Records management goes commercial

ANAHEIM, Calif.— Seven months after a federal judge spurred agencies to start accounting for their electronic records, records management solutions are hitting the software mainstream.

Here at the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) '98 trade show last week, vendors began showcasing newly upgraded or integrated products that they are developing with federal government customers in mind. These products are being designed— many for the first time— for the front office as well as the file room.

Whether from traditional records management software vendors, new players in the field or corporate alliances between the two, these solutions aim to quell the clamor for products that link the creation of documents to their ultimate fate. In doing so, vendors are trying to bridge a divide between records officers, who have used software mostly to help them track paper records, and information technology managers.

"You have to treat electronic and paper documents the same way,'' said Richard Medina, senior research analyst with Doculabs, a Chicago technology evaluation firm that released a benchmarking study of five records management packages at the show. "You have to link with desktop productivity tools, electronic messaging, the Web. All these software companies had to do was make the records manager happy, [but] now they have an enormous constituency.''

Although vendors say corporate customers also are asking for electronic records management solutions, the seed for this latest crop of software comes mainly from two recent federal policy changes. A court decision last October held that agencies had to preserve their e-mail and word processing files in their original form, and a month later, the Defense Department issued a long-awaited set of functional requirements for electronic recordkeeping systems that are likely to be adopted governmentwide.

Companies are taking a variety of approaches to the problem. Here at AIIM, Los Angeles-based Cuadra Associates Inc., which created one of the first records management software packages nearly 20 years ago for tracking paper files, unveiled a new module of its flagship Star product for classifying e-mail. The application lets users attach classification and disposition instructions to the messages they create.

"We are at a point where we do want to stop printing things out,'' said Robert Starbird, the mid-Atlantic region sales manager with Cuadra, but traditionally IT managers took a "hands off'' approach to content. "There has to be a melding,'' he added. This summer, the company also plans to introduce its first non-Unix server, based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT.

Medina said such decisions are critical because agencies need electronic recordkeeping systems that conform to their existing infrastructure. "At every level, they have to standardize,'' he said. "They have to play with the IT shop and use their resources— Web browsers and NT. On desktops, they have to look and feel like Windows applications.''

Also last week, workflow vendor Universal Systems Inc. (USI), Chantilly, Va., kicked off a marketing campaign for e.Power, which packages its Staff Action workflow application with document management software from PC Docs Inc. and with ForeMost electronic recordkeeping software from Provenance Systems Inc.

Tony Summerlin, vice president of sales at USI, said the suite, released March 31, is designed for enterprisewide'' applications, such as requests for travel orders, that would be used throughout an agency. Customers would use the records management tools to catalog documents used in a work process.

"You can see at a glance what the status [of a document] is at any moment,'' said Dean Bundy, the records manager with the Naval Research Laboratory, who has seen the product demonstrated.

Other records management vendors exhibiting at AIIM said they also are working on new versions of their software and are busy forging deals with traditional document management and workflow vendors.

PS Software Solutions Inc., Ottawa, Canada, is crafting a stand-alone version of its RIMS Studio recordkeeping software, which is currently available only as a module of Docs Open from PC Docs and as a module of Panagon from FileNet Corp.; PC Docs and Panagon are document management systems. Michelle Amiro, marketing manager with PS Software, said the new package, planned for October, will be integrated with document management capabilities that Microsoft is including in NT 5.0, making the package more widely usable.

According to Doculabs' Medina, it will take time for vendors to develop applications that meets all their customers' records management demands. Of the five packages reviewed in the benchmark study, including products from Provenance, Cuadra, PS Software, Tower Software and Information Network Inc., none passed every test.

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