Where, Oh Where Is My Report?
Three management disciplines help companies get control of corporatedata
According to one Fortune 500 company thatrecently completed a global implementation of SAP R/3, the most common cry received by itsHelp Desk staff is, "Where is my report?" When users don't receive theinformation they need, they cannot perform their jobs effectively, consequently thebusiness is at risk. Andy Kicklighter
The advent of ERP and other distributed applications has vastly increased the quantityand variety of corporate information that must be distributed and otherwise made availableto end-users. It has also made the task significantly more complex. In the "old"days, IT would dump output from the host computer directly to a high-speed printer, then"burst" the reports and have the mailroom deliver them via"sneaker-net."
Now, output from multiple applications must be delivered to end-users who may belocated anywhere on the network (including mobile), working in a range of operatingenvironments and may require the information in a variety of formats (hard copy, fax,pager, e-mail, Web page, archive directory, etc.). Moreover, end-users frequently requireon-demand access to corporate documents. They may also need the ability to distributetheir own documents and reports across the enterprise.
To meet the challenge, IT managers are turning to management solutions from third-partyvendors. The functionality provided by these solutions typically falls into one or more ofthree distinct but interrelated disciplines:Print Management, Document/Image Management and Output Management. These terms are usedinconsistently (and sometimes incorrectly) by vendors, analysts and end-users alike,resulting in widespread confusion. By understanding the differences, managers can focus onthe solution best suited to their specific requirements.
Print Management. Print Management focuses on the management of individual printingdevices. Functionality may include configuration of the individual print device, basicaccess control and management of the print spool associated with the individual device(the ability to monitor or delete queued print jobs). It may also include viewing andoptimization of documents prior to printing (correcting color, for example) and conversionbetween print formats (i.e., from TIFF to Postscript). Typically, the manufacturer of theprinting hardware provides these utilities. Print Management functionality can also befound in some enterprise systems management (ESM) products, which collect information onprint devices from the operating system and via SNMP.
Document/Image Management. Document/Image Management focuses on online organization andmanagement of, and access to, corporate information stored as "images" (i.e. anelectronic picture of a source document, rather than merely the data it contains). Itapplies the "pull" model of information distribution, wherein the information isstored online in a repository and users access the documents they need. Functionality mayinclude:
Capture: Documents stored as images in the repository must first be"captured," either by scanning (in the case of paper documents) or directcapture of the output.
Indexing: A variety of methods may be employed for categorizing and organizing storeddocuments.
Storage: Storage must be managed for maximum efficiency of retrieval andcost-efficiency; unwanted documents must be purged according to rules and data must bebacked up.
Retrieval: Advanced query and retrieval engines enable users to quickly access storeddocuments. "Publish-and-Subscribe" enables users to automatically receivedocuments of interest when they are posted to the repository.
Access Control: Ensures that users gain access to only the information for which theyare authorized.
Display/Print: Provides end-user facilities for viewing data on their screens, orsending documents to local or remote printers. May also include functionality forconverting documents to appropriate print formats.
Output Management. Output Management focuses on information distribution andformatting, centralized distribution management, centralized device control and managementacross the enterprise. It employs the "push" method of document distribution,delivering output from an application to a pre-established list of recipients according torules defined by the user or administrator.
Features of an output manager may include:
Tracking/Notification: Provides IT managers (or authorized users) the ability to trackan output job from the time it is generated by an application or end-user until its finaldelivery. Administrators can monitor the status of spooled print/output jobs and receivenotification of changes in device status, errors, or completion of the output job.
Fault-Tolerance: Enables automated recovery from output job failures -- for example,re-routing a print job to a secondary printer and notifying the end-user of its location.
Security: Enforces corporate security policy, such as authorization of users to dataand to output devices and encryption of data prior to transmission via the Web.
Rules-Based Routing: Enables routing of output to multiple users across an enterpriseaccording to rules defined by the administrator. Output recipients may also provide rulesfor delivery -- for example, to a home office on weekends and a local printer during theweek.
Prioritization: Enables IT to assign priorities to output jobs, or set rules fordirecting output to print devices based on size of job, criticality, or available printresources. May also enable administrators to reconfigure jobs within a queue.
Collection of Metrics: Enables IT to track resource usage for accounting and toidentify patterns, target trouble areas and plan for future needs.
Output Resource Availability: Enables end-users to send output to any output devices onthe network (printers, fax machines, pagers, Web pages, etc.) for which they haveauthorization.
IDENTIFYING THE BEST SOLUTION
Document/Image management systems are most appropriate where users require on-demandaccess to large amounts of corporate data, especially historical data. For example, clerksat an insurance company may need to pull up claims forms and other documentation. Customerservice organizations use document management to establish an indexed, searchable"knowledge base" of past problems and solutions. Document/Image management mayalso be appropriate for organizations that must deliver graphical or customized textdocuments such as product marketing materials, spec sheets, diagrams, or owners manualsacross the network to end-users.
Output Management solutions, on the other hand, are appropriate whenever IT must ensuresecure, reliable delivery of business-critical information across the network. In ERPenvironments supporting Just-In-Time manufacturing, the delivery of invoices must occur ina timely fashion. IT requires notification of the status of output jobs, printers andother output devices and even recipients (are they on the road or in the office?).
Output management is also appropriate for organizations that wish to gain centralcontrol of print resources for access control and ease of administration. For example, inorder to enforce corporate policy, IT may wish to allow Finance output to go only toFinance department personnel.
Currently, a wide range of solutions address the print/document/output managementspace. Many of them offer subsets of functionality from the different managementcategories (and certain vendors claim to offer all of it). Output management solutions,for example, frequently include print management functionality such as the ability toremotely configure print devices. And a group of tools called "Report Managers"provide a narrow subset of output and document management functionality, storing reports(as data files, not document images) generated online by ERP apps and enabling users toaccess the reports or to request sub-sets of the report, either for viewing online oroutput to a printer.
Managers should perform a thorough evaluation of output workflow in theirorganizations, in order to determine how employees currently access, use and distributedocuments to do their jobs. By understanding how data flows through the organization, ITmanagers can get beyond the bells and whistles and focus on the nuts and bolts.
Andy Kicklighter is Product Manager, Output Management Solutions forTivoli Systems, Inc. (Austin, Texas).