First Impressions: Laserfiche

Written by BPM.com.

Laserfiche 8.3 Delivers Document-centric BPM and Case Management

Laserfiche is a familiar name to anyone who follows the ECM market. As a long-time leader of solutions for document capture and transactional content management,  Laserfiche 8.3 builds on this history with new capabilities that address the needs of both document-centric BPM and case management.

A critical aspect of document-centric BPM is the ability to link a document to a business process, based on content and context (i.e., metadata) from the moment of capture.  Rather than launching a process and in the course of that process capturing a document, it is the document itself that drives the process.  In other words, the process launched or “instantiated” is based on the document itself, rather than choosing the process then capturing the document.

This may seem a subtle difference in perspective, but it represents a critical difference in delivering both flexibility and control (read “operational governance” and “compliance”) for capturing content into a system, with immediate management and auditability of content. This is enabled by applying security and metadata at the moment of capture, or more specifically through the capture process itself, rather than through the “processing” of a particular document as it progresses through a given workflow. This approach stands in opposition to the traditional approach where there is inherent latency in applying attributes to document, to the point that the actual management of content does not truly begin until the process is complete.

For these reasons, capture has become the critical leverage point for document-centric BPM.  We’ve seen heightened recognition of this fact in the last year through merger and acquisition of several previously independent BPM and capture software vendors.  Laserfiche, however, is advantaged by the fact that both the capture and process engines were (and continue to be) developed internally, as part of a single platform.  This is critical to enabling the level of integration described above, where rather than launching capture as an external event, both the acquisition and processing of content are part of the same process, with the same user interface, the same security model, and the same governing business rules. 

 

Through the Laserfiche Quick Fields™ function, metadata or attributes can be extracted at the moment of capture, and that information is immediately available to the user, or potentially redacted based on applicable security rules and role or user-based authorization. Attributes can be extracted and applied using optical character recognition (OCR), as well as data look-ups. In this case, key values are pulled from the document (e.g., invoice number or case number) then looked up; this related information is then associated as metadata in the document record and in the process audit trail.

New Capabilities in Laserfiche 8.3

Enhancements in Laserfiche 8.3 include a new versioning ability which allow tracking of both content and metadata changes within a single document record, as well as Digital Signatures which allow users to digitally sign documents, either as a means for indicating acceptance of the document, or as a type of “virtual notary” where other users in the process can validate that the contents have not been modified since signing and that the signed version represents the official document of record.   In addition, the workflow engine can route documents according to the signature’s validity.

These abilities together represent the core defining qualities of document-centric BPM.  With traditional, integration-centric BPM, a process can be constructed to link a capture system, with a content repository, and integrated with another system or user environment.  An instantiated process can launch the capture of a document, manage the steps of applying attributes or metadata to the document, and push the document into another environment.  Yet the process itself is essentially unaware of the contents of the “payload” or in this case the content and context of the document. 

The state of the process is not based on the content of the document, but which predetermined activities have been completed.  This allows the potential for security holes, for example exposing content that a given user should have not have access to, or control of the document being deferred to external systems, such as the capture environment at one stage and the repository at another stage. 

In contrast, document-centric BPM of the level provided by Laserfiche 8.3 allows for control of content to be maintained from the moment of capture, and state of the process is determined not simply by a predefined sequence of activities, but by content and context of the document itself.  This allows Laserfiche 8.3 to support traditional structured processes involving document routing, but also to manage the dynamic (unstructured or semi-structured) content-dependent processes surrounding modern case management (commonly called Dynamic or Adaptive Case Management).

Answering the Call for the New Generation of Case Management

Any traditional BPM process is inevitably defined as a series of activities and a predetermined path for reaching completion.  The process model may have multiple branches and subprocesses, but ultimately all possible paths are permutations that are defined in advance, as shown below.  As each activity occurs within the process, the state of the process changes. As the state changes and is transferred from one activity to the next, control flows from one activity to the next.  So the business process map shows the control flow or who has management of the process at any given time.  This is why it is described as a “structured” process.


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A common misconception of case management is that it is simply document routing via case folders.  Managing the capture of new documents and information, as described above, is essential to supporting case management.  But it involves much more than simply routing documents.  Rather, it is ultimately defined by the ability to apply process and rules to the lifecycle of a “case” – tracking of events and outcomes surrounding new pieces of information (content) supporting the case until it is resolved.  For this reason, case management solutions are inherently event-driven.  When the first event occurs, a case file is opened, and a that point the end point is known – i.e., the circumstances which define how and when the case is completed is predetermined.  


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Yet at the time the case opened, it is not known exactly what will transpire throughout the lifecycle of the case. Thus unlike BPM, the state of the case is not determined by where it fits on a particular flow chart or process map, but by the content and the context within the case. This again is why having information capture seamlessly integrated is such a critical requirement of case management.

