in incorporating hierarchical storage management systems alongside or within the document management aspect of the knowledge management system.
Current and often used documents will need to remain online for ready access but some documents will be moved out to near line and offline storage such as CD-ROM or tape.
If we are to progress from information storage to information usage, there are still a few hurdles to cross. The usefulness of information management systems is not in doubt but there is still some way to go before true knowledge management systems will come to market.
Whether this will result in the much vaunted paperless office is doubtful but it could happen. Mulholland said: "As soon as you start hot desking you realise that you can't carry a lot of paper around - it forces you to work electronically." He claims that most of his work is now done without recourse to paper printouts so we may be on the verge of the paper-economical office.
CASE STUDY: KVAERNER PROCESS
As a company involved in technology-based design engineering construction and project management services, Kvaerner Process relies on documents as a principal focus for its business. While the company's databases play a large role in efficient project execution, they only contain a fraction of the total information used through the life-cycle of a project. The main currency for the company is unstructured documents such as contracts, 2D drawings, correspondence, specifications, manuals, and so on. Prior to the company's decision to adopt Documentum's Enterprise Document Management System (EDMS), Kvaerner's employees had to key in information for each project and there was no structured way in which the reader of a document could be sure whether this was the latest draft. Following the introduction of EDMS in 1994, the number of licences for the system had grown to 600 by 1997. In February 1998 the company announced that it was going to increase its investment by adding a further 7,000 seats, claiming that this would deliver savings of #7 million each year and the outlay for the system would be recouped within 1.36 years.
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