Monthly Archives: March 2012

Conference Season Begins

I attended one conference back in January, but the season really starts to ramp up about now through June, and I kicked it off with the Kofax conference in San Diego earlier this week. Just a few disclaimers about my participation in conferences, in case I forget to mention it in each case:

  • Conference organizers provide me with a free conference pass under the category of press, analyst or blogger. In exchange, they receive publicity when I blog or tweet about the conference. That publicity may or may not be favorable to them: giving me a conference pass does not guarantee that I will like the content.
  • For vendor conferences, the vendor always reimburses my travel expenses. This does not give them the right to review or edit any of the blog posts that I publish; in fact, it does not even guarantee that I will publish much while there if I’m really busy investigating their products and talking with their customers. However, it does guarantee that I understand their products and market much better afterwards.
  • If I’m giving a formal presentation at a vendor conference, it’s safe to assume that they paid me a fee to do so; at some other conferences (such as academic or non-profit ones), I may waive my fee. Paying me to speak at a conference does not give a vendor any additional coverage or editorial rights with respect to my blog posts.
  • Everything is on the record during the day, and off the record once the bar opens in the evening, unless otherwise requested. I created the “Kemsley rule” after noting that people tend to spill exciting upcoming news after a few drinks, then follow with a slightly horrified “don’t blog that”. I’m almost always invited to briefings under embargo or NDA at vendor conferences too, which I don’t blog either.

In April, I’m scheduled to give a keynote at Appian World in DC, and possibly sit on a panel (and definitely attend) IBM Impact in Las Vegas. May and June will be pretty busy, and I even have something scheduled in July, which is usually quiet for conferences. More to come on all of these as they get closer.

Kofax Transform Keynote: Martyn Christian and Anthony Macciola

The morning keynote came after the first round of breakout sessions, with Martyn Christian (CMO) and Anthony Macciola (CTO) providing some history of Kofax and its uses, plus a lot more about where it’s moving from a technology standpoint and how customers are using it. This is my last session of the conference since I have an early afternoon flight, so provided a good summary and wrapup to my Transform visit.

Their current message is around capture-enabled BPM: combining the Kofax content capture processes with the TotalAgility (Singularity) dynamic case management capability to improve the capture and processing of information. Capture becomes the driver and initiation of the business process, rather than something separate that happens before the process begins; in some cases, recognition can be sufficient that human intervention is removed and the whole business process is really just the capture and recognition process. When I first was introduced to Kofax, around 1989, it was all about scanning with a bit of recognition; now, it’s about all sort of content ingestion and recognition to reduce or eliminate human involvement in non-value-added tasks such as document classification and indexing. As greater integration with TotalAgility occurs, I expect that we’re going to see human intervention during content capture to be handled more as ad hoc or unstructured exception cases in that environment rather than the more traditional Kofax structured transactional environment.

Point of origination capture is also an increasing important part of their strategy, and was already evident from the breakout sessions that I’ve been attending over the past 1.5 days: control of MFPs and mobile devices through KFS, plus content capture capabilities on customer-facing portals. I’m seeing this trend in all areas of business process: customer-facing employees and customers want more functionality on the device of their choice, and IT can no longer specify (for example) that document capture is only done in centralized scanning facilities by data entry operators.

They walked through the case management capabilities coming in through the Singularity acquisition: I expect that some number of Kofax customers will be considering using that for at least the front end of their business processes rather than their existing BPM systems, since you can set up cases to do things such as define the documents required for a case and prompt for the missing documents. If TotalAgility is integrated pre-committal (that is, before documents are moved from Kofax Capture to a content repository such as SharePoint or FileNet), this has the capability to assemble the complete case of documents before committal for lower latency. Of course, there are many situations where you don’t want to do that pre-committal, for example if the documents need to be more widely available, but I can think of a number of use cases where assembling the complete set of documents is something that needs to be done interactively with the front-line capture user, and a round-trip to the ECM platform would just slow things down.

Is Kofax going to capture 35% of the BPM market, just like they have 35% of the capture market? No way. But can they make the front-end of document-centric processes much more capable and flexible, and likely eliminate some integration to heavier BPM platforms for case creation/completion? Absolutely.

They covered some of the emerging Kofax analytics tools – content extraction analytics, content analytics, traditional business intelligence and visualization, and predictive process analytics – and although they don’t see themselves as an analytics vendor, they provide capabilities for either standalone analytics into your Kofax-based processes, or driving into more comprehensive analytics solutions.

The keynote moved on to a panel at that point, but I had to duck out to catch my flight – check out the Transform Twitter stream for more updates on what they talked about.