A simple example is what occurs with a customer support case.  A customer reports a problem, a case is opened and then what happens next is the movement toward realizing and resolving the goal, but exactly what happens is not determined in advance. In this case an issue is investigated, and potential solutions are tried, maybe successfully, maybe un-successfully.  Inevitably there will be correspondence with the customer that needs to be captured, and resolution may take months and multiple steps to resolve, or the case may be closed in a matter of minutes. 

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The exact steps cannot be predetermined, but will be determined by content and context of information received – the circumstances of a single document may resolve the case, or it may kick-off several other new documents which need to be completed or otherwise captured.   

Adaptive Case Management at Work

 

An example of this type of business requirement is represented by a traditional Laserfiche customer, in this case a county government agency. The agency was already managing cases surrounding services provided to constituents. As is a common requirement for municipal services, each case involved potentially several groups of documents and records of events that needed to be held in compliance with state-mandated standards. Receipt of funding from the state is dependent on the ability to demonstrate that services were delivered in a specific manner, so the context of information captured is critical.

This highlights the capabilities that define Adaptive Case Management – to secure and preserve the context of the record (capturing the timestamp and other attributes of information received, digitally signing the record to ensure its authenticity) and providing guidance and enforcing how and what information is captured.

Prior to the adoption of Laserfiche, the agency was losing potential revenue through the inability to prove that compliance was met. With Laserfiche in place, both document-based context was captured and governance was enforced. Yet as is common with most case management scenarios, the actual initiation of a case is completely separate from the document captured. Documents are captured only once the case is initiated and the appropriate services or program is determined.

An event occurs as is illustrated in the generic example above, most likely a phone call to visit a government office, and the case is initiated. At this point the case worker needs to begin the process of completing or capturing state-mandated information, which is facilitated by the Laserfiche solution (again this is the “Adaptive” aspect rather than simply opening a generic case folder.)

During this early stage of research, compliance and oversight must be enforced, going beyond that of any single document. New documents and required information is identified, but the case is more than simply a single document or collection of separate documents. This is where case management separates from standard document-centric BPM. With Laserfiche 8.3 there are additional new capabilities that enhance its core functionality to differentiate it in the space of Adaptive Case Management. These include:

  • Volume Checksums which enable verification and validation that the contents of a case volume (beyond a single document which can be digitally signed) to detect tampering, corruption or data loss, and notify users in the event that documents are invalid or incomplete;
  • Encrypted Briefcases which allows users to encrypt Laserfiche contents exported as briefcases using AES 128 encryption, ensuring that the briefcase cannot be opened or imported into a repository without a valid password;
  • Link Groups allows users to assemble as collections of related but otherwise separately managed documents into groups.

 

As illustrated above, Laserfiche 8.3 supports goal-driven and unstructured processes along the case management lifecycle, and at any stage to launch a structured process related to a given document or other set of tasks. What’s known with the case is that the event occurs, you’re following it to its resolution, and you’re applying business rules at various points to insure consistency with policy. Yet regardless of whether it is ad hoc or structured, the context is captured in the record, allowing demonstration of what happened and what was involved at any given point in the case.

Supporting Mobile Workers: Allowing Work to Follow Workers

 

A critical requirement for case management is allowing the work to follow the worker, providing the cohesiveness of a single point of access wherever work is performed. Laserfiche 8.3 does not impose whether this work is virtual or physical but pulls all the end points, information, environments and provides that long-term record of how work is done, as well as the guidance, rules, visibility and input that allow knowledge workers to be productive. 

The customer example above is typical of knowledge work, where the individuals working on the cases are inherently mobile.  Case work typically involves working in the field, in this example going from client to client and house to house.  To facilitate this, Laserfiche provides multiple ways for case workers to add or retrieve content from remote access points, including using an iPhone or other mobile devices. 

 

The Laserfiche Mobile™ app is available for free download in the Apple App Store and allows users to update or retrieve existing documents with the iPhone; it also makes use of the iPhone camera to add new documents to the repository. Information imported with Laserfiche Mobile is automatically cropped, straightened and text is extracted via OCR.

Laserfiche follows relational a database model so that all of the data in the template may be parsed across several template fields, or several tables in the database. Both documents and text extracted via OCR is stored and indexed on a file server allowing individual pages to be accessed individually rather than as a single document or database “blob” field.

In addition to mobile access, Laserfiche 8.3 provides a web-based interface and SharePoint integration, as well as a version compatible with the x64 edition of Microsoft Office 2010.

For more information on Laserfiche 8.3 visit http://www.laserfiche.com/news/archives/2011/12/13/laserfiche-8-3-released/

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