Document management – Beating the paperchase

Document management - Beating the paperchase

The stage is set for an explosion in interest in document management,says Douglas Hayward, as organisations realise that, in order to survive,they must turn paper records into exploitable, digital information.

Document management may sound like a crushingly boring option on a librarians’ degree course. But don’t be fooled; it is actually about creating competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded market, through the control and use of information.

However, a recently-released pan-European report by the Paris-based business school, Essec, shows that there is a massive hole in the information strategies of most large European corporations. The report, commissioned by Unisys, was based on interviews with 160 senior financial, general and IT managers in large corporations in Europe, including NatWest, Amex, Cornhill, and London Underground.

According to the report: “Some 55 per cent of those interviewed said computerised systems were the most practical method of information collection and storage. However, customer information is collected and stored in non-computerised formats such as paper, telephone, and fax in 71 per cent of cases.”

This is where document management comes in. This is essentially the management of documents in digital form throughout their entire life cycle, from creation to archiving. It brings together many technologies to form the basis of reengineered business processes which increase productivity, improve customer service, reduce office space, and save money.

Major markets include the financial services industry, the legal profession, government departments and utilities, retail chains and manufacturing firms.

The size of the potential market is shown by the fact that only a miserable 10 per cent of UK companies are currently using document management systems, according to a survey published this January by the Document Management Suppliers Group. Industry estimates produced for the Document 96 conference and exhibition in Birmingham in September put the market penetration of document management technology as low as 5 per cent. According to these estimates, end-user expenditure on document management rose from #200m in 1994 to a projected #400m this year.

The problem of the relatively low penetration is partly that document management is confused with its constituent parts-workflow, text retrieval and so on – and is seen as suitable for routine, low-valued added tasks performed by junior staff. This can make it hard to justify investment.

Some 40 per cent of the DMSG’s interviewees said they had to justify document management projects as part of larger, business reengineering exercises.

Nevertheless, the stage is set for an explosion of interest among major organisations in document management. Organisations increasingly realise that they have to turn the mass of paper and fax records that is engulfing them into exploitable, digital information if they are going to survive.

Andrew Frost, an analyst with research firm The Butler Group, says: “Companies will become more interested in document management systems as they become aware of the potential uses for the meta-data which is being generated by document management technology. People need to know what information is being produced in their organisation, by whom, where the information is going, and who is seeing it and altering it. It is also going to be important for companies that want to introduce quality systems, in particular ISO 9001 certification.”

Arguably the best place to check out suppliers’ claims – and to hear users’ views – is the Document 96 exhibition and the Workflow and Information Management Conference. The exhibition includes a free advice centre and free seminars and a hands-on demonstration area. Last year’s exhibition attracted 3,768 visitors, of whom more than two-thirds were non-IT staff. The conference was used by the likes of Bull and Microsoft to explain major new products and services.

It will feature case studies and papers presented by leading consultants, users and technical experts. Last year it attracted more than 200 senior managers with responsibility for corporate IT strategy.

For details on the Document 96 exhibition, which takes place at the NEC in Birmingham on 25-26 September, contact Kristina Fitzsimmons at Blenheim Exhibitions & Conferences on (0181) 742 282.

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