Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Green Information Management

By Mark Brousseau

Reduce, reuse, recycle is the green mantra that gained a lot of currency in the 1980s. Today, a large number of enterprises are aggressively pursuing 3R policies, covering everything from paper usage and disposal practices to energy usage and water consumption.

As Green IT moves from the notion of a paperless office into a mainstream corporate social responsibility, CIOs are now also identifying ways in which to minimize the corporate carbon footprint and at the same time achieve their strategic business objectives.

Stuart Butts, a founding member and director of Xenos Group, Inc., says there is, however, one other area that demands equal consideration by organizations: managing structured and unstructured data and documents. Very often enterprises will hold the same information in a variety of different electronic formats and in different physical locations to meet different requirements, Butts notes. Multiple silos of information in technologically incompatible systems mean that information cannot be shared in real time. In addition, this approach consumes inordinate amounts of storage space and the associated costs that go with that.

With the explosive growth in data and documents, Butts says the time has come to apply reduce, reuse and recycle thinking to electronic business information. Embracing a more strategic, ‘green’ approach to information management will deliver a number of benefits, not the least of which is a dramatic reduction in the cost and complexity of power-consuming storage requirements, he believes.

Butts says there are a number of specific offerings that can help to reduce storage demands by eliminating redundancy and simplifying access to business critical information in real time. These include archiving, content migration and consolidation tools that enable real-time, on-demand transformation of customer statements and other key documents contained in electronic print files to PDFs for ePresentment.

By eliminating the constraints imposed by incompatible hardware or software platforms and disparate data and document archives, Xenos has helped organizations to reduce, reuse and recycle their data and documents to lower costs and improve information flow, Butts notes.

On-demand transformation to PDF format allows organizations to eliminate the unnecessary storage of large, graphically rich files, while streamlining version control with a technique known as “document resource optimization”. For some, this approach has effectively reduced storage requirements by as much as 90 percent, Butts says. Given that many large enterprises are spending as much as 70 percent of their IT budgets on their storage infrastructures, it’s time to apply reduce, reuse, and recycle thinking to data and storage needs, he adds.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Today's Document Challenges

By Mark Brousseau

Today’s document capture and enterprise content management (ECM) users are challenged by increasing costs to manage critical business content, says Craig Laue (claue@abbyyusa.com), Eastern Regional Manager for ABBYY USA. The key culprits are the growing amounts of business information across organizations, and the tighter regulatory compliance standards, Laue told attendees at TAWPI’s Capture Conference in Florida last week.

Complicating matters, Laue noted, is that the content management systems installed at most organizations are unable to resolve key business problems: easy access to information for all employees, improved customer satisfaction, and mechanisms for disaster recovery.

To confront these challenges, Laue says more end-users are looking for solutions that provide:

… indexes through document capture
… full-text document search and indexing
… improved access to information
… information sharing capabilities
… fewer duplicate processes

By leveraging advanced document capture and ECM technologies, users can achieve a range a benefits, Laue said, including: increased productivity, lower cost per department/project, faster search capabilities, accurate data/database usage, audit tracking, and enhanced customer service and vendor relations. What’s more, users can avoid the side effects of manual data entry – longer processing times, high costs, more errors, and repetitive and duplicate processes.

What are you seeing in the market? Post your comment below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Equifax Goes For The (Digital) Wallet

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Equifax offers I-Card for the ‘digital wallet’
Bloomberg News

Friday, November 14, 2008

Equifax Inc., the provider of consumer-credit information, unveiled an online information card aimed at encouraging businesses to support a “digital wallet” identification system to protect against fraud.

The information card, or I-Card, is an Internet equivalent of a driver’s license or passport, Atlanta-based Equifax said. Customers with the Equifax I-Card can install software called digital wallet that enables one-click sign-in via a personal computer, said Steven Ely, president of Equifax Personal Information Solutions.

“I-Cards are really the next generation of Web tools that allow users to use a single sign-on approach so they can use one card at multiple Web sites,” Ely said in an interview. “We expect the marketplace to completely shift away from user IDs and passwords to the use of I-Cards.”

Consumers won’t be charged for the cards, Ely said. Revenue will come from the sale of technology to businesses, which will verify identities and help customers complete online forms, he said.

