S4i Documents Success In Paperless Transformations
January 21, 2015 Alex Woodie
We’re never going to entirely eliminate paper in the workplace. People are much too dependent on it for that. But the way S4i Systems CEO Spencer Elliott sees it, companies can take tremendous bite out of their paper consumption–and become more agile and efficient businesses–by transitioning to electronic document management tools, such as the IBM i-based package he sells at S4i.
Like many people in the IBM i community, Elliott is old school. He often prefers reading on paper compared to computer monitors, and likes the simplicity that a pencil and a piece of paper afford.
“You’re never going to get rid of paper. That’s like having a paperless poet,” Elliott tells IT Jungle. “If the idea was to get rid of paper, why is it that you get a printer with half the computers you buy? I’ve been in this business long enough that every time somebody sends me something, I go print it.”
While some people will always have a preference for paper, the business advantages of moving toward a paperless environment are too great to ignore. Over the years, nearly 600 IBM i shops have reduced their dependence on paper and improved their document workflow by adopting S4i Systems’ flagship product, called S4i Express.
One of those customers is, ironically, a large paper manufacturer that uses S4i Express to send out invoices and other correspondence. “It’s even too expensive for them to use paper,” Elliott says. “It always gives me a chuckle. We’re sitting here trying to make everything electronic, and they’re trying to make everything electronic in their operations, and yet their business is to sell paper.”
S4i Express stores incoming documents in their native format using the DB2 for i database. Spool files are stored as spool files, TIFFS as TIFFS, thereby ensuring that the documents’ original fidelity are not disturbed. Users can search for and retrieve the documents using a Web-based interface, 5250 interfaces, or using API calls embedded into line of business applications.
“It will handle not only documents off the IBM i machine, but it will file any document that exists in your organization,” Elliott says. “We have customers who have gotten rid of warehouses because they’ve installed our product.”
The software supports more advanced functionality that will break up original documents, such as multi-part invoices, and distribute the pieces electronically, according to metadata pointers the software is programmed to detect, using different mechanisms, such as email, Fax, FTP, and mailed hardcopies.
This advanced workflow capability is used by one large S4i customer that’s an insurance company. It uses S4i to assemble large personalized documents, called declarations, that contain customized provisions to the insurance policy, called riders. Instead of paying a group of clerks to assemble these declarations and riders in a room full of filing cabinets, S4i Express assembles them electronically on the fly.
S4i Express has a fair number of customers with modest document needs who run on smaller IBM i machines, such as P10s. But the software can scale up to meet the demands of much larger customers generating millions of documents per month.
Another S4i customer manages billing for multiple hospitals, and uses S4i Express as the repository for documents generated by a group of mainframes. “They’ve got a midsize i machine sitting there that’s handling all the documents coming in from nine or 12 mainframes,” Elliott says. “They’re doing about 50,000 documents per day. Our product is big enough to say, ‘Hey if you want to give us a whole machine, we’ll take it and use it. But if it’s on the small side and you want to give us an LPAR, we’ll take that too.'”
In some cases, the documents that S4i Express works on are already electronic, but in other cases they’re paper-based documents that need to be scanned. Earlier this month, S4i Systems announced that S4i Express has been certified to work with the latest editions of Fujitsu‘s high-end “fi-series” scanners.
Specifically, S4i Systems ensured that its Windows-based Desktop Capture component worked with Fujitsu’s PaperStream IP (PSIP) image enhancement technology. Jon Fortner, technical support and implementation manager for S4i Systems, says the certification will help ensure the accuracy of scanned documents.
“PaperStream IP has far exceeded our expectations,” Fortner says. “Its image cleanup and correction allows our software to capture higher quality images in smaller, more manageable file sizes with absolutely no custom integration.”
It’s likely that paper will always play some role in American business. But as S4i Systems has shown, it’s possible to replace rooms full of filing cabinets with a single application running on the IBM i server.