Since 1987, Laserfiche has provided clients with the training and support they need to implement a comprehensive system that manages all their information, from scanned and electronic documents to archived e-mail messages and multimedia files.
In the following Q&A, Laserfiche President & CEO Nien-Ling Wacker discusses document and records management, her philosophy, and the history and future of Laserfiche.
What is your background and current role at Laserfiche?
I was educated in Australia and the United States in Physics. My background in the industry comes from providing custom solutions to information management problems for large organizations in Southern California. The solutions I developed required the synchronization of structured data from multiple locations to create up-to-date, centralized data stores that provided actionable information. As these types of solutions proved successful, my customers looked to do similar things with unstructured data. Working with American Honda to design a system to manage and index a very large collection of documents, I could see there was a critical business need that wasn’t being properly addressed.
My idea was to develop a computer system to read information from pictures of documents and index that information in such a way that would add intelligence to the collection of scanned documents. My goal was to create an “auxiliary brain” that would make it possible to effortlessly find specific pieces of information by simply searching for a word or phrase. By 1987, technology was catching up with my vision and we began developing the software. Laserfiche was first commercially available in 1988 using specialized hardware that we helped design. We were really the pioneers in bringing document imaging and full text search to the PC, and we have continued to introduce user-centric innovations such as the nested folder interface to provide a graphical interface for organizing documents. Over the last 20 years, we’ve continuously improved, expanded and refined the functionality of Laserfiche and we’ve remained focused on providing simple and elegant electronic document management solutions that help organizations run smarter.
Today, as Chairperson and CEO, I continue to provide vision and focus for Laserfiche. I’m very active in the local community and our industry, serving on the boards of a number of industry and community organizations. In recent years, I’ve been particularly focused on growing the Laserfiche Institute as a trusted and respected educational resource in the industry. With technology changing so quickly and more emphasis on managing information properly, our customers are increasingly looking to us as experts to help them continue to address these issues.
What services does Laserfiche offer?
Our solutions and services get to the marketplace through our channel of Value Added Resellers (VARs). These companies receive their initial training at our corporate headquarters and receive continuing education through weekly web-based training sessions and an annual conference in Southern California. We encourage our resellers to specialize in providing document management solutions to the industries we focus on (healthcare, finance and government), and we work hard to make them subject-matter experts. Our solutions utilize an open architecture and we encourage our resellers to utilize their integration skills to provide solutions that are a 100% match for their customers’ needs. In addition to providing Laserfiche solutions, our resellers provide consulting and integration services and support the solutions they provide (hardware and software) locally.
How do markets outside the U.S. vary?
Through our reseller channel, we have a global presence, and I would say that records management has become increasingly important worldwide in recent years. The U.S. has lead the way by creating standards for records management applications that make it easier to choose an acceptable solution. In our experience, some countries are more diligent than their counterparts in the U.S., which makes the transition to an electronic solution much easier. However, records managers face the same problems as their counterparts throughout the world – they’re a small group in a large organization and getting other departments to participate in the records management solution is difficult.
How has scanning and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology advanced over the past 10 years?
Scanning hardware has advanced at a similar pace as other computer peripherals. Today scanners are smaller, faster and cheaper than they were a year ago. Organizations are moving away from centralized scanning centers and distributing the scanning process by putting scanners on the desks of people who receive and create content. Additionally, photocopiers have become networked scanners that often include a monitor and keyboard, and organizations are looking to improve their return on investment by using them as departmental scanners. We’ve continued to develop flexible capture tools that allow our customers to automatically capture, index and file documents regardless of how they are imaged.
OCR technology has improved marginally over the last 10 years. Most production-level OCR engines have expanded the number of languages they support and their accuracy levels have improved slightly. Web-based search engines have had a bigger impact on our industry as the ability to search for information on the Internet has made people crave the same capability within their organization. To meet this demand, more software vendors are supporting OCR and full-text search and the quality of search engines and relevance of search results is improving quite a bit.
What impact has the Sarbanes-Oxley Act had upon records management?