Kofax Mobile Capture

I arrived at this session a few minutes late and ended up standing in the back of the room: it was a completely packed house, which is a good indication of the popularity of the idea of using a mobile device for point of origination capture. There are a lot of use cases for mobile capture, ranging from mobile mortgage brokers to home healthcare specialists to claims adjusters to proof of delivery forms in transportation; mobile capture eliminates the paper movement and also greatly reduces the time required to capture these documents directly into a business process.

The goal for mobile capture is not just to take a photo of a document – the regular camera app on your mobile device can do that – but to capture a process-ready document and push it directly into the front end of the business process, just as if it were being scanned. That requires some degree of smarts built into the mobile app for capture: ensuring that the entire document is being captured using visual framing and minimize movement during capture, some post-capture processing, and confirmation that the capture was successful. For the most recent generation of smartphones, including the iPhone 4S, that means running Kofax VRS right on the phone; older phones have to send the images off to a VRS server in the cloud before receiving confirmation of a “good” capture (suitable for passing on for back-end recognition) 3-5 seconds later. The correction that can be done on the device is pretty impressive: segmentation to separate the document from the background (dependent on good contrast), keystone correction for when the camera is not square to the document, dynamic thresholding to maximize readability throughout the page, rotation, cropping, color correction/removal (including removing colored highlights without losing solored markings elsewhere on the page), and shake/blur correction. In a near-future release, it will also be possible to do barcode recognition right on the phone, too.

The phone app downloads batch class definitions and other server-based parameters the first time that it connects, and during document synchronization, but otherwise can perform completely offline. Obviously, on a lower-end phone that needs to use VRS in the cloud, the offline capability won’t be as great. Documents are uploaded to the Kofax cloud server on demand, using SSL on the communication but no image encryption.

The app allows the user to track and add to open cases, or create a new case based on a batch class. This dictates the expected document types and the indexing fields; the user may be prompted to enter in index information, or this may be left as a back-end function. Everything passes from the cloud through Front Office Server (KFS) on its way to Capture, which means that the type of restrictions that can be placed on MFPs – as I reviewed yesterday – can be applied to mobile devices, too.

The iPhone 4S’ 8MP camera takes photos at 2,448 x 3,264 pixels; if you could perfectly frame an 8.5×11” page during capture (which you can’t), that would give you a resolution of about 290dpi. Count on losing at least 10% around the edges of your image during capture, so a letter-sized page would be captured at about 250dpi. Adequate for OCR of standard printing, but you’re not going to capture tiny fonts. Also, the user experience of capturing a lot of pages using a phone is not really the best, so use cases with higher resolution or higher volume requirements are probably going to be better served by a mobile scanner. The first version of the app will support document and photo modes for capture; future releases will expand this to allow video and audio to also be captured.

They will also publish their SDK in the future to allow organizations to create their own mobile app based on the Kofax technology, allowing organization-specific security and functionality to be included. I expect that this will be extremely popular with bigger organizations who want to control the user experience more tightly.

I had seen a bit of this from Kofax previously, but great to see more of the detail, and I’ll be looking forward to trying it out or seeing a live demo when they release the mobile application on iOS and Android in Q2. Windows Phone will follow later, but Blackberry currently isn’t on the roadmap unless demand increases.

Kofax Capture Product Portfolio

I finished the first day at Kofax Transform with a briefing on the Capture product portfolio from Bruce Orcutt. A key trend in content capture is that content can really come from anywhere, in any format: paper, web, data, fax, etc.; Kofax Capture is attempting to be that universal gateway for all content capture, not just the scanning that they’re best known for.

Some Kofax Capture feature updates:

  • Thin client indexing and validation, so that the capabilities of the desktop client that would normally be used by an indexing/validation operator can now be done with a lower TCO.
  • Access to KTM capabilities, including structured forms processing for extraction and other document and page processing. There are still some functions that require a full KTM implementation, such as content-based classification and separation, but a big chunk of KTM functionality is now right in KC.
  • Import connector is now a separate product, handling import from fax, email, file import, SMS and other sources. This isn’t just a simple import; VRS can be applied to enhance images before downstream recognition. No more printing of faxes and emails so that they can be scanned!
  • Kofax Front Office Server (KFS) allows KC to be extended to the front panel of an MFP, so that KC processes can be initiated there. I covered this in more detail in my post about the MFP session earlier today, although I missed noting that only Ricoh MFPs support card swipes for authentication.
  • Centralized configuration of VRS, which is then pushed out to the individual scanning stations running KC and VRS.
  • Detection and reporting of device problems based on image quality degradation from within VRS, e.g., stretched images may indicate ADF transport roller wear, allowing maintenance to be performed before catastrophic equipment failure occurs.

This was more of an incremental update than a review of the entire portfolio, but worthwhile nonetheless.