About 8.1 million people in the United States were victimized by identity theft in 2007, Equifax said, citing Javelin Strategy & Research. The average loss was $5,574. Losses from online fraud rose 21 percent to $239.1 million in 2007, the FBI said, citing the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Managing identification data for individuals and businesses generates “dozens of millions of dollars” for Equifax and revenue could “substantially” increase in coming years, Ely said.

“We have made a strategic decision to invest in developing products to significantly grow our footprint in the identity management space,” Ely said.

What do you think of the digital wallet? Post your comments below.

Alternative Payments Going Strong

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Online buyers turn to alternative payments

An interesting item from the Pacific Business News:

A growing number of online shoppers are turning away from traditional credit and debit cards and moving toward cash-based alternative payment options, according to a retail forecast survey released this week by Javelin Strategy & Research.

Alternative payments — such as PayPal, Google Checkout, Nacha SVP and Revolution Money — will become preferred choices for online consumers and will continue to grow over the next five years, increasing to one-third of online retail transaction volume by 2013, the survey said.

This year, alternative payments will reach $148 billion and rise to $268 billion by 2013.

The growth will be strong for companies that build brand awareness, said the survey.

As the trend grows, the survey urges banks and traditional card brands to expand their own prepaid card products and partner with alternative providers.

This holiday season, alternative payments will comprise $7.8 billion in purchases compared to $35 billion in traditional online payment methods.

What do you think? Post your comment below.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Supersizing Your Business

By Mark Brousseau

Customers are a company’s most important asset, says Adam Osthed, president and CEO of metasource. And in challenging economic times, Osthed says companies can leverage their customer relationships to “supersize” their business – in other words, generate more revenue per transaction or customer relationship.

Osthed spoke during AIIM's 33rd Annual Document Management Service Providers Executive Forum in Austin last week.

“During a downturn in the economy, a frequently overlooked way of making more money is increasing the value-size of your customers,” Osthed says. “Supersizing is a model of specific inter-related activities through which a company can create a competitive advantage – a chain of value creating, or value-added, activities.”

The secret to supersizing a business, Osthed says, is to understand its role in the value system: who are its customers, what do they need, and why should they buy from your company. To help your company understand its role, Osthed suggests using needs audits, process mapping, and quarterly business reviews. “Figure out what your customer wants,” Osthed says. “Instead of trying to get them to fall in love with your solution, figure out what they are trying to build, and tailor a solution to these needs.”

Once your company understands its role, there are two ways that it can grow its revenues from the value system: expand its reach to new levels in the value system (vertical integration), or expand its activities within existing levels of the value system (horizontal integration).

Vertical integration, Osthed says, is the degree to which a firm owns its upstream suppliers and its downstream suppliers. Meantime, horizontal integration is the acquisition of additional business activities at the same level of the value chain (selling to the same decision-makers). While each of these approaches may appear straightforward, Osthed warns that the benefits of scale and scope are often easier said than done. Moreover, the benefits are not spontaneous; they require a commitment from the top of a company. “And you have to be careful that you don’t more too far from your company’s core competencies,” he adds.

Have you tried supersizing your business? Post your comment below.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

First Impressions Pay Off

By Mark Brousseau

For services and solutions providers, making a positive first impression is important, says Scott Swidersky (sswidersky@qualityassociatesinc.com), vice president, Information Systems Division, of Quality Associates, Inc. (QAI), a 300-employee, Fulton, MD-based provider of systems integration and outsourced services. And Swidersky has the sales results to prove it. After investing in a multi-story, 120,000-square-foot corporate facility two years ago, QAI’s revenues will grow 30 percent this year – in large part from the impact of bringing prospects to the company’s swanky facility.

Swidersky spoke during AIIM's 33rd Annual Document Management Service Providers Executive Forum in Austin last week.

“It’s always difficult finding sales opportunities. And it’s difficult working these opportunities through the sales cycle. But it’s even more difficult to close sales opportunities. With this in mind, we started investing in our corporate facilities to distinguish ourselves from our competitors,” Swidersky says.

“Part of our sales strategy is trying to distinguish ourselves as an organization. We have a lot of competitors in the Washington D.C. area, and some of them are huge systems integrators – Lockheed Martin, EDS, and CSC," Swidersky explains. "We find that the positive impression our facility leaves on prospects is the single largest distinguishing factor in our sales cycle.”

