XML Annotations – Adding context to content

 Editor’s Note: Last month’s article The New World of XML Documents generated significant interest in how XML will change the landscape of the document imaging industry. Due to the level of interest in the topic, we are presenting an article on another aspect of what XML can do for document imaging processes.

Documents are business assets that have tangible value to a company. They need to be treated carefully and remain intact in order to retain their value. As documents move through workflow processes, they often require modification such as information added or removed. Many companies have made the choice to use annotations to mark-up documents, often through a document viewing application, without touching the original content.

Typically annotation capabilities are added as proprietary formats (only accessible through the viewing application) but some applications are moving towards XML-based annotations. The open standard of XML provides numerous benefits to annotations by making data more accessible, easier to track, and searchable.

For example, some of the common uses for annotations in document viewing applications are:

  • Redaction – Covering areas of a document so they cannot be seen
  • Comments – Additional notes or text that users add to clarify or question the original document
  • Metadata – Information about the document, such as date, file name, user, etc.
  • Notifications – Notifies users in subsequent workflow steps of items that need attention
  • Approvals – Generic or custom stamps that signify status

XML Annotations can perform all these functions and more. One of the most obvious impacts XML has on document annotations is the ability to create audit trails of documents throughout workflows. By capturing user activity, companies create a definitive record for the lifecycle of each document. This record can be important for compliance with government and industry regulations. A deeper level of metadata elements can be dynamically retrieved from XML annotation layers such as:

  • Name of the layer
  • Order of the layer
  • Type of annotation (stamp, redaction, comment)
  • Creation user and date
  • Modified user and date (changes to document or annotation)
  • Deleted user and date (if any)
  • Security/Permission settings
  • Custom tags

In addition to holding all this metadata, XML annotations can be indexed by the text, annotation type, or other metadata elements. This provides users with a fast way to group documents with similar annotations, or create custom annotations for specific indices. For example, a user could search for all documents with acceptance stamps within a certain date range. The ability to search annotations based on text or metadata is independent of the document viewing application. Data mining can also be performed on annotations to understand larger user and customer trends that affect business.

Accessing annotations from outside the viewing application is another significant benefit that XML provides. Annotations, as raw XML files, can be opened with a simple text editor and read. Beyond making annotations easier to read, XML allows them to be used by other programs during other workflow processes. Examples of what can be done programmatically include:

  • Time stamping documents as they are indexed or archived
  • Applying watermarks to documents on-the-fly when they are viewed or printed
  • Marking priority documents as they enter workflow processes

By shifting the focus from document-specific annotations in a proprietary format to XML-based annotation files that can be used inside and out of multiple programs, document imaging systems are expanding their reach in companies.  Imaging applications with XML annotations provide another tool that enables businesses to increase productivity in their document workflow processes.

Annotations in Specific Industries

Annotations are prevalent in many vertical industries like healthcare, financial services, insurance, and government. These industries have developed their own terminology for annotations to convey specific connotations about those industries use annotations. 

For example:

  • Mark-up
  • Overlays
  • Stamps
  • Watermarks

If you are interested in using XML Annotations to improve your workflow productivity, please contact us for an evaluation.