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.