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Legacy Documents – Keep ‘Em or Burn ‘Em?

by | Sep 30, 2009

In the high tech world, most of us like to look forward. It’s usually about the latest technology and the latest gimmicks and the latest buzzwords. And I love that stuff.
But lately, legacy documents have been on my mind. With XML interest, a lot of old word processing and other types of document formats are being replaced with XML versions. The fear and likelihood is that support for some of the oldest document formats will be dropped.

Most people out there presume it will be taken care of by your friendly software application vendor. That’s not unreasonable but it’s not a safe assumption. Having been in the industry for quite a while, and having a certain level of expertise, it behooves me to watch out for my customers. We all work in niches and you end up realizing that no one can be an expert in every field. So if your expertise can help someone or at least guide them so they don’t make a major mistake, I think that’s the responsibility of being part of the community.

So why does the past matter? Well, you’ve all heard (paraphrased) “those who ignore history are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past”. And since I’m in the document imaging business, I feel obligated to educate my fellow man about why the past needs tending – at least with regards to document storage.

Most of us can remember when there were a lot of players in the game of electronic document storage – e.g. word processing, spreadsheets, graphics, photos and scanned documents. We all know that many of those players are either gone or absorbed by other companies. The originators of TIFF, for example, were absorbed by Adobe. Is there anyone at Adobe who cares about TIFF any longer? There were so many word processing vendors and now we have so few. The old formats may be supported by the likes of Microsoft but their desire to pay attention to that declines year by year. Many document management companies 10-20 years ago wanted to own their customers and so they created proprietary imaging formats loosely or closely based on TIFF. But if the company is defunct, where are the specs on how to decipher that document?

One of the most ubiquitous document formats – AFP (MO:DCA) – was created by IBM. It is still used today but because it was proprietary to IBM, most products can’t support it.. Because it has aged, even IBM has limited resources to work with the old versions of this format. However because of the size of IBM’s market, there are billions of such documents out there.

We are experts in both current and legacy document formats. Based on our experience, it is important for you to do some research before you migrate to a new ECM system or augment your current ECM system.

We have a basic list of questions I thought I’d share. We use these with our customers to help them identify their pain points and narrow down the viewing solution that would best meet their needs.

  • Understand which document types (and file formats) you need to support
  • Determine the functionality required by in-house and external business units – input, viewing, review, conversion, enhancement, security, and/or storage
  • Talk with your enterprise IT department to determine installation requirements and potential issues (i.e., how many users must be updated, are new software licenses and training required).
  • Do you need a scalable system – determine how many users will need viewing capabilities now and how that user base may grow in the future.
  • Will various departments/divisions have different requirements, and will you be including outside stakeholders such as agents, brokers, partners or end customers

There are a lot of providers out in the market that offer different solutions for different needs. It is critical that you understand your particular requirements before investing to ensure that the solution you pick will meet your needs now and in the future.

Below are a few vendors in the ECM and Viewing space that you may want to consider when doing your research:

ECM Vendors and Conversion Technology Vendors:
Oracle/Stellent –
OpenText –
Alfresco Open Source ECM –
Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007 – MOSS
HP Trim (formerly Tower) –

Document Viewer Vendors
Snowbound Software (VirtualViewer)–
Daeja (ViewOne)
Informative Graphics (Brava)
Atalasoft (ViewOne)

Good luck with your research. If you have any questions, we’d be happy to talk to you and help you navigate the processes of selecting a viewing vendor.