Let’s face it, we’re a society of complainers. Those of us who are old enough to recall the days before cable television (note to Millennials: yes, also before the days of Netflix and streaming content) remember having three or four VHF television stations (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS) and a handful of local UHF stations. What we lacked in content choices was made up for in the shared experience of having watched the same programming the night before.
Along came HBO, Cinemax and Showtime, et al., and a flood of specialized channels numbering in the hundreds. Within 20 years, we were complaining bitterly about there not being anything worthwhile to watch on the boob tube. Now, people are getting unhooked completely from cable TV in droves as alternatives flood the market, thus this love-hate relationship with choice continues to fester.
This very “problem” of choice haunts the software solutions landscape, and one shining example is the plethora of options for enterprise content management, document management and capture. Peruse our annual Elite Dealer issue and you will find no fewer than 100 different solutions that are embraced by the office technology space’s heavy hitters, covering the full gamut of software needs. You wanted the choice, so be careful what you wish for—and be prepared to do your homework.
On the aforementioned subset of ECM and the related tools for document management, we’ve culled the opinions from a manageable slice of the pie, vetting six of the major software vendors/integrators (Nuance, DocuWare, Laserfiche, Y Soft, Square 9 and DocStar) to garner their insight as to the qualities that can separate one offering from the other. It is our hope that they can help you, the office technology dealer, begin to make sense of the choices that are out there, and how they would best fit the needs of your clientele.
Points of Differentiation
For starters, what are the critical elements that can help separate one or more offerings from the rest of the pack? Tom Franceski, vice president and general manager of DocStar, notes that content management systems have evolved from their humble beginnings as data repositories to interacting with other systems of record, they now replace manual data entry and paperwork with more efficient, automated workflow processes. In evaluating the choices, he suggests businesses (and dealers) judge ECM software by asking the following questions:
- How does the ECM technology interact with other systems of record?
- Do I have technology to help manage the lifecycle of documents?
- Do I have the requisite technology that allows me to create content and extract information as needed? (It’s one thing to have access to a repository, but of greater value is the ability to develop an electronic form so that content can be utilized to streamline processes.)
- Do I have the flexibility to deploy the solution in the cloud or on premises?
- Does the solution provide anytime, anywhere access?
- Can I analyze the information to make better decisions?
Last but not least, the solution must be user-friendly and easy to access on any device.
Best-in-class dealers offer an array of solutions to meet different needs, as well as the expertise to counsel and advise clients. They have restricted their businesses and teams to deliver these solutions.
Tom Franceski, DocStar
“Our goal at DocStar is to empower users by providing a customizable business tool to fit their unique needs,” Franceski said. “For example, our graphical interface lets users easily build their own workflows. They don’t have to involve IT to build, add to or change the workflow.”
Many ECM platforms have fantastic customization and personalization capabilities. This is one area where the platforms distinguish themselves and where the end-user interaction is most valuable, according to Jeff Segarra, senior director of product marketing, Document Imaging, for Nuance Communications. This interaction is a challenge, and must be adequately surfaced and represented in client systems.
“Our Nuance eCopy ShareScan and Nuance AutoStore capture and workflow platforms are extensible and scriptable, allowing them to interact bidirectionally with ECM systems to deliver the most interactive end-user experience possible,” he noted.
It is that robustness of the integration API of ECM systems that can act as a point of differentiation, he added. Authentication, personalization and file destination control are just some of the areas that need to have an API so that middleware systems can take advantage of all the capabilities of an ECM system.
The demand for products that are more robust and can easily integrate into applications such as ERP systems—involving print, database, user (active directory) and content retrieval—encompassed tools and modules that changed significantly with the onset and demand of cloud systems, notes Steve Behm, vice president of sales for DocuWare. As a result, DocuWare employed a “cloud-first” strategy with tools and modules for the specific requirements involved in integrating multiple cloud-based systems.
Furthermore, with ECM requirements being broader and more specific in demand, broad content management is but a basic requirement that serves as a jumping off point for more advanced needs.
“Consumers expect integrations, print, database, retrieval, etc. However, today that demand now includes workflow and electronic forms as part of a full ECM solution, and of course have all of it delivered through the cloud,” Behm said. “Companies that are not capable of delivering all of this, via the cloud, will have a difficult time keeping pace. DocuWare adopted a cloud-first strategy by investing heavily in development as far back as 2008. Therefore, DocuWare is now a market leader in delivering a robust, full-featured, multi-tenant ECM system hosted in the Microsoft Azure platform.”
One of the key factors in a successful integration begins with establishing expectation levels with the end user, according to Michael Frattini, senior vice president of operations for Square 9 Softworks. For example, does the client need the ability to recall a document from a screen or from a transaction from their business application? Or is the need for bidirectional data pushing? In this case, manual key entry is eliminated by automatically extracting data from the printed page during scanning prior to pushing the data over, which requires the system to gather data beforehand from the business application to ensure the transaction is valid.
We’ve created powerful tools to pull data off the page that oftentimes a lay person or entry-level admin user can implement on their own.
Michael Frattini, Square 9
“Those are the two most-common scenarios, and we often find that level-setting integration expectations, first and foremost, is a key to the success,” he said. “Not doing so can be a significant challenge. Also, many organizations don’t have the infrastructure to support the integrations that they demand—neither the internal expertise on the business application nor just simply internal administrative-type users who will take over the system post-implementation and be able to make changes to it or leverage that integration in other areas.”
