Step 1 - Access your company's technical capabilities
This is the very first question you need to ask yourself if you are looking for a document imaging system.
Let's examine why this is the first and most important question you should ask.
In your quest for a document imaging system, it is likely that you will be evaluating either a database system or a metadata system. These two document imaging systems use completely different technologies requiring different levels of computer expertise to manage and maintain them.
A metadata document imaging system requires:
Basic computer skills
A database document imaging system requires:
Skills that are common with every IT professional
Advanced database skills
It is important to assess your skills in computers, networks, and databases because if you purchase a document imaging system that doesn't match with your skill level in each of these three categories, the end result can be nothing less than a nightmare. It could even cost you your job for putting the company at risk of loosing access to critical business data.
Advanced network skills
Skills that only one IT professional of a hundred might possess
An honest assessment of your skill level will help determine which type of document imaging technology would best serve you and your business.
Ask yourself this question: on a scale from one-to-ten; what is your skill level in each of the following categories.
If you answered '5' or greater on computer skills and '0' on network skills you can easily manage and maintain a metadata document imaging system.
If you answered anything less than 9 or 10 on database skills, you shouldn't even consider a database system. Such systems require a high-level of expertise in database management to maintain this type of document imaging system.
A more detailed analysis...
Database document imaging systems:
Managing a database document imaging system is unlike managing a customer database. If a customer database becomes corrupt, one simply takes the last backup of the database, copies it onto the system, and the problem is fixed. Following this procedure to fix a document imaging database would be a complete disaster. Doing so would result in the loss of untold amounts of data, which is the reason these systems are far more complex to maintain.
Deterioration of a document imaging database takes place over a long period of time and doesn't happen quickly. It is like termite damage; when it is finally visible, the damage has already been done. If you were to go back to an older backup copy, you would still have all the damage that was done up to that point in time, and you would loose all the data that links the database to the scanned image from the date of the backup to present date. Replacing a document imaging database with a backup copy would be a disaster.
Important note: Documents are the lifeblood of any business. If you lose them it can have devastating consequences to the business. As an IT professional, you don't want to be responsible for destroying access to critical business documentation.
Document imaging databases must be repaired, and they should be maintained and repaired on a regular schedule. Industry statistics show that it takes 40 hours a month on average to maintain a document imaging database. The work required must be done by an IT professional with high database skills.
Quality document imaging software companies that use databases recognize that to properly maintain their system, a database manager must attend a training class and get certified in their software. These classes are intense, require 3-5 full days of training, provide detailed documentation in multiple three ring binders, and cost anywhere from $25,000 to $35,000 to attend.
Important note: The training is never centered on the scanned images. It is always centered on the software and database management. This is because all the problems occur in the database.
The problem is that many database document imaging vendors:
The second problem is that many sales people promote database systems and have no idea of the true nature of what they are selling. They sell database systems as if the client will never experience a database problem; as if databases are so routine that anyone can manage them. In most cases the VAR they represent technically is not competent to manage the systems that they are selling. It's not that they are dishonest, or have malice in their hearts; it's just that they don't know what they don't know.
- Don't mention the deterioration that takes place in a document imaging database and lead you to think that it's similar to a typical customer database
- Don't provide you with a software utility to find and identify the problems so that you can fix them. They require you to manually locate the problem out of millions of data points in order to correct it.
- Don't provide a warranty that makes them responsible for fixing the problem and charge you extravagantly for support.
Fixing a database beyond the issues just mentioned is not an easy task. For example, considerable effort is required to resolve deadlock, which is one of the more elusive problems of databases. Deadlocking represents a failure of processes to work and play together. Identifying deadlocks is not difficult - the server complains with a 1025 error message. Resolving deadlocks is a different story. "With a large database and a complex application, tracking down issues cause by mismatched database schemas can take weeks," according to Drew Georgopulos, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Marymount College.
Database management is further complicated by the fact that there are three major databases: Oracle, IBM DB2, and Microsoft SQL Server. But the management gets even more complex with sub specializations: UNIX, Windows, Linux, MVS, NUMA-Q, OS/2, and AS/400.
Database management includes such things as protecting the database from unauthorized logins, accidental information deletions/modifications, general maintenance, as well as hardware failures. The following lists some of the tasks that a database administrator must perform:
In addition, one must be competent to handle security at different levels. In order to be useful, the information must be accessible to many users simultaneously at different levels of security. Certain groups of users may be allowed to modify selected pieces of information, browse other parts of it, and be prevented from viewing yet another part. Security is enforced at the server level, the database level, and at the database object level. This is accomplished through the database objects, including rules, defaults, triggers, stored procedures, and data-integrity constraints. Because this goes beyond just basic computer skills, you will need a high level of expertise in database management to maintain a database document imaging system.
- Manage logins, database users, and database roles
- Schedule jobs
- Create new databases
- Browse table contents
- Manage database objects, such as tables, indexes and stored procedures
- Manage replication
- Import and export data
- Transfer data between servers
- Monitor server activity and error logs
Metadata document imaging systems...
One of the benefits of a metadata document imaging system is that all the issues that were just discussed about databases are irrelevant. Metadata systems were designed to overcome the inherent problems with database systems. They are the latest technology in document imaging.
Metadata systems can easily be maintained by anyone with basic computer skills. This makes these systems the ideal choice for any business that doesn't have someone on staff with a high level of database skills.
Metadata is simply data-about-data. It is similar to the card catalog at the public library. It provides a brief description about the information you are seeking. The difference between a database document imaging system and a metadata system is that the key descriptive information is contained within metadata tags of the document. Another way to look at this is that in a metadata system the documents are the database.
Why is this distinction important? There are two reasons:
To be able to instantly find and retrieve documents in a metadata system, you will use an indexing search engine. With an indexing search engine, you simply point it to the computer directory (file folder) where your documents are located and it crawls the directory and builds an index log with the keywords that are found in the metadata. When you perform a search, you are actually searching the index log at mille-second speeds and following the hyperlink to open the original document.
- First, unlike databases, documents are very stable. They don't become corrupt with the frequency of databases. When you combine metadata with PDF documents you have the most stable documents attainable in the world.
- Second, documents are easy to manage. IT professionals do it all day long. In fact, many non-IT people manage documents on their computer system without any difficulty. Managing documents doesn't require the same skill-set as does managing a database.
Maintaining a search index is very easy. If it becomes corrupt you simply rebuild it. This is done by having it crawl the documents once again. In fact this task can be scheduled to occur automatically when you set up the software, making the maintenance of the system virtually hands free.
When pitching a document imaging system, a sales person often talks about a database as if someone with just basic computer skills could accomplish managing and maintaining one. Nothing could be further from the truth. Databases can be wonderful tools to an organization that possesses the knowledge to maintain them, but they can be your worst nightmare if you don't have that skill-set available in your organization. Keep in mind, though; whether you possess the required knowledge or not, databases are time-consuming and expensive to maintain.
Metadata document imaging systems are the latest state-of-the-art document imaging systems. They are more stable than database systems, and you will soon learn that they offer many other benefits such as being more affordable, more scalable, and more flexible than first generation database document imaging systems. Best of all, if you possess basic computer skills, or can outsource to someone with these skills, you can easily manage and maintain a metadata document imaging system.
If you did not take the test at the beginning of this document, go back and do it now. How you assess your level of expertise in each of the three areas will determine what type of document imaging system you should consider. It is the first step to take in your evaluation process.