Private Education

Scanfree has been expanding its projects in private education. And by that I do not mean that my extracurriculars with my kids have expanded, although that is also true. In fact I write this blog post outside a half-term gymnastics class, wherein my 5 year old daughter tumbles and bounces. This is the most entertaining way to work, by far.

The American School in London contacted Scanfree in the summer of 2013 – a previous PaperVision installation had suffered some neglect and they were keen to breathe some new life into it. We brought them up to speed on the latest version, reviewed and reloaded existing data with new security parameters, re-established direct scanning for the Counselors and basically got them back to basics. ASL also had an existing set of document scans and other data types from a secondary, older document management system, which we were able to convert using a bit of data manipulation and a PaperVision Directory Manager. Shortly thereafter Scanfree completed a backfile scanning conversion of various record types for two different departments, one of them a new addition. The success of that scanning conversion and the improved document management and scanning functionality has seen the PaperVision user community grow.

Earlier this Spring Scanfree were brought in to perform a server upgrade and transfer – time to move into ASL’s new virtual server environment. Scanfree were able to perform most of the PaperVision transfer remotely, and went on-site for launch day to make sure no users had been affected. And as planned, other than asking counselors not to add anything new for 5 minutes (while internal DNS updated) no one noticed any difference – PaperVision architecture once again proving how well designed it is for these types of transfers – the software just doesn’t fall over if you get it right. I guess that’s one reason ImageSilo sees the high percentage of uptime that it does.

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PaperVision WorkFlow Designer

I’ve had the opportunity to use most aspects of the new PaperVision WorkFlow Designer in the weeks since its release, and I’m happy to see that it’s a real step forward in design and development. There are one or two areas they need to address, but the foundation is there for future enhancements to make it a solid application workflow engine.

To start with, the look is vastly improved, providing a .NET user interface that looks the part. In fact, it’s a look upgrade that could be well applied to the overall PaperVision and ImageSilo sites – maybe tone down some of the sharp edges and make the toolbars more ribbon-like. But I’m no designer, not in that sense. Suffice it to say that it looks the part, but more importantly, it acts the part.

The text based interface provides detailed workstep and task definition information in a structure that is simple to navigate – each workstep laid out nicely with the older, tab-based design now broken down to folders and tables. Multiple workflow definitions can be loaded in the interface, which simplifies edits that take place across more than one project or workflow design. The old PaperVision designer was less navigable on that point, so that’s a great improvement. One minor complaint is that workstep items are purely alphabetical as opposed to being organized primarily by the workflow order and then by alpha – this might be more difficult than I’m making it out to be, though, but it would be an improvement to bring it more in line with other Microsoft workflow tools, like Dynamics CRM.

The graphical interface is still available, but it’s had a major facelift and the controls over individual properties is significantly improved. Gone are the random mapping changes that were such an irritant – assemble your flows visually as you see them in your head, not as the old PaperVision mapping tool decided they should be. So now we can group items, lay them out more intuitively and… well, that’s about it. We’re still missing things like labeling groups or functions, no ability to control the workstep connection, no smart connections, still a small graphics library. So it needs work but it’s a step in the right direction.

One of our users needed some updates done recently in their workflow design, and I took about a half day to ‘rebuild’ a 50-user/90-workstep ImageSilo workflow routine into a visually intuitive representation of the workflow. The end product is so much easier to update and to understand, it was well worth the effort.

So, great new release, really pleased, even if it lacks of few things on my wish list. I look forward to future developments on this WorkFlow Designer on both PaperVision and ImageSilo, and I’ll let you know about them right here.

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Data Protection Scanning

We recently completed a large-ish backfile scanning conversion for another client in the education industry. These scanning conversions come in all shapes and sizes, and this one relatively mild, really – but they all come with their own challenges. Luckily, with a combination of a simple PaperFlow scanning process and some further processing in PaperVision Capture, and minimal database manipulation, we were able to process tens-of-thousands of client registration and Data Protection forms, as well as franchisee contracts and leases, in a few short weeks.

Interestingly, with Digitech Systems now releasing the long-awaited PaperVision EForms, the new electronic forms engine built right into PaperVision Enterprise and ImageSilo, the timing could not have been better. These Data Protection Consent Forms are perfect candidates for conversion to a paperless process – no wet signature required, and the data is consistent, if not for the fact that franchisees have developed variations over the years.

