Product Reviews

Stem the Tide of Information Overflow

Eastman Software's WorkFlow Manager Suite keeps complex workflow processes running.

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If you’ve ever worked on a helpdesk or turned in an expense report or purchase order, then you’re familiar with workflow processes. When you create a trouble ticket on the helpdesk, there are several steps that you have to follow. First, the call comes in. Then, it needs to be sent to higher levels of support, documents about the problem need to be tracked, and a timeline for resolution needs to be set. The process is often done manually, but they can be automated.

Another process that can benefit from automation is document scanning. In my company, we get hundreds of documents. These documents are scanned, then filed or faxed. Problem is, they need to be accessible by others in the company and sometimes modified by one or several people. Eastman Software’s Workflow Manager Suite addresses all these workflow issues. WorkFlow Manager Suite is actually three products—workflow management, document acquisition, and version control and storage—designed to work together.

WorkFolder for Microsoft Exchange

The helpdesk is a prime example of a process that a company can more efficiently organize. When a call comes in, the problem is assigned to a technician. The technician is responsible for call tracking, creating documents related to the problem-solving process, and setting deadlines for problem resolution. This is where WorkFolder can help.

WorkFolder must be installed on the server and every client that needs to use workfolders. Think of WorkFolder as an electronic manila folder. It appears as a Public Folder in Exchange, where you store and organize documents, events (calls being made or taken), deadlines, and anything else related to a project. It even has a notification agent that can alert a technician whether a task has been assigned or when a deadline is approaching or has passed.

The only real drawback is the convoluted process for creating the Workfolder. To create a new message in an Outlook Public Folder, for example, you typically click on the New button. To create a new workfolder, though, you must select the Choose Form option from the New menu in Outlook. I tried to circumvent this by assigning the workfolder form to the Public Folder, but to no avail. And when you try to select a form, there’s no real way of controlling which form you’ll select; you might create a new helpdesk workfolder in the finance public folder, for example—user education will be extremely important.

Think of WorkManager Suite's Workfolders as if they were manila folders that you pass around to others in your group, except that they're passed around electronically via Outlook Public Folders.

Imaging for Windows Professional

Imaging for Windows Professional is one of the most useful software tools I’ve run across in quite a while. Scanning and storing documents is a common occurrence in today’s companies, and it usually involves many steps: You scan the document, save it on disk, then use optical character recognition software to transfer the document to a word processor or create the document in an acceptable picture format. Faxing or emailing the scanned document involves a few more steps.

Imaging for Windows Professional simplifies this whole process; my needs were met with its prefabricated workflows, which include scanning-to-faxing and scanning-to-OCR, among others. If one of the built-in workflows doesn’t fit your needs, you can customize them or create your own using the software development kit. With Imaging for Windows, the scanning and storage of documents becomes so simple that anyone can do it with minimal training. Honestly, if this software has any drawbacks, I couldn’t find them.

Document Manager for Exchange

The last tool in the trio, Document Manager, solves document version control problems. Document Manager manages documents through an Exchange Public Folder. To work on a document, you check it out, then check it back in when finished. If another users needs a document, that person looks in the Public Folder to determine the document’s availability. This form of version control keeps multiple users from modifying the same document simultaneously and also provides an archival history of a document as it goes through revisions.

I did find a drawback, which is listed right on the front of the CD case: Eastman warns that you shouldn’t attempt to install and use this feature on your own. Because the product is complex enough that it can interfere with other installed components on your server and clients, the company highly recommends using a trained consultant to plan and implement the Document Manager correctly. They weren’t kidding; setup and configuration isn’t for the faint of heart. This also means that small- or even medium-sized companies might have to weigh the beneficial payback with the cost of implementing this feature; larger companies can more readily justify consulting costs to implement this feature.

Your Choice: Work With or Against the Flow

Eastman Software claims that their product can help in your fight to organize workflow and document storage, and they’ve made good on it. WorkFolder centralizes documents so they’re more easily accessible, although it uses a convoluted process for creating new folders. Imaging for Windows automates document scanning and storage and does so flawlessly, no matter what size company you work for. Finally, Document Manager can help with document version control, but configuring it takes the services of a trained consultant (according to Eastman), a cost that might be unjustifiable for many small companies. (Instead, I’d consider Microsoft Visual SourceSafe in its place.) Overall, this package can be a workflow saver for mid- and large-sized companies.

About the Author

Joseph L. Jorden, MCSE, MCT, CCNA, CCDA is Chief Technical Officer for Dugger & Associates (www.Dugger-IT.com). He was one of the first 100 people to achieve the MCSE+I and one of the first 2,000 to become an MCSE under Windows 2000. Joseph frequently contributes to books from Sybex and various periodicals.

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