In addition to helping QAI attract new clients, the facility also boosted employee morale. “And it helps in our ability to attract quality people as it shows that we are providing a career, not just a job,” he says.

QAI’s modern facility includes a learning center, where vendors can demonstrate new solutions and QAI can conduct client training; dedicated work spaces for client projects; and a lab that provides testing and product demonstration space for employees and clients alike. Since moving into the new space, QAI hosts periodic educational events for clients in its offices – providing education for the clients, while strengthening the relationship between QAI staff and the company’s customers.

“We are always inviting prospects and clients back to our offices,” Swidersky notes. “This demonstrates confidence. And confidence is a big part of the sales cycle.”

“We are proud of our facility, and it shows,” Swidersky says.

How has your organization invested in its facilities? Post your comment below.

Service Bureaus Tout Labor Savings

By Mark Brousseau

In light of the weakening economy, service bureaus need to change their sales message to emphasize their ability to reduce a company’s headcount and help them avoid capital expenditures, says Mario G. Duckett, CDIA (Mario@metasource.com), senior director, business development, for Bristol, PA-based metasource.

Duckett spoke during AIIM's 33rd Annual Document Management Service Providers Executive Forum in Austin last week.

“Down markets are great for soft dollars and Software as a Service (SaaS) is an excellent way for someone who has had their capital budget way taken away to still solve their business problems,” says Duckett. “In this economic environment, a company that can’t afford a $100,000 capital expenditure will be interested in a $2,000 a month fee for SaaS. The key is to stress labor savings.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Texas-Sized Data Center Problem

Posted by Mark Brousseau

IBM Corp. has been given a month to fix service problems with a mammoth Texas state data center project or possibly have its $863 million contract terminated, according to an article in Friday's Austin American-Statesman.

The state notified IBM this week that the company has "breached its contractual duties and obligations to the State of Texas" and outlines specific issues with IBM's work.

"The current, unremediated situation is untenable for the State of Texas, as critical state data continues to be at risk," according to the notice written by Brian Rawson, executive director of the Department of Information Resources.

The Statesman says the most persistent problem involves the company's failure to back up data stored on agencies' servers as it consolidates 27 state agencies' data centers into two facilities in Austin and San Angelo. The objective is to streamline and modernize the agencies' technology operations while saving money.

But the company has been repeatedly warned by the state that it had fallen short on requirements in the contract and has been penalized $5.2 million, including almost $902,000 for the data backup problems. The company so far has been paid $175 million under the contract.

The notice, released Thursday, is the first required step to terminate the contract.

It is a serious move by the state, following Gov. Rick Perry's directive two weeks ago to stop work on the contract while a plan to fix the problems was developed. That plan is expected to be completed by Nov. 17.

"The governor expects the issue will be resolved to the full satisfaction of the state," said Allison Castle, the governor's spokeswoman, so that termination of the contract will not be necessary.

IBM spokesman Jeff Tieszen said the company has been working to address the data backup and recovery issues, and would respond accordingly to the state's letter.

"The state's data center infrastructure is more stable and secure now and we plan to work with (the Department of Information Resources) to continue to improve the system to better serve the state's citizens," Tieszen said in a statement.

Rawson wrote in a letter to Perry that he expects "IBM to have restored the confidence of the state leadership and the agencies upon implementation" of the governor's plan.

But Rawson said that the state must be prepared if the results are not satisfactory and said a contingency plan is being developed to ensure data center services without IBM.

IBM assumed responsibility for servers and mainframes at 1,300 locations across the state in April 2007 as it moves the work to the centralized facilities.

It must provide security, backup and disaster recovery at all of those locations. That is where many of the problems have developed.

This summer, the attorney general's office lost a significant amount of data in a server crash at its Medicaid fraud division in Tyler. IBM had failed to back up the data, as required by the contract.

Eight months of data files from the office's fraud investigations were initially lost because the office had stopped using its previous file backup software in November. Ninety percent of the data has since been recovered, but it is unclear whether all of that data is usable.

Service in the Sky

Posted by Mark Brousseau

Below is a link to an interesting article in the November 10 issue of Newsweek about cloud computing.


What is your organization's approach to cloud computing? Post your comments below.

