The Paper Chase: Deploying Enterprise Information Management in Today's Print-Oriented World
- By Terence Mullin
Industry experts predict that digitally printed information will continue to grow 10 percent, annually, through 2004. This, however, does not alleviate print management issues, including the costs and waste associated with printing, the timeliness and security of paper-based information and the retention of paper-based information. As a result, enterprisewide printing has become a major concern for global IT departments.
To avoid the high cost and waste associated with traditional enterprisewide printing techniques, a new Enterprise Information Management (EIM) infrastructure should be deployed to increase information availability without the necessity of constantly printing documents and reports. This new way of providing knowledge workers with timely information to conduct their business utilizes a unique combination of technologies and processes that include Distributed Output Management (DOM) and Integrated Document Archival and Retrieval System (IDARS). This architecture provides the core functionality and flexibility to meet ever-changing information management needs of an enterprise of any size, which is the basis for this article.
The Global Printing Environment
With globalization, the advent of the Internet and changing business models that emphasize and redefine business relationships, corporations are constantly striving to manage the costs associated with printing and distributing information throughout the value chain. Many are looking for an effective information and output management strategy to help reduce costs, efficiently distribute information and centrally manage physical output devices.
Executives are realizing that the gains of implementing ERP, CRM and workflow solutions may not amount to much if users cannot get quick access to the information they need to do their jobs. An effective information and output management solution with routing, assured delivery and broad information availability is a key component for these systems. The increased volumes and business-critical nature of output generated by these applications requires organizations to consider what solutions need to be put in place to ensure the timely delivery and availability of business documents and reports. This often forgotten component can become the weak link in the supply chain. As more and more of the workforce become "knowledge workers," empowered to perform tasks that materially affect the business on a daily basis, the issue of timeliness of information delivery becomes more and more crucial.
Additionally, with the trend toward open systems, businesses have discovered that client/server implementations and their associated applications have limited output and print management capabilities. Finding a solution that can manage the physical and electronic distribution, storage, archival and retrieval of report and electronic document information is a key ingredient for a successful Enterprise Information Management infrastructure.
Many enterprises have discovered that the capability of their ERP systems to create and manage output effectively is often limited and will not meet the needs of the organization. In a study entitled, "ERP's Dirty Little Secret," published by SAP's R/3 Simplification Group, output management (the generation of reports and printouts) is the number one resource hog, accounting for most (22 percent) of the resource utilization in ERP systems. What makes this percentage even worse is that many ERP systems do not provide thorough output management and report distribution for the business documents and reports they generate, making it very common for print jobs to go into an abyss, with no further level of command or control available.
The traditional ERP distribution method of "print and forget" can be dangerous because it assumes that the delivery of output successfully reaches its intended locations and devices. With business documents, such as pick lists, bills of materials, invoices, etc., essential to the business flow, the successful delivery of these documents at each stage of the supply chain is absolutely critical. When the centralized control or view of available devices, its tracking and the notification of jobs are absent, there could be an adverse effect on the business as a whole. What if you're invoicing customers for products that weren't shipped, for example?
In conjunction with managing successful delivery of information and controlling the rising costs associated with print management, information distribution is another significant concern. Controlling these costs will have a positive effect on a company's bottom line, and will provide a way to increase the competitive edge with easy and secure access to information.
EIM's Printing Component
Information is the lifeblood of today's dynamic business and makes up a significant portion of an organization's intellectual property. Unfortunately, much of this information is kept in scattered locations, from employees' PCs to network file servers and databases. The ability to provide a single view of information at any time, from anywhere, out of a centralized repository increases efficiency and results in a true competitive advantage. However, more and more organizations are utilizing multiple ERP systems in concert, rather than as single, enterprisewide solutions, resulting in a situation where mission-critical information is generated and stored in multiple locations. Businesses need a way to distribute information in a timely manner to users regardless of physical location, while simultaneously reducing the costs typically associated with distribution. Hence, the need for Enterprise Information Management.
There are two basic types of data: structured and unstructured. Structured data is stored in databases as rows and columns. It will typically be extracted or "utilized" with a third-party tool, such as a report writer or packaged application, which will then generate output as unstructured, but more meaningful, information. In addition to reports, an unbelievable number of electronic files are created and managed throughout the enterprise in support of this information, in the form of spreadsheets, graphics, word processor files, etc. These two components, report output and electronic files of all kinds, constitute what "information" is to an EIM solution. The unstructured information is managed by an EIM solution in two forms:
1) Print output (typically in the form of a printer datastream, such as PCL, PostScript, etc.)
2) Electronic files and documents (e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.)
Printer datastreams are the communications protocol for information distribution and consumption by today's printing devices. Legacy print protocols include IBM's Advanced Function Presentation (AFP) and Xerox's Dynamic Job Descriptor Entry (DJDE). The newer open network printer datastreams include Adobe's PostScript and HP's Printer Control Language (PCL). These are the "languages" of communication between the application that generates the output and the physical printing device.
An EIM solution's core competency needs to be focused on providing a complete information infrastructure to manage all these types of datastream output and electronic files, which typically reside within a centralized repository. As part of its functionality, EIM solutions ingest, parse, interrogate, capture and distribute printer datastreams and electronic files to the intended destination devices and users in the proper format to either be printed or viewed. This reduces the costs typically associated with printing entire reports and distributing them manually. Users can access the information online and print just the pages they need.