Quite often, Square 9 is called upon to be an expert on not only its Global suite of products, which it can obviously provide, but also the customer’s system for integration purposes. While Square 9 is well versed on many of the popular systems it marries the ECM with, it doesn’t have admin-caliber knowledge of every application with which it integrates. When the end user is lacking in knowledge of its own systems, it can be problematic.
In Frattini’s view, a quality user experience is what best separates an ECM platform from other titles on the market. He believes a user experience needs to be streamlined and focused on user adoption in order for the system to achieve its stated ROI. In conversations with end users, many will note that while another title will be rich in features, Square 9 will get the nod because the other solution will be overly-convoluted, its features won’t execute as expected or the client won’t have a need for some of the features.
“From the beginning, we prided ourselves on developing powerful solutions that users are quick to embrace and which promote user adoption,” Frattini noted. “We’ve created powerful tools to pull data off the page that oftentimes a lay person or entry-level admin user can implement on their own.”
The challenge for any system that integrates with an ECM solution is keeping the integration current and quickly updating it when the ECM changes, according to Wouter Koelewijn, chief product officer for Y Soft. While many software solutions outsource integration to third parties, Koelewijn notes Y Soft is committed to handling the integration itself, which ensures customers of timely, accurate updates.
“Traditional ECM systems that track documents have workflows. They have been in the business for a long time and are typically integrated with ERP systems or some other critical business system,” he noted. “The newer generation of enterprise file sync and share systems (EFSS) has great new technology and comes with fantastic, new APIs. But their level of integration cannot go deep into an ERP or other business system; it is just not at the level that traditional ECMs have. Our solution, YSoft SafeQ, can integrate with either a traditional ECM or the new generation EFSS.”
Ability to Scale
Three key points of differentiation for an ECM platform are interoperability, reliability and accountability, according to Catherine Wilson, director of operations or Laserfiche. One of the more common complaints she hears when replacing niche solutions is that the incumbent system lacked the ability to scale operations throughout the enterprise. Customers are also drawn to security certifications such as DoD 5015.2 and VERS that provide the reassurance that their system meets the rigorous industry standards.
Another criticism that larger end users of legacy systems voice is that the solutions are clunky and lack usability that is unique to each customer. “While customization is an option with these systems, it is a costly request that often requires a consultant,” she added.
What makes Laserfiche so effective, according to Wilson, is that unlike many legacy systems, it is highly configurable and provides context to the user around the content. Its Business Process Library is a collection of downloadable business-process templates with more than 100 horizontal and vertical solutions, and its industry-specific solutions were constructed in conjunction with customers who are experts in their given disciplines.
“These allow customers to hit the ground running with their new ECM platform, backed by industry-specific solutions that help our resellers provide vertical expertise,” Wilson remarked.
DocStar’s Franceski believes that for long-term success, dealers should think about how to automate processes to produce better business outcomes in order to achieve optimal success in selling software. He feels best-in-class dealers understand where the inefficiencies are located in those processes, and have moved away from the legacy thinking of ECM as a repository in favor of business process automation.
“Best-in-class dealers offer an array of solutions to meet different needs, as well as the expertise to counsel and advise clients,” Franceski said. “They have restricted their businesses and teams to deliver these solutions.”
Tools for Success
According to Behm, the most successful dealers deploy a structured sales strategy developed in conjunction with DocuWare, which has an online training program that covers the basics of selling ECM and a program geared toward becoming certified as a DocuWare Sales Advisor (DSA). Dealer sales reps are also instrumental in filling seminars or “lunch and learns,” which Behm feels is an effective strategy to develop prospects.
Certified DocuWare Application Consultants work with the DSA and the prospect to prepare and deliver a strong product presentation to meet the business use-case needs. This paves the way for a closing meeting to properly present the proposal and answer any remaining questions. In addition, a DocuWare regional sales director is also involved in assisting every step of the process.
The most successful solution providers take the time to understand the customer’s paper processes and involve the users in defining the workflow, notes Y Soft’s Koelewijn. In this regard, users can see how the workflow improves the business and frees them to do more productive work.
“In other words, don’t start with the solution, but rather with the problem that needs to be addressed,” he said. “And start simple, do try to solve everything directly, and iterate as needed. For example, start with our intuitive and simple-yet-powerful scan interface on a multifunctional device. As the workflow is used, it can be tweaked when users identify ways to make it more efficient.”
Wilson notes that Laserfiche’s most successful dealers are industry experts. Successful VARs provide integrations with key lines of business applications and have a deep understanding of high-value processes. As a result, they are able to quickly deploy solutions while providing top-notch customer service.
“Excellent customer service is essential because it is the driving force behind referrals,” she said. “We are seeing the lifespan of CIOs at one organization shrinking to a few years before moving onto their next position. If a VAR is easy to work with and provides a dependable and scalable solution with a high ROI, then IT leaders will bring that system with them wherever they go.”
While not the easiest initiative to perform, Square 9’s Frattini points out that many of the company’s dealers are seeking to marry the sales cycle of their MFPs with the ECM solutions sale. In order to accomplish this, the deal structure needs to be simple, have a quick ROI and, most importantly, be repeatable.
“Instead of trying to paint a Picasso from a blank canvass each time, dealers can build a highly successful project and then find other very similar customers who would realize a similar benefit,” Frattini said. “That allows them to reduce their professional services burden, it lowers the acquisition cost for their customers and creates a quick turnaround time for these projects. That allows them to go from sale to implementation and sign off very quickly. That’s great for sales reps…they’re used to pushing a piece of equipment out the door, plugging it into the wall, then getting their commission check. The same rules apply in the software world, and although the process is not as fast, you can get pretty close by utilizing repeatable solutions.”