White Paper

Defining Documents In The Future

Documents are vital to the success of today's organizations. But, where are we headed in the future? As we enter the new millennium, documents in the 21st century will be the DNA of business.

As technology advances, it's expected that the document will take on new forms and offer new communication possibilities. E-commerce has already resulted in the explosion of documents online. What's in store for the document of the future?

Redefining The Document
Before the digital revolution, the document functioned primarily as the dictionary defined it: an original or official paper relied upon as the basis, proof, or support of something. Now, powerful and integrated technologies will allow the document to be redefined as "any package of data structured for use as information." This means a document can be almost anything: holograms, CD-ROMs, video segments. Essentially, the document will be defined by its author. As soon as the author calls it a document, it is.

The Electronic Document Systems Foundation (EDSF) study, Network, Screen & Page: The Future of Reading in a Digital Age, says the typical document will also be a multimedia composition that will be printed less frequently. It will be simultaneously read, viewed, and heard on portable wireless devices and on larger installed devices. It will allow knowledge workers to conduct business transactions anywhere on earth, without time or space restraints. The document of the future will empower people and organizations to conduct business on a global basis.

The document will help us foster more open and satisfying relationships with our clients by addressing the personal desires of the recipient. Then there is the concept of the interactive document. This gives the author the power to vary access, content, and transmittal of the document, depending upon the recipient. New management structures, new techniques, and new strategies will result from the adoption of 1:1 marketing. The document of the future will also foster communication and collaboration in ways that will enhance the effectiveness and satisfaction of our work. Documents will allow us to build more connected communication environments.

Can You Achieve A Paperless Office?
Becoming globally connected through the document, however, will not bring about the paperless office. In fact, the paperless office is as likely as the paperless toilet.

The technologies that allow us to manage documents without printing them are also increasing the volume of information contained within the documents of an office. One report estimates that the amount of information in offices is doubling every one to three years. So, despite the digital and electronic conversion of documents, the amount of paper continues to grow by 10% to 15% per year.

Some say the paperless office is a possibility because of print-on-demand technology, which implies a kind of print-on-call capability of stored documents — eliminating the need to print inventories and allowing for easier updating. However, "print-to-need" is proposed as a better description than print-on-demand. Indeed, this will be an important document technology in the years ahead.

The real potential of print-on-demand is the ability to print-to-need. The user of the document is empowered to assemble only the specific information needed, using the most current information, and printing the document at the point and time of need. The most cursory consideration of the relationship between the "in" box and the wastebasket in most of our offices will demonstrate the economic value of this concept.

Knowledge management must be an important issue for the document of the future, even though no one can agree on a definition of knowledge management. However, virtually every implementation of knowledge management relies on intelligent document technology. Whether the applications are a collaborative work, intellectual capital management, or knowledge sharing, they are dependent on document technologies, such as content management, hyperlinking, and integrated database tools for data warehousing and data mining.

Documents – The DNA Of Business
Consequently, consider how important documents are. Your office is organized around documents. Glance at your mail room, copy room, "in" box, computer, and filing cabinets as examples. Consider how business processes and transactions are organized around documents. Think about the contracts in your company's legal departments, the databases in the IT (information technology) department, the financial transactions in accounting, and the online business your company conducts. Business can really be defined as an architecture of documents. You could say that documents are the DNA of the business world.

Keith T. Davidson, Ph.D., EDPP, is president of Xplor International, the worldwide electronic document systems association. He can be reached at keith@xplor.org.

Keith T. Davidson, Ph.D., EDPP, Xplor International