Image Management Conference - Dusseldorf (June 1997)

It is always interesting to take a look at how other people do things, and we paid a visit to the Image Managers for their main European get together held in Dusseldorf to see where they were with respect to our own efforts in E&P.

It was a rewarding experience, not unfortunately because the imagers have a silver bullet to solve all our problems at once, but because they do have similar problems, and a slightly different approach to solving them. In fact there are many different domains, which are converging on what could be broadly termed information technology and imaging, and document management is an important one. First though, what is image/document management, where does it come from and what do they do? You remember about 15 years ago everyone was talking about the paperless office? That was when the clever money went into the pulp business. Never before in the history of mankind has so much paper been produced, and probably so little actually looked at. There were however, a group of stalwart individuals in banks and insurance companies who stuck at it, who thought that there was mileage to be had out of document scanning and set to it with a will. The result is some fairly amazing hardware, heavyweight devices that scan zillions of forms per day, software that performs optical character recognition on hand-written forms and some high falutin' object oriented middleware to tie it all together. They even have their own standardization organizations, (plural) with a POSC like heavyweight the Document Management Alliance (DMA) and a "lite" version (a la PPDM?) the Open Document Management API. Their co-operative efforts are a tad in front of our own, with interoperability having (just) been demonstrated recently.

Not really ‘documents’

One important thing to note is that Document Management Systems are not really about managing documents. The heavyweight vendors that implement DMSs today are not called upon because their clients want to "save a tree" or move towards a paperless office. They are part of a more all-embracing change in the way work is being done, our old friend, Business Process Reengineering. Now this concept contains a fair element of hype, but simply put it is a way of re-organizing the workplace to take account of the following facts:

People are (finally) becoming quite computer literate

Client server computing and networks actually work

Communications are such that tele-working is a reality (very important in Germany) and that email and visio-conferencing are a realities too

Streamlining the business and using less people to do more work is the current fad.

In upstream oil one can imagine how BPR could be used to model the process involved in approving a drilling location so that, for instance, the economics were actually calculated on a best estimate of all the costs involved, rather than, as I have seen just passing on the location to a driller, and finding (far too late) that the well was going to cost twice as much as the last one because there was an extra casing, more salt etc. etc. and that in the end it was impossible to test because of formation damage, the usual sob story. Maybe this is important after all…..


Of course we are digressing here, but next door to the Document Management Alliance booth in Dusseldorf was the Workflow Management Coalition, and behind them an army of vendors selling SAP based products. Again, Document Management System are not just systems for managing documents. They are really Object Management Systems, and the interoperability that the DMA uses is based on the same CORBA technology that POSC is currently examining. The basic idea is simple, there are three components. A front end (client) capable of accessing the server, querying the index database and launching an application to process the document (or object). Traditionally this process would involve say a telephone sales person accessing a scanned image of a client’s last angry letter while discussing the merits of changing insurance companies on the phone with them. Today DMA version 1.0 has been used to demonstrate a multi-vendor implementation at the recent US Image Management Conference. But individual IM vendors, while expressing interest in the technology, are not rushing to co-operate with their competitors. A member of the overall standards body (AIIM) confided that "it was all politics". It does seem though that there is a real need for standards in the EDMS community and that DMA is awaited with great interest.

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