Deliver End-To-End ILM
Providing your customers with a complete ILM (information lifecycle management) solution requires expertise in document management and storage.
Whether your customers are driven by industry mandates (e.g. Sarbanes-Oxley) or just want to run their businesses more efficiently, an ILM solution can help. ILM is a combination of document management and storage technologies. But, be advised, there are some important steps you need to take and pitfalls you need to avoid in order to successfully implement ILM. Four industry experts offer their advice.
Lead With BPA, Follow With Hardware
One of the keys separating hardware and software resellers (i.e. box movers) from total solutions providers is their sales approaches. Box movers engage line-of-business managers and try to bid hardware or software products at lower prices than their competitors. “Solutions providers help their customers think about business strategies such as BPA [business process automation],” says Sameer Samat, VP of development and technology at document capture vendor Kofax. “This approach enables VARs to engage additional people, such as VPs and C-level executives, and to earn recurring revenues.” Consider a banking customer that wants to eliminate the process of putting forms in interoffice envelopes and sending them to its corporate headquarters. A low-end scanner can solve this problem. But, rather than selling a couple of scanners and moving on to the next customer, why not find out whether all of the bank’s branches could benefit from this business decision? A solutions approach to selling entails determining how you could work with the bank’s headquarters to help it receive the scanned documents, electronically route the digital forms to the appropriate department and/or person, and store and retrieve the digital forms.
Make Sure Your ILM Is SMB, Vertical Market Friendly
Even if you don’t specifically go after SMB customers (i.e. companies with 1,000 or fewer employees), there’s a good chance your large enterprise customers, which often have multiple branch offices, will have similar needs. One of the first things any SMB customer (and many branch office decision makers) is going to object to after hearing about ILM is the cost. “When you add up the cost of a document scanning and indexing solution and combine that with a tiered storage solution plus configuration and implementation fees, you could end up with a solution that costs well over $100,000,” says Robert Schaefer, CEO of data protection and data lifecycle management vendor Breece Hill. “In most cases, the price and functionality of these solutions is totally out of line with what the SMB needs.” For example, traditional ILM solutions include detailed querying and reporting capabilities for every bit of stored data. The majority of SMBs just need to know the time value of their data, which means, for instance, that certain records are archived after 7 years and others are archived after 10 years based on industry regulations and/or other business factors such as warranty expiration dates. “By taking the time to understand their customers’ business needs, VARs can offer more simplified all-in-one ILM solutions for less than $20,000,” says Schaefer.
In addition to keeping their customers’ budgets in mind, VARs need to make sure they understand the specific requirements within their customers’ vertical markets. For example, the accounts payable department of a healthcare organization operates under much different guidelines from a manufacturer’s accounts payable department. More importantly, the manufacturer’s accounts payable department doesn’t have to worry about HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) guidelines, which restrict who is permitted to view data that can be traced to a healthcare patient. This has serious implications on how a VAR implements workflow (i.e. an automated process whereby digital documents move from one department to the next), which is part of the ILM process. “The cost of vertical market ignorance is incalculable nowadays,” says Mitchell Hallock, director of marketing at document information management vendor Westbrook Technologies, Inc. “If a VAR doesn’t think through the workflow process and a healthcare document is routed to an unauthorized person, the VAR’s credibility will be lost.”
The best way for VARs to become knowledgeable about specific vertical markets is to attend training classes from their vendor and/or value-added distributor (VAD) partners and even to seek the help of these partners the first few times they roll out ILM solutions for a customer in an unfamiliar vertical market.
ILM Data Needs To Be Duplicated, Audited
One of the most important points of an ILM solution is that it enables end users to move less important information from online storage to less expensive nearline or offline storage media. This makes operations such as backup and restore much more efficient. But, just because data is copied onto tape or disk is no guarantee it will be available for retrieval. “Very few VARs make the extra effort to build in auditing features to their customers’ archived data,” says Diamond Lauffin, sr. executive VP at disk-to-disk archiving vendor Nexsan Technologies. “There was a high-profile incident within the past year where a New York financial firm was fined more than $1.4 billion because it was unable to retrieve specific documents requested by a governing agency. This example is only one of many that occurred in 2005. Also, there are multiple top financial institutions aware that a percentage of their archived data resides in an irretrievable condition, either because of data or media corruption or actual physical loss of the data.” The bottom line is that if you aren’t auditing your customers’ archived data on a regular recurring schedule, you can’t ensure the data is maintaining its integrity. And, unlike media files such as video or music, which can still be retrieved if some of the bits become corrupt, data files in most cases are an all-or-nothing situation.
In order to make sure your customers’ archived data is secure, you need to make sure more than one copy of the archived data is created. Also, make sure one of the copies is stored at a location far enough away from the original site that it would not be destroyed in the event of a disaster (e.g. hurricane, flood) at the original location. Lauffin recommends transferring replicated data online across secure wide area network or Internet connections (via virtual private network tunnels) to reduce physical transportation costs. The final step is to implement auditing software that uses a hashing program to create a digital fingerprint of the archived data and check the archived data against the fingerprint on a regular basis to ensure the data maintains its integrity. “No matter what kind of archiving media is used, it will eventually lose its integrity,” says Lauffin. “The only way a VAR can guarantee data reliability is to audit its customers’ data.”