Working Beyond Customer Requirements: Consultative Approach to ECM Helps Maximize Workflow Efficiency

While it falls upon dealers to ensure that their end-user customers are being equipped with the proper tools to facilitate ECM, document capture, and related software solutions, the software developers themselves boast a wide-angled perspective that reaches beyond the scope of their respective offerings.

We’ve assembled a small team of software specialists to address a range of topics, including the selection process, points of differentiation, integration with third-party solutions, the ins and outs of selling software solutions, and the value in enabling and enhancing mobile devices. Our panel of software experts consists of Wouter Koelewijn, senior vice president and managing director of Y Soft’s Scanning Division; James Shearer, director of sales for Laserfiche; Jeff Segarra, senior director of product marketing for the Nuance Document Imaging Division; and Tom Franceski, vice president and general manager of DocStar, an Epicor company.

With a wealth of ECM software solutions on the market, what are the major points of differentiation that can help a dealer ascertain which product is an ideal fit for its end user?

Wouter Koelewijn, Senior Vice President & Managing Director,
Y Soft Scanning Division

Koelewijn: It’s important that dealers really understand the customer requirements. Do they want a solution that works in the cloud, on premise, or a hybrid scenario? Does the solution have an SDK so that it can be integrated with other enterprise applications? And, because many companies still have to deal with paper processes (passport copies, tax forms, etc.) where scans need to be made, does the ECM support single sign-on so that the user doesn’t have to log in to the ECM in order to scan directly into the ECM? This last point speaks to a broader customer requirement: a good user experience.  The user experience should simplify steps for the user and enable workflows that are process driven, structured, and eliminate human error.

James Shearer, Director of Sales, Laserfiche

Shearer: One of the most important things to consider is scalability. If dealers typically serve clients of a certain size, they may be accustomed to software that works for those clients. But if that system can’t scale with growth, then the solution has an expiration date. In the same vein, if dealers choose an ECM software that’s only available at a scale suitable for very large organizations, they are unable to capture smaller organizations’ business. A dealer should be able to customize the ECM software to fit the business needs of clients of different sizes, and make changes to the system as those clients’ needs change as well.

Another big differentiator would be ease of installation. At Laserfiche, we work with dealers of all levels of technical ability, and it’s important that a system can be implemented quickly so they’re able to focus on improving their clients’ business processes. ECM software solutions are easier to install and shouldn’t require a lot of complex coding.

Additionally, once the system is installed, dealers should also be able to go back into the system and easily configure and improve business processes whenever necessary. If these changes are difficult and require a lot of work and coding, clients will be reluctant to make improvements over time or call on their dealers for added services.

Tom Franceski, Vice President & General Manager, DocStar

Franceski: Flexible deployment options (on-premise or cloud); a simple graphical workflow design tool to empower dealers and customers; comprehensive enterprise-wide ECM features including AD/LDAP integration; comprehensive audit trail reporting; records management; Microsoft Office integration; version control; e-forms; packages and a customer empowerment portal with an integrated online university.

ECM and document capture are tightly connected to workflow. What is the key to integrating with third-party systems/solutions?

Jeff Segarra, Sr. Director of Product Marketing, Nuance Document Imaging Division.

Segarra: The key to integrating solutions is using an API that enables a secure connection. That way, users can leverage a standard single sign-on like Microsoft Active Directory and have access to the same rights and permissions across applications. Not taking this approach will lead to a bad user experience as well as an insecure experience.

Franceski: The key to integrating with these systems is having flexible, easy to use, and powerful ECM integration tools to work with these systems in the way that they are built to import/export data such as through APIs, web services, XML data, direct SQL, etc. Strong knowledge of the target application results in best-practice integration.

Koelewijn: First, the ECM has to have an SDK so that workflows can seamlessly and securely transfer documents made on the scan device to the ECM’s repository.

For end users, integration is seamless when they are not required to know the underlying details of the integration at the various stages of digitization. For example, when a user scans a document which will be delivered to an ECM by an automated workflow, the user should not be required to login into the ECM every time she uses the workflow to scan a document. Also, she should be able to use the capabilities of the ECM on the MFD screen without being deprived of the familiarity of the workflow solution’s user interface.

