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Technical Trends: Unified management via document super highway

by Michael Stanley

It’s one thing to merge electronic and paper data, but if one looks at today’s document environment, developments are underway that will open the way to interactive systems and services that are likely to revolutionise the way we communicate.

Today’s document environment is changing in line with the spread of high-speed Internet services that have made it possible to exchange not only text data, but also image, audio, and video documents. A proliferation of mobile peripherals, such as PDAs and mobile phones, all supported by a wireless communication infrastructure, has also meant that documents can be exchanged regardless of time and location.

E-marketplaces, along with solutions like ERP, Supply Chain Management,

CRM and Sales Force Automation in their support, have also meant an increasingly large volume of documents that need managing.

In short, document management functions have changed significantly. People want links among network and image devices and applications so that they can access, update and share documents anywhere and anytime. In this environment, it must be possible to handle documents in optimal formats from any network device anywhere in the world, at any time, including documents of other systems.

Connecting all these devices and application software via some foundation is the future which aims to systematically connect various networked devices and applications to ensure document interoperability.

One can use a highway as an analogy, a mechanism that provides functions to documents could be thought of as a service station on the highway, and documents as vehicles travelling along it. The functions provided by the service station would be those required for the life cycle of any document, such as device input and output, distribution, archiving and retrieval.

Additional functions of another system would be provided by an interchange, and because the documents travelling on the highway would be defined by XML open specifications, it is easy for them to move into and out of other systems.

The design policy of this “highway” needs to consist of four essential points. This would include a common hardware architecture to enable all imaging devices to be used as a network terminal with common operations, and all imaging devices to be connected through a common interface. The next point is component software design to provide application operability as well as simple system extendibility by combining functions.

A consistent system interface that is disclosed to third parties will permit customisation of operations in accordance with the user’s type of business, as well as to ease the burden of system upgrades. Industry-standard data format and protocol will facilitate connection with other systems and enable quick and economical system development by third-party vendors.

In past architectures, print, fax and other functions were achieved by adding them on the copier board using multiple network cables. As a result, uniform management was impossible.

In contrast, the new architecture features common services running on a general-purpose operating system, and the sharing of the network and hard disk, memory and other resources at the system level. This configuration also mounts various applications like copier, scanner, printer, and facsimile on the application interface.

This new architecture provides significant advantages, for example, data input and output to and from the network can be managed in a uniform manner, and integrated data exchange with the various functions can be carried out. When developing new applications in conjunction with the application interface, new functions can be added on a software basis.

Unified hardware architecture means that the same functions, operability, and connectivity can be achieved even if actual hardware changes.

New hardware and software will start emerging that will operate on the Document Highway platform. Next-generation office solutions must take advantage of the Internet-age’s speed, interoperability and openness.

Michael Stanley is marketing manager at Gestetner SA. He can be contacted on or on +27 11 723-5000

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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