Documenting The Supply Chain
Integrating document management with ERP (enterprise resource planning) gives imaging VARs a shot at larger deals and an edge over the competition.
With more than 731,000 customers in western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, utility provider National Fuel Gas was a very attractive prospect for document management integrator IMR Documents and Data (Harrisburg, PA). When Brian Konick, IMR's VP of the western region, proposed a solution, the utility was receptive, but there was one caveat. If IMR's solution couldn't integrate with a PeopleSoft application, there was no deal. According to Konick, National Fuel's requirement was not unusual. Integration with an ERP (enterprise resource planning) application is requested by a majority of its customers. "Companies are spending millions on an ERP system and still have to get up from the desktop to find an invoice," notes Konick. Savvy VARs like IMR are profiting from this inefficiency by image-enabling lines of business applications such as ERP.
"If you look at the marketing around ERP products, it involves accurate costing, real-time reporting, faster customer response, ROI, and improved workflow," says Scott Buchart, president of Optical Image Technology (State College, PA). An EDMS (electronic document management system) fits a number of those categories. VARs who can understand the needs and processes of an ERP environment and enhance its functionality with document management functions, such as workflow and archiving, can realize significant advantages.
"Most of these companies already have ERP or CRM [customer relationship management] from SAP, Lawson, Oracle, PeopleSoft, or another enterprise software vendor," says Lynn Hogg, president of Easy Software (Malvern, PA). "What they don't have is a solution for archiving, imaging, and document management to support that application and quickly and easily provide mission-critical documents. Most imaging VARs go departmental with a scanner and a workstation. That's just the tip of the iceberg. Business documentation far exceeds the volume most imaging VARs are looking at." Hogg cites several areas where document management can be applied to ERP applications such as archiving transactional data, inbound data, outbound data, and reports. It is also a way to make legacy data available through an ERP application.
According to Hogg, corporate customers are looking to increase their efficiency with the same or fewer employees, so their emphasis is on value rather than cost. "Price is not a major factor," contends Hogg. "Companies run their businesses 24/7 on these packages. They want to streamline and reduce costs, and that's the only reason they will buy." Consequently, VARs need to illustrate how document management addresses specific pain points.
For example, Buchart points out that imaging enhances documentation in an ERP system. Since an ERP system purges transactional data, the ability to produce the original image to verify an action is an attractive one for the decision maker responsible when there is an "issue." An imaging solution can also provide ROI. "If the ERP system can trigger a workflow event, a VAR can show the buyer where that will impact his operation by maximizing cash flow, keeping inventories lower, and so on," says Buchart.
VARs can capitalize on the end user demand for disaster recovery solutions, says Gadi Yedwab, VP of technical architecture for Quest Software's (Irvine, CA) information delivery business unit. "By integrating the reports as they actually looked, retrieval is better, so it's much better if you need to restore information. Using the various systems, you can capture a 'picture in time.' If you've associated the data and linked them together, you can restore upon request."
Customers Want New Functions, Old Look
When IMR integrated document management in a credit application for Bayer AG's Pittsburgh location, the simplicity of the interface was very important. "The user just has to right-click to view the appropriate documents," says Konick. "OnBase [from Hyland Software, Westlake, OH] launches automatically and, based on an index or keywords, goes to a particular record. We've reached a point where customers don't want to be bothered having to log on to an application."
In fact, the user may not want to see the document management application at all. Hogg contends that most of his end users access document management functions through the line of business application itself. "Our customers want to see the same interface they've been working in for years," states Hogg. "If I'm in an application, why would I want to leave the screen I do 90% of my work in?" In order to make this work effectively, Hogg warns that the document management application "has to offer a complete interface, not a bolt-on."
Web-Wise Implementation Reduces Headaches For VAR And Customer
Leveraging Web technologies can make the integration easier on both the end user and the integrator. Yedwab advises the use of browser interfaces, which eliminates the need to install an application on every desktop. Since most users are familiar with using a browser, training time is reduced and user acceptance is more likely.
Catering to the end user's desire for ease of use, Yedwab also sees a market for portals. "A Web portal can provide access to all types of documents," comments Yedwab. "It can be configured to allow a user to only see the documents that have relevance to his/her job, and putting them all in a centralized place eliminates the need to search for them."
In addition to increasing productivity, using Web technology can also generate ROI. "One of our customers combined report output with relevant electronic documents and made them available online. They reduced the number of custom reports and realized significant savings." Users have the reports when they need them, possibly even from remote sites. Security rules can be enforced to prevent access by employees who aren't authorized to view the information.
"Tie the document management functions to e-mail integration, and your users gain even more ROI while keeping costs down," says Buchart. For example, using e-mail to route workflow makes use of existing technology while making the overall process more efficient. An e-mail-based workflow also improves efficiency by allowing workers to participate in the process. If the executive who needs to approve a purchase order is in an airport, he can be notified on his handheld and make the decision instead of holding up the process.
While these Web technologies will make life simpler for end users, they can also make life simpler for integrators. "The trend in all technologies toward browser-based and e-mail integration is much easier than trying to join applications," says Buchart. "Web technologies allow people to tie processes together on Web servers, which are easier to implement." Buchart points to a customer in England who implemented an SAP integration with a browser-based server application. "It was much easier than writing a lot of DLLs [dynamic link libraries] and OCXs [ActiveX file extensions]. From a deployment standpoint, there are no installers on desktops and the upgrades are easier."
Change Your Approach To Imaging, Increase Your Profits
In a competitive market, being able to provide ERP integration is a way for imaging VARs to stand out. "The competition in the imaging market is the same guys selling the same products, and all they're doing is beating each other up," says Hogg. "Where there's less competition, VARs can claim a larger portion of the dollars spent." Hogg believes that many imaging VARs haven't moved into this potentially lucrative market because it requires a significantly different approach. "Most resellers haven't opened their eyes and asked specific questions because they are afraid to go outside their comfort zone," contends Hogg. "They are so used to just providing storage and retrieval, they don't even know what to ask."
If VARs look at imaging as a technology that can drive a line of business application instead of a self-contained solution, the size of potential deals increases. "Viewing imaging as a stand-alone solution cuts VARs out of larger enterprise-wide implementations," says Hogg. "Where we saw declines in typical scan, store, and retrieve applications, we grew by 65% last year even after September 11, and that's based entirely on the ERP/CRM business. I can't count the number of stand-alone solutions our resellers have replaced. Some of those involve customers with tens of thousands of SAP seats."
While some VARs may be hesitant to share a client engagement with another integrator, resellers who don't have ERP expertise may want to consider teaming up. "There's a big opportunity for imaging VARs to work with ERP VARs if they're willing to share in the bigger game," says Buchart. "It may be too much of a challenge to step up to the plate and go it alone, but if they know imaging, workflow, and e-mail integration, they can get 50% of something instead of 100% of nothing."