Kofax and MFPs

Lots of interesting content this afternoon; I had my eye on integrating BPM and Kofax Capture, but ended up at the session on turning MFPs (multi-function printers, aka MFDs or multi-function devices) for point of origination document capture using Kofax Front Office Server (KFS). Rather than collecting documents at remote offices or branches and shipping them to central locations, KFS puts scanning capabilities on the MFP that already exists in many offices to get the documents captured hours or days earlier, and eliminate some of the paper movement and handling. This isn’t just about scanning, however: it’s necessary to extract metadata from the documents in order to make them actionable.

They presented several scenarios, starting with the first simple touchless pattern:

  • Branch user authenticates at MFP using login, which can be synchronized with Active Directory
  • Branch user scans batch of documents using a button on the panel corresponding to the workflow that these documents belong to; these buttons are configured on Kofax Front Office Server to correspond to specific scan batch classes
  • VRS and KTM process the documents, doing image correction and auto-indexing if possible
  • The documents are committed to a content repository
  • The user can receive a confirmation email when the batch is created, or a link to the document in the repository after completion

Different buttons/options can be presented on the MFP panel for different users, depending on which shortcuts that are set up for them during KFS configuration; this means that the MFP panel doesn’t have to be filled up with a bunch of buttons that are used by only a few users, but is effectively tailored for each user role. There are also global shortcuts that can be seen on the MFP panel before login, and are available to all logged-in users.

A more complex scenario had them scan at the MFD, then return to their computer and use a web client to do validation and correction required before committing to the repository; this is the thin client version of the KTM validation rather than a function of KFS, I believe. This has the advantage of not requiring any software to be installed at the desktop clients, but this is still fundamentally a data entry functionality, not something that you want a lot of branch users to be doing regardless of how slick the interface is.

The speaker stated that KFS is designed for ad hoc capture, not batch capture, so there are definite limitations on the volume passing through a single KFS server. In particular, it does not appear to be suitable (or optimized) for large batches, but really for scanning a small set of documents quickly, such as a handful of documents related to a particular customer file. Also, the images need to pass to KFS in color or greyscale mode for processing, then are thresholded by VRS to pure black and white before passing on to KTM, so it may be better to locate KFS at the branches where there are multiple MFPs in order to reduce bandwidth requirements. Fundamentally, KFS is a glorified scanning module; it doesn’t do any of the recognition or auto-indexing, although you can use it to capture manual index values at the MFD.

It’s also possible to do some controlled ad hoc scanning: instead of just uncontrolled scan to email (which many of the MFPs support natively, but ends up being turned off by organizations who are nervous about that), you can scan to an email, with the advantage that KFS can convert the document to searchable PDF rather than just an image format. However, it’s not clear that you can restrict the recipients – only the originators, since the user has to have this function in their profile – so organizations that don’t currently allow scan to email (if that function exists on the MFP) may not enable this either.

There is also a KFS web client for managing documents after MFP scanning before they go to Capture and KTM, which allows for pages to be reviewed, (permanently) redacted, reordered, documents split and merged, burn text notes into the document, and other functions. Since this allows for document editing – changing the actual images before committal to the content management system – you couldn’t enable this functionality in scenarios that are concerned with legal admissibility of the documents. The web client has some additional functions, such as generating a cover page that you pre-fill (on the screen) with the batch index fields, then print and use as a batch cover page that will be recognized by KTM. It also supports thin client scanning with a desktop scanner, which is pretty cool – as long as Windows recognizes the scanner (TWAIN), the web client can control it.

As he pointed out, all of the documentation is available online without having to register – you can find the latest KFS documentation here and support notes here. I wish all vendors did this.

They finished up with some configuration information; there appears to be two different configuration options that correspond to some of their scenarios:

  • The “Capture to Process” scenario, where you’re using the MFP as just another scanner for your existing capture process, has KFS, VRS and KC on the KFS server. KTM, KTM add-ons and Kofax Monitor are on the centralized server where presumably dedicated KC workstations also feed into it.
  • Touchless Processing scenario moves KTM from the centralized server to the KFS server, so that the images are completely processed by the time that they leave that server. I think.

I need to get a bit more clarity on configuration alternatives, but one key point for distributed capture via MFP is that documents scanned in greyscale/color at the MFP move to KFS in that resolution (hence much larger images); the VRS module that is co-located with KFS does the image enhancement and thresholding to a binary image. That means that you want to ensure fast/cheap connectivity between the MFP and the KFS server, but that the bandwidth can be considerably lower for the link from KFS to KTM.

Kofax Capture Technical Session

It’s been a long time since I looked at much of the Kofax technology, so I took the opportunity of their Transform conference to attend a two-hour advanced technical session with Bret Hassler, previously the Capture product manager but now responsible for BPM, and Bruce Orcutt from product marketing. They started by asking the attendees about areas of interest so that they could tailor the session, and thereby rescue us from the PowerPoint deck that would be the default. This session contained a lot more technical detail than I will ever use (such as the actual code used to perform some of the functions), but that part went by fairly quickly and overall it was a useful session for me. I captured some of the capabilities and highlights following.

