Imaging - the most important element of ECM?

  • 9-May-2008

As an "Enterprise-focused" content management analyst, I am asked two basic questions on a regular basis. The first (which I shan't speak of further here) is "what about SharePoint?" The second is, "what about imaging?"

At many conferences, and regularly via e-mail, people ask me about imaging in the context of ECM. Imaging is the the major cost that most projects either forget about or dramatically under budget for. Partly this is due to the fact that during the buying process it's all too easy to get caught up in the flurry of believing that every file will soon be digital. Even though paper is clearly here to stay.

So before you fall into that trap let me offer you a few words of advice. Firstly, dealing with the "backfile" of paper documents may well be the most costly and difficult part of your entire ECM project. Though you almost certainly do not need to capture and convert all the paper, the very task of identifying what is important to convert and what is not, is labor intensive in its own right. Secondly, the scanner is the least of your concerns. The cost and complexity of capture do lie not in hardware. Rather, your bigger expense will come in the form or software -- software that processes the captured image, indexes it, and puts it through quality controls, and (in many cases) extracts data elements and instigates workflows. Thirdly, recognize that capture and imaging will likely always be a part of the ECM process; you can try to eliminate it, but you will likely fail. So address it early on.

To many customers, particularly IT buyers, Imaging and Capture seem dull and uninteresting. It's not sexy like WCM or DAM are supposed, yet it is typically much higher cost, and typically more of a challenge to install, test, run and support. On the other hand, imaging is also where almost immediate process change and potential cost savings can be seen and calculated.

Imaging remains big business, which is why the likes of Oracle, IBM and EMC are so serious about developing these capabilities. It's why web oriented firms like Vignette cling hard to their (acquired) imaging legacy solutions, it's why specialists like Hyland and Laserfiche continue to thrive in turbulent markets.

And it's why you the buyer should prioritize imaging budgets and concerns early in your project and procurement process. Remember at core ECM systems typically consist of 3 core subsystems: library services, imaging, and workflow. Those are the same 3 core technology blocks that existed in the earliest document management systems, and it is those core technologies that continue to dominate the market, regardless of SharePoint.

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