Stem the Tide of Information Overflow
Eastman Software's WorkFlow Manager Suite keeps complex workflow processes running.
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
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.
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.