Nuance eCopy ShareScan ensures the safe and secure capture of information

For IT administrators, a seamless integration means minimum steps to configure such integration to make it possible for end users to use its capabilities. Configuration of integrations should be part of the centralized administration interface and require no third-party configuration tools if a destination system doesn’t require it. As multiple destination systems may be used in an organization, configuration of the different integrations should be consistent and familiar.

One additional point: ECM systems are constantly upgraded with new versions and features. The connectors from the workflow software to the ECM must also be updated. And this has to happen quickly for the customer. Y Soft develops its own connectors. This ensures that we are not reliant on a third-party developer’s knowledge and time to make changes. It also means we can directly test for compatibility and ensure it works seamlessly.

Shearer: While the leading ECM systems have workflow capabilities, it’s still important that the software company a dealer works with is open to working with other technology companies and has an easy-to-use and well-documented software development kit. When software is easy to integrate and integrations don’t require a lot of custom code, dealers are able to really tailor solutions to meet the specific and varied needs of their customers.

Should dealers seek to offer software that integrates with a particular line of business, vertically speaking, or take a broader, more generalized approach?

Franceski: This depends on the available market in the dealer’s sphere of influence. In smaller markets, a more generalized approach may work better to provide a broader base of customer prospects. However, at least one primary area of focus—be it AP, HR, or other horizontal or vertical approaches—will allow the dealer to demonstrate a level of expertise that would be hard to compete with. This will also demonstrate the dealer’s ability to go deeper and extend in other areas if needed.

Shearer: I think, at least initially, dealers should take a broader approach when offering a solution, which will give them the freedom to specialize in different verticals if they choose to go that route. It’s important for dealers to offer a system that’s not designed specifically for one vertical, so they aren’t limited in the future.

Many of our successful dealer partners start off by specializing in one business process—for instance, the accounts payable process or new employee onboarding—that can be applied horizontally. Then, as they acquire more accounts, they will gain experience in other processes and will integrate the solution with vertical-specific applications in order to sell into an industry.

Segarra: Dealers can be successful with a vertical or horizontal approach as long as they speak the language of the customer’s business and understand their challenges. For instance, oftentimes ECM document capture capabilities can be too simplistic to address customer needs. Document capture is much more sophisticated than just scanning. Capture needs to include capabilities like OCR, redaction, Bates stamping, and more to ready documents for ECM systems.

Koelewijn: It is really up to the customer’s existing systems. Do they use vertical applications or do they use broader repositories like SharePoint or Dropbox? The dealer should make sure the workflow provider, like Y Soft, can integrate with the customer’s requirements.

DocStar’s eclipse accounts payable solution

What are some of the keys to selling ECM solutions and how do they differ in approach from selling hardware?

Koelewijn: ECM is very much a consultative approach. As mentioned, time must be taken to really understand the customer’s requirements and the paper-based process they are trying to eliminate or improve upon. It is also important to understand the customer’s impetus for digitization. Is it about improving accuracy, consistency, productivity, meeting compliance regulations, or all of the above?  The user experience must be paramount because if it is complicated, confusing, or nonsensical, it won’t be used and whatever digitization gains were desired won’t be achieved if the user can’t use it properly.

Shearer: Building strong relationships with customers is the key to selling ECM solutions. We view our customers as our partners and we want them to know that we’re in it for the long haul. Because business needs and technology are constantly changing, dealers need to stay agile and make themselves available for ongoing consultative services. Having that relationship means that the customer will continuously look to the same dealer for guidance, new products, and new services. In turn, the dealer takes that insight and uses it to better their offerings and service, much in the same way we at Laserfiche use customer feedback to evolve our product.

Also worth mentioning is the perceived difficulty of selling ECM solutions as opposed to hardware. Many hardware dealers rely on their knowledge of set features, speeds, etc., so the many varied features, benefits, and configurations associated with ECM solutions can seem overwhelming. However, dealers who feel they have a limited knowledge of the technology can still use a consultative approach. While it is still important to know the power and limitations of the software, dealers can work hand-in-hand with a small team of specialists within their organization who can build out automated workflows and execute the integrations as needed.

Franceski: Selling ECM solutions requires an understanding of the core and sometimes latent problems associated with growing businesses or businesses needing to increase productivity in order to remain competitive. This entails identifying pain points in the organization driven by inefficient processes, regulatory requirements, etc. A strong consultative approach is needed, which draws on practical experience and best practices learned across multiple customers and industries to recognize business process challenges and deliver proven results.

