When Old Becomes New: Document Management Comes Full Circle
As is common in any industry, ideas that are considered to be old school seem to find their way back around for second or further consideration. Often, great ideas can find themselves limited by the technology of the day and as a result find themselves on the proverbial “back burner,” often never to be seen again. But sometimes, technology and trends change in such a way as to breathe new life into an old idea. Limits that were once there have diminished or disappeared. Such is the case with “Best of Breed” integrations and interoperability.
Document Management and the "Best of Breed"
Back in the early 2000’s, “Best of Breed” was all the rage. Software companies often masked shortcomings or limitations in their systems by partnering (or at least recommending) other products that could help bridge the gap. Although not integrated, the solution usually provided a means for clients to get the data or process completion they needed; even if it meant aggregating a variety of different, disparate processes and their resulting data in such a way as to provide a complete picture of their efficiencies or perhaps lack thereof.
To some degree the concept of “Best of Breed” was conceived because software systems generally didn’t talk to each other, or provide tools to share data or integrate actions between their two systems. In the document management industry, document imaging systems couldn’t communicate with core systems like Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) or ERP systems, like SAP or PeopleSoft, or even mainstream accounting systems, like Great Plains or MAS. Data that could help automate indexing or workflow routing was often housed in proprietary databases making it pragmatically inaccessible. Even if the core system had a database as powerful and, for the time, ubiquitous as Oracle, the technical requirements to work with the data also made it inaccessible.
Additionally, access to the document imaging systems from inside the core software was virtually impossible because the concept of Application Programmer Interfaces (APIs) hadn’t found its way into the “circle of trust” among developers. Sure, every now and then you could create an export file of the data needed, but even that was laborious and often required scrubbing processes that made day to day use less than desirable. From a sales perspective the spin was, “let each system do what it does best,” then use the best, disparate systems you can find and in the end your company will be better off. While this did help sell some systems that in today’s world most businesses would have walked away from, it was a constant battle to sell against the limitations of the times.
Technology Comes Full Circle
Fast forward fifteen or so years, and what was old has now become new! With the advent of more open systems, and published powerful APIs, the opportunity to break the barriers of integration and data access has finally come. Similar to the concept of “Best of Breed,” today’s systems can still do what they each do best, but now they can provide other systems the opportunity to integrate with them because they are no longer limited because of a lack of common ground. The trend (likely permanent) toward providing open published API’s now empowers programmers on either side of the aisle to leverage data, bi-directionally to allow one system to feed another to help it do its job more efficiently and effectively. For example, data from an HRIS system can now be leveraged to validate and index documents in an automated fashion rather than requiring the user to key in the data after having to look it up in the HRIS. Similarly, workflow processes can now look at data that exists in external systems to help make routing decisions without actually having to be stored in the document management system. Finally, users can more easily work in their core systems and when they need to see a file or document to help them do their work, they can simply click a button in the core application and based on the context of the data in the core system, retrieve the necessary documents without ever having to leave their core system.
Bill Prihoda is a Principal at The Priton Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.