S4i Web Interfaces to Document Management Offering
April 10, 2007 Alex Woodie
It’s unlikely that any of us will ever achieve the techno-nirvana of a “paperless office.” There simply is no way to duplicate with computers all of things you can do with physical, paper-based documents. At the same time, very good arguments can be made for moving the bulk of your paperwork into digital documents that are stored on a System i server and distributed using the Internet. One offering that can take you there, S4i Systems‘s S4i Express and WebView combo, was recently overhauled to add new functionality to this process.
Whether or not we’ve bought into it, we’ve all heard the hype of the paperless office. According to this theory, in the future, all documents will be created, stored, distributed, consumed, and destroyed electronically. Purveyors of electronic documents cite a lot of really good benefits, including more efficient handling of documents, faster and more streamlined access to documents, space savings, postage savings, and protection from disasters. There are also good environmental reasons for going electronic, such as the elimination of wood products (although electricity is required to keep the documents “alive”) and health benefits–no more pesky paper cuts.
But there are downsides to going all electronic, hitches in the paperless office giddyup that render it a pipe dream dead in the water. For starters, there’s no good way to sign your name to a digital document without printing it out, which is why most legally binding contracts start their lives on paper. Portability of electronic documents is also an issue, and although many people have started “carrying” their digital documents with them using USB key fobs, they still require a computer to view, and there are many places where using a computer is impractical. Also, amazing as it sounds, some people don’t use computers. (You might even have a Luddite in your family.)
The good news is it’s not an either or situation. You can take advantage of the real benefits that electronic documents have to offer, while keeping that printer and paper stock for generating physical documents when they’re required. Products like S4i Express and S4i WebView let you centralize and digitize your business correspondence, without tying you permanently to the electronic fence post.
S4i Express, from Oceanside, California-based S4i Systems, is an i5/OS-based electronic document management system. The software monitors System i print queues, processes the output using report-segmenting or bundling rules, converts it into PostScript, PDF, HTML, RTF, CSV, or plain text format, and then distributes it electronically (via e-mail, fax, FTP, or the Web), or prints or archives it for safe keeping.
S4i Systems sells a companion product to S4i Express called WebView that enables users to view documents and reports through Web browsers. Earlier this month, S4i Systems debuted an overhauled version of WebView, version 3.1, that brings a number of new features, including new drag-and-drop functionality, better fax and e-mail distribution capabilities, a new annotation function, improved security, and a new desktop archive function.
WebView version 3.1
WebView 3.1 received a complete overhaul using the latest HTML capabilities, says Spencer Elliot, president of S4i. “We designed WebView to function like a fat desktop application and not a thin browser-based one,” he says. “It works just like an application is supposed to. It’s amazing that it runs in a browser. This is where all browser-based applications should be going.”
Chief among the enhancements is a new interface that should be intuitive for users. Users can now drag and drop items, such as documents and distribution lists, to customize their interface, which wasn’t possible with previous releases. It’s also a simple matter to create new folders, or to change the name of an existing folder (just double click on the folder to rename it).
WebView 3.1 also gains a new desktop archive feature that functions more like a document-capture system. (S4i Systems resells Kofax‘s Ascent Capture technology for large-scale scanning and capturing of paper-based documents.) With the desktop archive function in WebView, documents or spreadsheets created on the user’s desktop can be uploaded and archived in S4i Express’ main System i repository, for uniform control. The new desktop archive function also automatically organizes various versions of user-generated documents, so older versions can be pulled up, if necessary.
A new annotation function has also been added that enables users to write comments or notes, or to add highlighting or other notations to a document, and have those changes automatically associated with the document in the main System i repository, or to not include them when the document is uploaded. The new annotation feature is expected to be particularly beneficial when coupled with WebView’s new workflow capabilities.
Sending invoices, purchase orders, and other documents via e-mail and fax will also be easier with version 3.1. With this release, users can attach multiple documents to a single e-mail. Previous releases limited attachments to one per e-mail–a limitation still suffered by other electronic document management tool vendors, S4i Systems says. Fax has also been brought closer into the WebView fold by making the user controls for faxing look like the other distribution options.
Finer grained security controls should also make WebView more useful in a corporate environment. In previous releases, the software supported only one user authority and password, which meant all users had access to the same resources. With version 3.1, administrators can now implement individual authorities and passwords, enabling different levels of access to be set up for individuals and groups. Support for PDF passwords has also been added.
S4i WebView version 3.1 is available now. The software requires an application server like WebSphere or Tomcat, and supports Internet Explorer 6 and 7, and Firefox versions 5 and 5.2. License fees start at $2,350. Customers that license the software before April 30 will receive a 15 percent discount. For more information, visit www.s4isystems.com.