Segarra: One key to successful solution selling is having a customer document-centric selling approach. Start the customer conversation with, “tell me about your document problems.” That way you will identify what the customer wants to do with documents, not just where they want to put them.

Talk a little about the importance of user experience and enabling mobile devices.

Shearer: No matter how you are interacting with your software—whether it’s from a desktop, laptop, or mobile device—it should work and feel the same. User experience is extremely important. With the large percentage of people who work remotely and access information through their phones and tablets, mobile plays a critical role in how organizations operate today. The experience should be modern and intuitive, and it should mirror something familiar. If someone doesn’t like using the system, they simply won’t; they will find ways to work around it.

Koelewijn: Today, the user experience to make a scan is complicated. There are numerous menus to navigate and many decisions. Decisions about scan quality, color/B&W, file format, naming conventions, and so on. What happens is that everyone makes different decisions so the organization has inconsistent digital files. Productivity is severely hampered with such a complicated experience. And finally, there is a lot of room for human error. Most people are still scanning to email. The scan goes to an inbox, is named and saved and then copied somewhere or forwarded by email. For security reasons, it is a nightmare, but the potential for human error is also a big factor. It is a misuse of email infrastructure and clogs storage.

Today’s worker is highly mobile and the user expectation is to be able to do workflows on laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.

Wouter Koelewijn

Today’s worker is highly mobile and the user expectation is to be able to do workflows on laptops, tablets, and mobile devices. For the organization, security and audits are of concern. It is a natural evolution to have workflows on mobile devices.

From the IT admin’s point of view, user experience is also very important. Workflows must be pre-defined by IT administrators, who understand the ultimate goals of digitization, not by end users themselves. The solution must allow a way to configure workflows to rely minimally on end-user input to provide context information when scanning and to provide clear instructions to guide end users through the digitization process. In order to make configuration of workflows efficient, the solution must provide IT administrators with a simple, familiar, and easily accessible way to define workflows. This can be catered to by a centralized workflow administration interface, which should also offer instant access to statistics, reports, and troubleshooting of document digitization workflows.

Segarra: Mobility empowers people to work faster and better so customers want to have a mobile experience with their documents. ECM needs to support search and access of documents by mobile users. ECM also needs to add on mobile capture capabilities so professionals outside the office can have the same workflow experiences as when they are in the office.

Franceski: User experience is paramount. In order to gain adoption and realize the benefits of process re-engineering, users must find the experience easy and beneficial. In that sense, process engineering also includes presenting information and direction in the most clear and concise manner and allowing the user to engage the system with their preferred device. Increasingly, mobile devices are the device of choice for simple processes and actions such as mobile approvals.

What attributes do you seek from dealers who want to carry your software solution?

Koelewijn: Foremost, they must adapt to a consultative approach. They should also know that Y Soft offers automated scan workflows as a standalone product. While we also bundle it with print management, there are many customers who may want to start just with scan workflows and we can do that. Ideally, they have the capability to handle software sales on a subscription service (SaaS) basis as that is the expectation of most customers. Y Soft offers SaaS or perpetual licensing.

Shearer: At Laserfiche, we look for dealers who share our visionary outlook. A dealer has to be forward-looking in order to sell technology since it requires an investment of time, resources, and energy. While ECM systems are highly sought after, some dealers don’t hire the staff or invest the time that’s needed to successfully sell them. Sometimes they will simply add selling ECM systems to one employee’s already full-time job, and then they don’t get the sales they were expecting.

Laserfiche’s relationship with its customers and resellers are partnerships. We want the dealers who carry our software to view their relationship with customers the same way. It’s not about a one-time sale: we are constantly evolving the software, our customers are growing, and their business needs are changing. Dealers who understand are the ones we want to work with and the ones who will be the most successful.

Segarra: We look for dealers that engage with their customers and make connections with them. Building relationships with customers is the best way for dealers to fully understand how their organizations work and how to create a solution that can help.

Erik Cagle
About the Author
Erik Cagle is the editorial director of ENX Magazine. He is an author, writer and editor who spent 18 years covering the commercial printing industry.