It is important that the EIM solution does not bind itself to a single report writing tool or package application, but rather allows customers to select and use their products of choice to generate information. Since these EIM products work with the printer datastreams, they are independent of the system or application that generated the output. This allows EIM solutions to offer consistent and centralized management capabilities to control the output generated from anywhere within the enterprise, regardless of the application that generated the output.
The EIM Solution
To initiate a successful EIM solution requires the integration of enterprise output management with electronic management and delivery of output and electronic documents. The GartnerGroup has termed these integral components as Distributed Output Management (DOM) and Integrated Document Archiving and Retrieval Systems (IDARS).
Distributed Output Management solutions focus on the physical print management and distribution of output. Integrated Document Archiving and Retrieval Systems focus on the longer-term storage, retrieval and online viewing of output. IDARS systems are secure electronic repositories for capturing print datastreams and electronic documents, while DOM systems are responsible for the management of printers and the physical delivery of job output to those devices. DOM features and capabilities ensure delivery of output to its proper location in the proper form and on time. If any errors occur during these transmissions, users and administrators are notified or automatic failover processes are initiated to re-route or submit the job. Considering that Global 1000 companies print tens of thousands of reams of paper per day, the need to control, manage and track printing is nothing less than critical.
The EIM Lifecycle
The lifecycle of information goes through many stages - from initial creation to delivery and reuse. Systems need to be in place at each stage of the lifecycle to ensure effective utilization and availability of information. Because organizations will most likely never reach the 100 percent paperless office, there will always be the need to print. Therefore, when planning an output management and report distribution foundation, it is imperative that the solution provides capabilities to handle both physical and electronic output of documents.
Implementing the EIM infrastructure lays the groundwork to leverage other technologies. One of the newest and most exciting of these is the enterprise information portal. Since the EIM solution utilizes a centralized management and report/document warehouse, the foundation is already established to capture, manage, secure, distribute and archive information while providing access to that information in an easy-to-use format for users regardless of location - even over the Internet. The EIM system aggregates the information, centrally stores the electronic files that are created on any number of disparate systems and then provides access to that information by standard Web portal applications. All of the information within the enterprise can now be managed as part of the existing IT infrastructure and tied seamlessly into a portal application of choice. Users then can access that information (captured from a variety of systems across the enterprise) via a standard Web browser, with the portal application customized to fit their needs, thus allowing them to receive and view just the information they need to do their job.
EIM solutions save time, money and effort by managing the huge number of reports generated from ERP, mainframe, midrange and client/server systems. They lower the cost per user for viewing and analyzing report information generated by these systems. They serve as a centralized data warehouse for user-created reports and electronic documents, and they make enterprisewide availability of report and report-related information easy by supporting a wide variety of client options. EIM solutions can aggregate mission-critical information collected from several disparate applications into one centrally controlled repository for effortless viewing and retrieval. Since only one copy of the report or document is needed for thousands of users to view and analyze, the EIM solution minimizes the system load, database impact and network traffic when producing reports or managing information.
Additionally, with an EIM solution's flexible archiving capabilities, all of this information can be managed and migrated to other media types, such as tape or optical disk for long-term storage or audit - a key component of any information management strategy. In support of the ERP system's high-availability and disaster recovery strategy, placing the output in a central EIM repository makes the information available, even if the ERP system is not.
With the power of an EIM solution, everyone in the enterprise can have access to information of all kinds through easy-to-use, low cost per seat Windows or Java-based clients or dynamically generated portal pages on a Web browser. All information generated by virtually any system is now securely accessible via the Internet, providing ubiquitous access to information any time and anywhere. With Web portal-based subscription and "push" technology, e-mail notification and simple work routing, users can be instantaneously alerted when reports or information they have subscribed to has been created or modified.
All Solutions Are Not Equal
When implementing an EIM strategy, careful planning and evaluation of the different vendors in the market will help to further define a corporation's needs and the solution that can meet those needs. The following is a list of factors to consider when selecting an EIM strategy:
• Ability to accept multiple file formats and print streams (PostScript, PCL, etc.)
• Ability to download files and export data for further analysis (Excel, Word, etc.)
• Ability to view report and other information in an easy-to-use client or browser
• Ability to manage output to multiple devices including printers, fax machines, e-mail, etc.
• A strong commitment to output technologies, and an understanding that industry trends are moving from print-centric to view and selectively print metaphors
• An enterprise solution that provides the infrastructure for Web delivery of information, in addition to supporting open systems portals
• Recognition by third-party industry analysts
• A track record for implementing solutions within similar corporations or vertical markets
• A storage and retrieval procedure that will address archival/audit/access concerns
• Interfaces, applications or third-party relationships with key vendors within the ERP arena
• Ability to monitor, alert and provide charge-back options for print output
• An integrated solution that addresses the entire lifecycle of information management, delivery and archive to users anywhere in the enterprise.
Terence J. Mullin is Vice President of the Information Availability Business Unit for Quest Software (Irvine, Calif.).