IT Spending Getting Squeezed

Posted by Mark Brousseau

An article in yesterday's Austin American-Statesman says the fourth quarter could be even more disappointing than technology vendors already had expected. Businesses are cutting back spending by putting off equipment purchases and upgrades and laying off workers. Even software, considered a safer bet because it helps companies automate costly steps, is also likely to take a hit, the Statesman noted.

"It's inevitable that all technology companies, with varying degrees, will be running into the same thing," Stephen Minton, an analyst for research firm IDC, told the newspaper. "The reaction of businesses to the economic crisis is to stop spending money."

Technology makes up a big chunk of corporate spending. Of the total amount of money that U.S. businesses spend on fixed investments, which includes offices and factories, about 28 percent goes to computer and communications equipment and software, according to Commerce Department data analyzed by Bartels.

IDC expects very little growth in overall tech spending for the rest of the year and through most of 2009. Spending in the U.S. and Europe probably will be roughly flat, while emerging markets should continue to grow.

"One thing we learned in 2001, a lot of people in software said the recession won't have an effect," Minton told the newspaper. They were wrong. "What businesses do when a recession starts is they stop spending altogether."

The bright spots in the sector: Information-technology services and outsourcing — helping companies manage their computing — tend to be the least affected in a downturn, he added.

It is clear that a recession will hurt the tech sector, but things don't figure to be as bad as they were during the dot-com bust, which helped spark the last recession. This time around, there is no tech bubble to burst. So although corporate customers are temporarily putting projects on hold and delaying upgrades to weather the economic storm, Minton said that overall, "businesses are still optimistic about technology."

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Companies Require Fast ROI

By Mark Brousseau

Russ Stalters, Information/Records Manager for BP America has a message for data capture solutions vendors: if your solution can’t solve an end-user’s business problem, or can’t help solve a problem, don’t even bother pitching it to the end-user.

Stalters spoke during AIIM's 33rd Annual Document Management Service Providers Executive Forum in Austin last week.

In light of the current economic situation, end-users are solely focused on solving current problems, and achieving significant hard dollar savings. "Going into next year, companies like us will be head count constrained, and we're going to be looking for solutions to help us reduce costs and improve efficiency," Stalters said.

Similarly, if your data capture solution can’t deliver ROI in a year, forget it. “Companies like BP America simply aren’t looking at anything with a long-term ROI,” Stalters says. "We need vendor solutions to add value quickly and easily."

“Because of the economy, we are not going to be making big capital investments,"Stalters says. "And if I’m going to tell a business unit about an information management solution, and it doesn’t deliver hard-dollar savings, they don’t want to hear it. When you can prove it can solve a business problem, and deliver hard dollar savings, it will fly.”

As a result of the focus on fast payback, data capture solutions must also be up and running a quarter, or two quarters tops. “Business leaders are driven by time-to-market,” Stalters says. “And they are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their competition.”

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Users Focused on Productivity

By Mark Brousseau

The downturn in the economy has end-users looking at capture solutions to help eliminate the pain from their production environments, says Craig Laue (claue@abbyyusa.com), eastern regional manager, ABBYY USA.

Laue spoke during AIIM's 33rd Annual Document Management Service Providers Executive Forum in Austin last week.

"Today's economy does not permit end users to think about adding head count," Laue says. However, users are being challenged by increasing costs for managing and processing content: increased amounts of content, tighter regulatory compliance standards, new workload demands for information sharing, and higher customer demands. "That's why they are looking at capture solutions," Laue says.

As users begin evaluating capture solutions, Laue recommends that they come to the table with their vision for what they are looking to get out of the technology. Some considerations: indexing, full-text search capabilities, customer access to information, image and data sharing and collaboration, and eliminating duplication.

What do you think? Post your comments below.

Users Getting 'Lean and Mean'

By Mark Brousseau

The current economic downturn should be good news for data capture service bureaus, says Joe Merkel (jmerkel@nextscan.com), sales manager, Western U.S., for nextScan.

Merkel spoke during AIIM's 33rd Annual Document Management Service Providers Executive Forum in Austin last week.

"When I talk to end-users, they tell me two things," Merkel says. "One, that they are having a hiring freeze. And, two, that they are going to get 'lean and mean.'"

This focus on cutting costs will create an opportunity for service bureaus, Merkel notes. "End-users are going to look to service bureaus to help them," he explains.

What do you think? Post your comments below.