Making ECM More Efficient – Are All Of Your Bases Covered?

When companies consider Enterprise Content Management (ECM), viewing technology doesn’t immediately jump to mind. They tend to focus on the size of the repository, performance capability, security and ease of installation. And when they do think to evaluate the viewer that comes with the ECM system, if any at all, they tend to accept it for what it is—a traditional viewer without any other capabilities other than to look at a document or image.

However viewers have evolved and now offer many more capabilities that can dramatically impact workflow.   When it comes to processing documents your end users’ ability to view and process content on the front end has a significant impact on whether your company’s ROI is attractive or not.  Many factors on the client side influence workflow efficiency:

  • Running multiple applications impacts system performance –When users need to view or annotate retrieved documents they generally have to open the creator application(s) because the viewer that is provided with the ECM system, if at all, is often limited. Running multiple programs such as Word, Excel, PDF and Microsoft Document Viewer simultaneously can slow down their system significantly.
  • Relying on creator applications hinders company security measures – Opening files in the creator application can bypass document security rules in place within the ECM system thereby also compromising compliance.
  • Downloading entire documents utilizes significant bandwidth – Enterprise Content Management systems don’t always provide the ability to find and extract individual pages for download to the client. Users are often forced to download and page through a lengthy document in order to find specific data or information.  In addition to using significant bandwidth it also leads to greater inefficiency.
  • Limiting document processing capabilities impacts throughput – If the user profile within the ECM system allows the user to have specific workflow rights to the document, often the viewer within the ECM system limits what the user can do.  Therefore the document must be either downloaded or additional applications need to be opened to perform the necessary manipulations including reordering, deleting, copying, or inserting pages.
  • Retrieving legacy documents is often costly –Most viewers embedded in the ECM systems do not provide support for older legacy formats.  To solve this issue many companies opt to perform costly mass conversions to more popular formats such as PDF or TIFF. 
  • Collaborating on documents is usually limited to specific formats – More often than not only specific file formats can be annotated or redacted within the ECM viewer.  The most common format supported for annotation and redaction is PDF.  For other document types, the file must either be converted to something that is supported;  or downloaded, opened in another application, annotated or redacted, then uploaded back into the system. Both options are costly and time consuming.

These are some of the frustrations that can face your end users and slow their workflow. A high quality Universal Viewing Solution™ (UVS) can alleviate these viewing frustrations, accelerate the workflow and add value to an ECM system by providing capabilities that will make life easier for users. 

Here are some advantages to implementing a UVS that you might want to consider: 

  • Eliminates the need to run multiple applications on a client.
  • Integrates with a variety of ECM solutions and file systems to provide a true universal viewing interface for multiple systems. 
  • Offers portability across multiple platforms including Java, .NET, Windows and UNIX.
  • Supports a wide variety of formats thereby mitigating the need for costly and time-consuming batch document conversions.
  • Reduces bandwidth consumption by retrieving only the page(s) requested from large multi-page documents.   This eliminates the need to download entire documents or stream partial documents to the client.
  • Displays thumbnails of pages for the user to quickly and accurately navigate through the document.
  • Provides annotation and redaction capabilities for all formats supported.

Annotation and redaction functionality is becoming more of a consideration during implementation not only because this functionality accelerates workflow but also because it enhances compliance efforts. For example, XML-based annotations such as sticky notes, rubber stamps, and highlighting allow users to insert comments, suggested changes, edits, concerns, and approvals without altering the original document. This enables users to communicate effectively and efficiently while automatically providing an audit trail of the document’s lifecycle. Some universal viewers offer redaction capabilities that protect confidential content from being viewed and searched on when the document is sent to the client; the redactions are burnt in on the server level at view time. Your compliance efforts can also be reinforced by client options that enable your system administrator to establish and manage user permissions for internal and external users.

And depending on the functionality you require and the users you need to support there are several UVS options available.   Today you can implement a new type of viewing solution called a Zero Footprint Viewer which uses no other application but a web browser, offering a less demanding, lighter alternative to installed viewers for accessing documents. This option, in addition to reducing IT support requirements for internal staff,  works particularly well for a remote workforce, because viewing content only requires a standard browser; simply requiring users to have internet connection.  You no longer have to worry about the end users’ computer set up, operating system, or environment. 

For users who need more extensive processing capabilities, like document creation and manipulation, you also have a client/server option. Client-side viewers often offer more powerful processing functions due to the greater capabilities possible in a full-blown client application tightly integrated with a server component.  It is becoming more common for companies to implement a Zero Footprint viewer in conjunction with a Client/Server option to meet the needs of all their users including internal power users, remote staff, and external contractors.    

There is a lot to consider when deciding which viewing solution will be best for your company. Answering some basic questions will give you a starting point for evaluating products:

  • Determine which platform(s) you will be using and any potential additions; Windows (Active X, DLL, or .NET), Java, Unix or Macintosh
  • Determine which document types and formats you will need to support.
  • Determine what you are doing with documents by outlining your document workflow processes.   This will probably differ according to department/divisions.
  • Determine the type of functionality that would most benefit your users
  • Determine who your users are that need to access the system and factor in potential user growth

Once you have the answers to these five basic questions, you can then assess whether the viewing solution in question will provide the features and functionality that your end users need the most. 

There are many options when it comes to selecting a universal viewing solution and it may seem a bit daunting to choose one. But you cannot go wrong by choosing the solution that will make life easier for those who are processing your most important assets day in and day out, your documents.  Cover all your ECM bases – how you view your documents is equally as important as how you store your documents.