Now we’re looking at building that form online as an html electronic form, which will require a sign-on from a valid franchisee and load dir3ectly into the archive. Next step will be to integrate the form into a SharePoint portal with submissions feeding a PaperVision WorkFlow that updates internal databases to the presence of the DPCF.

Contract and Leases may well be on the table, too – Digitech’s supporting Digital Signatures now, and combine PaperVision EForms, WorkFlow and Digital Signatures, and this paper-intensive franchisor may soon be on the road to paperless processing for most franchisee coomunications.

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Sugar

Last week I downloaded SugarCRM Community Edition and am taking it for a test spin on my local network. As an independent consultant I don’t need a lot of the bells and whistles of an online CRM product – I just need to manage document projects as they come in, keep track of sales opportunities and essentially just have a place for notes and updates – it’s hard enough to keep track of who you’re speaking with day to day and what your last conversation was.

I give full credit to the Sugar folk too – it’s a great application, easy enough to use, easy enough to customize. I’m only scratching the surface of what it can do, but I have to say that the install and configuration was dead easy, and even when I’ve had to customize fields or data entry options, I’ve been able to figure it out without any support. I’ve got a lot more work to do on it and will update as time goes on, but a positive first experience with the product and I see us using it more as the company grows.

On the document management front we’ve been working on some new partnerships with technology providers in the area which should prove lucrative in years to come. I have opportunities in some property firms and a lot more scanning work coming along these days than I would have expected. I have a great set of partners, even being the odd man out in this country I’ve been able to build up a reliable network of guys who do scanning or software integration and are always on the lookout for additional knowledge to help them grow their business, which is great.

Next post I’ll be writing up some PDF extraction tools I’ve been using on one or two projects, they really change the landscape for companies looking to do data extraction or hosting of electronic files online with a solution like ImageSilo or similar. Companies are using document hosting in a variety of ways, some unexpected, some obvious, but the industry continues to change and the technology continues to adapt. More to come, have a great rest of your week.

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PaperVision Forms Magic

As per the previous post, I had a chance to see Digitech unveil the latest addition to PaperVision Capture (more later) and the long awaited forms processing solution we’ve all been hoping they’d write: Forms Magic. It seems some of their developers have been challenged and inspired, internally and externally, to release a next-generation forms processing and data extraction application, and from the look of it they’ve succeeded. Forms Magic processes scanned images and various other file types and extracts everything from heading detail to line items, and it’s especially good at recognition and classification of different form types.

As alluded to, PaperVision Forms Magic is intended to build on to the PaperVision Capture suite. At this stage, though, it remains a separate system and is handled by Digitech’s own professional services team (an industry rarity: they mean it when they say ‘professional’). But Digitech’s CTO made it clear that integrating into PV Capture is a priority for the company, and he’s not lead us wrong in the past so I look forward to the announcement. Even as a stand-alone product, it shows a lot of promise – I have two invoice processing projects on the burner that need exactly this product, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the data and working with Digitech to get it in front of the client. If it can do for these customers (a private college and a retail group recovering from our latest recessions) what they demonstrated on site, then I think we’ll be able to secure some good business and give the client a powerful, cost-saving solution. Can’t wait to get it out to the railways.

Forms Magic is competitively priced and the margin for the reseller, while less percentage-wise than a typical PaperVision or PaperVision Capture module, is both attractive and fair to the end-user and partner. One gets the feeling they might publish MSRP to remain attractive on the street. In fairness it has to be done – you can’t continue to lose business due to an overzealous partner pricing a product out of range. Digitech have stuck true to their channel and they deserve a lot of respect for that, but it’s good to see them exert a little more influence on how their product is represented and sold. Again, that’s all conjecture – I have no idea what their plans are for pricing once it’s all integrated or whether it will stay in PS or whether they’ll publish pricing. I just think they should, and this seems like the product to do it.

It’s all a part of a palpable vibe of change at the company – again, nothing they publicly announced, but I get the feeling they had an interesting 12 months previous. To start off with – now it’s DSU, it’s midweek, no heavy marketing push – let’s get to the products, end of. And there’s a lot of good in that, although I think they could have struck a better balance between the old and new. They just seemed to have an open, corner-turning feel about them, like they’d re-discovered what was fun about being a software company – coming out with new product and turning other people on to it. It seemed a really healthy vibe and I’m happy for them, the individuals who make up that company and the group as a whole.