Like other regulations, Sarbanes-Oxley has increased awareness of the importance of managing information properly. All of these regulations have helped to push records management into the mainstream and have created a huge need for education as organizations look to use records management solutions to help them achieve regulatory compliance. We offer a lot of educational resources on our website and provide educational webinars on a nearly daily basis, and we’ve been getting a lot of interest from organizations that wouldn’t be looking at records management solutions just a couple of years ago.
Do you believe that we are moving towards the “paperless office?”
I think people are attracted to the idea of the “paperless office” but they can’t completely give paper up. Instead, we’re seeing a shift in how paper is used in organizations. For example, if a group of people need access to a group of documents, instead of printing out multiple copies, they’ll all have access to a digital copy. Whether they print out a copy is a decision they make based on personal preference and some people will print everything, others will print a few sections and others won’t print a thing. We’ve worked hard to provide software that makes documents more useful in a digital format, but we also understand that some people prefer to work with paper and we don’t force them to do something they aren’t interested in.
What do you think of the green factor associated with document management?
People tend to look to document imaging/management to create a reduction in the amount of paper used in an organization, but studies have shown that’s not really the case. In our experience though, we’ve seen our customers eliminate the need for storage rooms and offsite storage by scanning their documents into a centralized repository. It’s interesting that the benefits of a document management solution that help organizations save money – eliminating the use of FedEx or UPS to send information throughout the world, eliminating the use of couriers to distribute information locally, eliminating the daily trips to the storage warehouse and eliminating the need for dedicated office space for storage – also go a long ways toward reducing the “carbon footprint” of an organization.
What are your company’s unique selling points?
We are a software development company that’s always looking for the simplest solution to complex problems. We’ve always strived to develop software solutions that are easy to acquire, easy to use, easy to implement and easy to integrate with other applications, and that philosophy has made us relatively unique in the industry. As an example, we’ve developed a user-centric approach to records management that we call Transparent Records Management. Our approach comes from an understanding of the inherent structure required for a records management solution and the amount of flexibility required to implement a document management solution organization-wide. While an organization may need a records management solution, in most cases, they really want a document management solution. We found a way to bridge the gap by presenting the average system user with a flexible and intuitive interface that looks and behaves exactly the way they want it to. In reality, we’re implementing a highly-structured records management system, but we’re able to tailor the view for each department, so they don’t even know there’s a formal file plan in place. We can even implement simple capture solutions that automate the classification of information, so the entire records management foundation is transparent to the average user.
Who do you consider your main competitors and how do you differ from them?
I think our primary competitor is inertia. I’ve found that if we listen to the customer and enhance what they are already doing, we will have a happy customer. When you look at the deals you don’t make, many times it’s not because your competition took it away from you, but because of lack of timeliness, and information, and satisfaction with the status quo.
What are your predictions for the future of records management?
In the past few years, I have witnessed the evolution of the records manager’s role within organizations. Therefore, I see more of a holistic view of the organization and a good deal of careful, upfront planning to ensure that all needs are met almost transparently.
As I mentioned earlier, records management has become mainstream. With technology changing at an ever-increasing pace, organizations will soon be able to purchase highly specialized solutions for less than a generic, run-of-the-mill solution would cost them a couple of years ago.
What does the future hold for Laserfiche?
It is obvious that the world has gone more digital. We will strategically seek to comply with the market mandates for convergency, which is key to implementing intelligent solutions. Electronic document management is no longer an island.
We are going to continue to strive to be visible in front of our market verticals, demonstrating how easily paper and digital documents can work together. We believe that the best customers are the ones who are educated and know what options are available to them.
Good software should be easy to use. Complexity is not a license to charge a lot of money. People should be able to understand the technology, so that they can make a good decision. Therefore, we will continue to strive for simplicity, working with software and hardware, offering turn-key solutions.
It’s an exciting time for all of us.
Note: This interview originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of the Records Management Society Bulletin. Reprinted with permission.
Laserfiche Media contact:
Francine Marlenée – 562-988-1688 ext. 211, firstname.lastname@example.org