Document routing allows large scan batches to be broken up into sub-batches that can be tracked and routed independently, and move documents and pages between the child batches. This makes sense both for splitting work to create manageable sizes for human processing, but also so that there doesn’t need to be as much presorting of documents prior to scanning. For my customers who are considering scanning at the point of origination, this can make a lot of sense where, for example, a batch loaded on an MFD in a regional office may contain multiple types of transactions that go to different types of users in the back office. Child batch classes to be changed independently of the main batch, so that properties and rules to be applied are based on the child batch class rather than the original class. A reference batch ID, which can be exported to an ECM repository as metadata on the resulting documents, can be used to recreate the original batch and the child batch that a document belonged to during capture. Batch splitting, and the ability to change routing and permissions on the child batch, makes particular sense for processing that is done in the Capture workflow, so that the child batches follow a specific processing path and is available to specific roles. This will also feed well when they start to integrate TotalAgility (the Singularity product that they acquired last year) for full process management, as described in this morning’s keynote. Integrating TotalAgility for capture workflow will also, as Hassler pointed out, will bring in a graphical process modeler; currently, this is all done in code.

Disaster recovery allows remote capture sites connected to a centralized server to fail over to a DR site with no administrative intervention. In addition to supporting ongoing operations, batches in flight are replicated between the central sites (using, in part, third-party replication software) and held at remote capture locations until replication is confirmed, so that batches can be resumed on the DR server. The primary site manages batch classes and designated/manages the alternate sites. There’s some manual cleanup to do after a failure, but that’s to be expected.

Kofax has just released a Pega connector; like other custom connectors, they ship it with source code so that you can make changes to it (that, of course, is not necessarily a good idea since it might compromise your upgradability). The Kofax Export Connector for PRPC does not send the images to Pega, since Pega is not a content repository; instead, it exports the document to an IBM FileNet, EMC Documentum or SharePoint repository, gets the CMIS ID back again, then creates a Pega work object that has that document ID as an attachment. Within Pega, a user can then open the document directly from that link attachment. You have to configure Pega to create a web service method that allows a work object to be created for a specific work class (which will be invoked from Kofax), and create the attribute that will hold the CMIS document ID (which will be specified in the invocation method parameters). There are some technicalities around the data transformation and mapping, but it looks fairly straightforward. The advantage of doing this rather than pushing documents into Pega directly as embedded attachments is that the chain of custody of documents is preserved and the documents are immediately available to other users of the ECM system.

Good updates, although I admit to doing some extracurricular reading during the parts with too much detail.

Kofax Transform Keynote: Craig Le Clair

Craig Le Clair from Forrester gave a keynote to discuss the role of capture and dynamic case management. He co-authored the Forrester Wave for Dynamic Case Manager published in January 2011, in which Singularity (acquired by Kofax last year) places in the leaders section. If I had wifi right now, I’d look up and link to his Forrester profile, but I recall that he also does a lot of CRM and enterprise software of various sorts.

I have little respect for middle-aged people (many younger than me) who just don’t make the effort to get plugged into this century, and tell cute anecdotes about “digital natives” – usually children under 10 who do something clever with an iPad – as an introduction to talking about social media and mobile applications in business environments. After that initial misstep, however, Le Clair laid out how the shift of consumer power to mobile devices will drive functions such as mobile capture, which Kofax provides by allowing the Atalasoft portal and mobile devices to become the point of origin for captured content.

He continued on to talk about managing untamed business processes, the topic of presentations that I’ve seen him do on webinars, and how case management can help knowledge workers deal with unstructured processes within an information-rich context. This was a bit of an introduction to case management, which it probably appropriate for most of the audience who come from the Kofax customer/partner side, including the three main use cases that Forrester is predicting for case management: investigations, service requests, and incidents.

He then went completely off on a tangent to talk about SharePoint and content frameworks, recommending that targeting SharePoint in your organization requires a view of its strengths and weaknesses. Duh, yeah. This appeared to be some sort of weak lead-in to a division between SharePoint targets and capture-driven process targets, but didn’t really make sense, or possibly there just wasn’t sufficient time to develop the idea. Not sure why the discussion of content ecosystems was even in this presentation.

He finished with a comparison between “Process 2011” (meaning today, so the slide should be updated to “Process 2012”) and “Process 2020”: in today’s world, processes are dictated by the business, not the customers, and mobile is just  a pretty face on a traditional process that keeps peeking out at the most inopportune moments. There is a shift happening that puts customers in control in business processes, and enterprise software needs to adapt to accommodate that.