Got a little tear-jerky there, didn’t I? Never mind, back again in a few days with an update: I had started down an OpenERP road sometime back and I enjoyed learning about it. I’ll take this company into those areas in years to come – I’d envision a hosted OpenERP environment in an Azure patch at a low monthly rate, with predefined configurations for retail, logisitics, etc. But that might change by the time I get around to it – it was a pleasant distraction but the business of getting down to business has taken 100% of my energy and I had to back off; ultimately I just needed the CRM portion and I kept getting too deep into the rest of the product. So I’ve wiped it out and switched over to the Community Edition of SugarCRM, all running locally. It’s definitely doing the trick and I’m just using it for what I really need, so no more distractions (don’t count on it).

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Digitech User Meeting and Ongoing Projects

It’s been some time, but at last DesignWall released an update that allows their ‘Page’ theme to support a blog. To be fair to them, they released it a number of weeks back, but I’ve only gotten around to updating it. So we begin again with the Scanfree blog to try and drive some traffic to the site.

I’m excited to say that the PDF extraction processing has gone really well. The tools I’m using now are so sophisticated and so powerful, I don’t think there are many projects I can’t handle. Kudos to TET and AM.

Additionally, I spent part of January out in Colorado, where Digitech Systems were hosting their annual conference, this time renamed Digitech Systems University to reflect the more technical, product-oriented nature of the event. I got a lot out of it, but even so I missed seeing more of HK Bain, their CEO, at the front of the room. But they stripped out most of the marketing aspects of their previous shows, and other than a short intro, we didn’t get to hear much from him. But I did get the chance to catch up with him individually and he was gracious enough to spend a bit of time talking with me. He’s a good man, that HK.

On the product side, Digitech have released some really powerful applications. I wish they had spent more time on Forms Magic (unfortunate product naming) and on their new EForms products, but they are in early stages yet. Regardless, both products show a lot of promise – really powerful stuff.

PaperVision EForms is a new module tied on to the popular PaperVision and ImageSilo applications. It’s a first release so it’s missing some of the bells and whistles of more mature products, but for a first release it really does everything it ought to do. You can build HTML forms or create forms in Word or other applications, import them into PaperVision/ImageSilo and then link form fields to PaperVision fields so input data is brought across once the form is submitted. You get a record of the entry and the submission itself might kick of a workflow or another internal process. Slick stuff, and you can link the form within the PaperVision/ImageSilo application, or use an externally hosted form on the internet/intranet. Simple, powerful stuff.

Speaking of PaperVision Workflow, they also released their latest upgrade to that module, and what a welcome addition this one is – finally getting a little more control over the graphical representation of the flow, and a number of improvements to the design interface that bring the product into the 21st century. That sounds critical of the previous version, perhaps, which is unfair. The workflow was fine, it was just getting a bit long in the tooth and was in serious need of an update – and Digitech really delivered with this one. Hopefully it is a sign of great things to come in future for that module, as it could do a lot more than it currently does.

As for PaperVision Forms Magic (or is it “PaperVision Capture Forms Magic”? – not sure as they have not finished the branding of it), all I can say is Wow! What an impressive product. Granted it was a controlled environment and they had set up the demo ahead of time, but if it works 75% as well as it did on the demo, then it is leaps and bounds ahead of competitors in the forms processing and form data extraction space – including long term players like ReadSoft or AnyDoc or Kofax. PaperVision Forms Magic is the future. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow, need to get to work!

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Site Launch

So much for weekends, eh? Who needs ’em. My own weekend was spent building out the WordPress site (and learning WordPress in the process).

But what can you say about document management and ECM that is not already said a thousand times on every VAR and reseller site around the world? No, clearly the site is just a place to call home. Any knowledge I can pass on in the world of document management will have to live here, on the blog.

(And by the way, my first post had 30+ span comments within minutes. Forgot to turn on Akismet. Best.Plug-in.)

And our new Twitter account is live as well – follow us @Scanfree for updates and info. #paperless and #ECM and #docmgmt will be our likely hashtags for the time being. Okay – enough – need to finish the site so we can launch later today. Hello world!

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