Monday, June 12, 2006

Imaging the theme of 2006?

I still can't really get over how many imaging projects we are getting involved in and hearing about, and how this one area of ECM is currently so dominant. Analysts long predicted the decline of imaging, yet it remains the bedrock of ECM, and the bread and butter of so many vendors. And certainly from my perspective at least appears to be growing.

One observation though is that people are maybe spending too much money, or more accurately getting too much functionality to undertake Imaging projects. Commonly the focus from the client perspective is on the ECM repository, with scant regard sometimes being given for the capture and ingestion phase of the process. (This also reflects analyst coverage from the likes of Gartner & Forrester).

In honesty, I think most imaging systems are pretty basic in terms of functionality, but pretty complex in terms of ability to manage the scan and read and workflow needs. To put it another way, I don't think ECM tools are needed in most cases - better are transactional solutions either from imaging specialists such as FileNet or Hyland, or Database backend solutions from IBM or Oracle (IBM also is an imaging specialist). Full ECM solutions can be overkill, and are sold on the promise of a unified approach to managing all forms of content across the enterprise - a worthy goal but one that is seldom realized.

Its a shame that the brilliance of capture software vendors Kofax and Captiva (now EMC owned) is so often ignored in the general industry press, who are currently enamoured with ECM 'platform' vendors. Images are pieces of fixed content, not collaborative documents, and generally need to managed as large data files, they need to viewed and routed. So the imaging transportation and storage systems used, need to be optimized for this purpose, not for collaborative ECM. Likewise to ensure that the image is properly managed and routed, as much information as possible should be captured at the scan stage via OCR & ICR (much better these days than many seem to realize) and used to provide an intelligence data layer for the images.

With all the progress at the capture end, in many if not most cases you can capture everything in colour, in ocr(able) formats, and not overload a workflow or storage mechanism. You can also do an amazing amount of intelligent and automated indexing and reading of the copy before ingestion.

Comes back to that dillema I still have, is ECM a reality or a myth? Fact of the matter is that best of breed still makes sense in most cases, and platforms can be more of a burden than an effort saver. Ironically platforms can also end up costing considerably more than a BOB option, and with open standards and web services becoming ever more common, there is often little to be gained now from going this route. So for me at present, if you want to do Imaging look for an Imaging dedicated vendor.

All that said, I do feel guilt for my years as an industry analyst pushing and cajoling vendors to go the ECM way - I confess I do now think that doing one or two things really well is much better than doing 10 things averagely.

Offshoring ECM - I had meant to mention this previously but forgot. Apoorv my colleague has published a brilliant and thorough piece on how to consider and go about offshoring ECM services. Link to the article here. I really do think this is a long overdue topic for discussion and Apoorv is a real expert in this area. My hope is that he and his team will be publishing far more in the coming year and sharing with the ECM community some of the great lessons they have learned. Also worth noting the funky and intersting illustration that accompanies the piece.


George Parapadakis said...

Hi Alan,
I don't often get an opportunity to disagree with you so I'm going to relish this one (it gets boring otherwise...) ;-)

I see no shame in promoting the ECM mantra AND supporting the fine art of imaging. The two are by no means mutually exclusive, more apples and pears.

I don't know if this is a key difference between US and Europe. I’m looking at this as a consumer not a vendor, so my first question would be: "What paper???"

I can count on one finger the times that I have communicated with a service provider by physical paper, in the last 5 years: I do all my banking on-line. I buy things on-line. My utility bills are delivered by email and paid automatically by direct-debit. I communicate with my insurance by phone and with my children’s school by email. I apply for my insurance on a website. I fill and submit my tax return electronically and claim my tax refund on-line. The only time I had to send a letter to an business or government agency, was when I moved house and I had to send in a change of address letter (for security reasons).

So where does imaging come into my (the average consumer) life?

When I call British Gas (which unfortunately is more often than I care to) or the telephone company, I expect the person at the end of a phone to be aware of my account details and my previous communications: Phonecalls, emails, engineer visit details, bills, letters that they sent me, etc. All of this content available on the call.

Where should all that information be stored, that it can be available in context? ECM!

Ok, I’m labouring the point… I know that there are invoices and delivery slips and cheques and application forms, etc to be scanned. But my point is that the average person’s dependency on paper is in decline. More importantly, any invoice that you scan in was an electronic document just hours ago. Every typed letter you receive or contract that you sign, started life as an electronic document.

We need to encourage people to make better use of resources. We’ll never get to the point of full electronic communication between businesses, but ECM does a lot for integrating multiple communication channels, including paper, into a single context that can be related with the relevant business processes.

Imaging just handles one of the multitude of communication channels we use today.

Don’t get me wrong – There is a great case to be made for intelligent and efficient scanning of paper. I happen to work for a vendor that thrives in both technologies. But Imaging does not come at the expense of ECM. The two have very complementary roles (and capabilities) and the sooner people start using them for what they are best at, the sooner we will stop seeing bad implementations of both…


alan pelz-sharpe said...

Great feedback George! Actually not sure we are as far away from each other as you think.

Quick thoughts:- are you/I, or do you/I tend to confuse ECM with 'repository'? The repository can be fed by a wide range of applications and ingestion points that have little to do with an ECM suite.

Even if 80% of your business is now done electronically, if you take away peoples paper they often revolt.In industries with low margins, that 20% needs to be kept at all costs.

As electronic data is growing, the assumption is that paper is falling in parallel. Just as the Labour Party in England is falling in popularity (see also Republicans and Democrats here in the US) is the opposition growing in direct proportion in popularity? No. And though electronic data is growing, ironically so is paper...don't ask me why cos I don't know.

The post is prompted not because I have any answers but because I don't think what we are observing at Wipro is different to the rest of the market. Imaging is back with a vengence :-)

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George Parapadakis said...

Hi Alan,

Maybe we are in violent agreement :-)

I use "ECM" in its full definition, not just to refer to the repository.

I take ECM to be "the collection of tools and processes to manage electronic content from creation, through search, retrieval, usage and lifecycle management, to archiving and destruction".

I am not disputing that Imaging may be growing as a business requirement. That does not necessarily mean that the usage of paper is growing, just that more people are finally accepting (it only took us about 20 years...) that it makes sense to convert more paper to electronic!

I guess my main objection was on the "either - or" distinction between Imaging and ECM. I believe that the two should be seen as complementary. Imaging happens to be one of the mechanisms for feeding content into the ECM processes. It's the ECM's responsibility to keep relevant content together catalogued and available, based on its business function not based on its originating format of medium!

As a consumer, I would like to know that my emails, letters (incoming and outgoing) and the pictures of my dented car wing, all end up together on the assessors screen when he's looking at my claim.

Long may both Imaging and ECM live and prosper :-)

And I'll echo the comment above: This blog is great!


alan pelz-sharpe said...

Thanks George - always remember, I will say things just to provoke a discussion/arguement :-)