How Accusoft's API Adds Workflow To Existing Doc Management Systems

Great document management involves more than scalable document storage, search, and versioning. It also involves workflow, particularly when multiple stakeholders are involved. A classic use case might be a contractual negotiation between two or more parties where the various provisions are often renegotiated, tweaked, and approved multiple times. One person edits the document which not only triggers a version change (which must be subsequently stored and easily retrieved by all parties), but that modification must also be routed through an ordered and auditable series of approvals. Such workflow management involves a level of complexity that many document solutions lack.

For organizations whose entrenched solutions grew out of the need for shared docuent storage and retrieval, switching to a new more comprehensive solution is like most other migrations; nearly impossible to fathom. But, thanks in part to how the API economy makes it possible for existing solutions to outsource that functionality via API to a software provider that specializes in some complementary functionality, it no longer takes a migration in order for an organization to have a more capable shared document storage and retrieval solution. For organizations that need document workflow, routing and approvals, Accusoft offers an API that makes it possible for exsiting solutions to inherit that capability from the capabilities it has developed in its PrizmDoc collection of APIs.

To find out more about how any document storage solution can be enhanced to include PrizmDoc's workflow capabilities, I interviewed Accusoft's vice president of product Steve Wilson. In that interview which is embedded below as video, audio, and a full text transcript, Wilson told me about how the companies traditional roots in image management evolved over nearly three decades to put it in position as an API provider today. According to Wilson, the company has resisted going into traditional document management itself (storage, retrieval, etc.) and stayed squarely focused on providing the API-based workflow bit that many existing solutions lack. 

Another key advantage to the Accusoft approach is how it's available as both a containerized and cloud solution. The reason for this flexibility, according to Wilson, is that many organizations still prefer not to keep their most sensitive documents in the cloud with solutions like Office 365 and Google Docs. These organizations typically have some sort of document management system behind their firewalls where the introduction of any workflow capabilities must also stay behind the firewall in order to preserve the utmost confidentiality of the sensitive documents. But for organizations that don't want the hassles of running an on-premises infrastructure, Accusoft also offers the capability in the cloud. 

To hear all that Wilson had to say about Accusoft and its solutions, be sure to give a look, listen, or read to one of the versions of the interview below.

Interview of Accusoft's VP of product Steve Wilson

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Full Transcript of David Berlind's Interview with Steve Wilson, Vice President of product for Accusoft

David Berlind: Hi, I'm David Berlind, editor in chief of ProgrammableWeb. Welcome to another episode of ProgrammableWeb's Developers Rock podcasts. This is a special sponsored edition. With me today is Steve Wilson. He's the vice president of product for Accusoft. Steve, thanks for joining us today.

Steve Wilson: Hey David. Thanks for having me.

David: Yeah it's great to have you. When I started looking into Accusoft I was very surprised. We don't encounter too many companies that have been around for 27 years and are still going at it, and have managed to reinvent themselves for the digital age. The first question I have is what was that journey like? How did you manage to stay in business all these years and thrive?

Steve: Yeah, we're very proud of our heritage. We started 27 years ago and it was solving a market need that was out there for compression and decompression of images. Through listening to our customers as that customer base grew, we got into document imaging and just basically followed the markets as our customers brought us that feedback. I think that's the key to any organization, just listening to your customers, helping them solve problems for their end customers. We've been a very successful and very fortunate to to still be thriving.

David: Where are you today? What are the solutions that Accusoft offers to its customers especially in light of the API economy?

Steve: Yeah, so today our focus is really around document conversion and document manipulation and routing. A lot of our customers are ISVs that have document management systems and eDiscovery solutions, for example for legal, they're working with a wide variety of file types and document types. They need to annotate those documents, they need to edit those documents, they need to route those documents for approval and signature. That's really been our focus for the last couple of years is really around document conversion and document imaging.

David: What problem do you solve? If I'm a customer of Accusoft's, what is the big problem? Where do you come in? There are a lot of document management systems out there of course, mentioned legal. I know they have some very special needs, but what are the real kind of value added proposition if I might add if you're working with or integrating with other document management systems?

Steve: Yeah, so if you are an ISV building a document management system for your target market, you would use our products to give your document management system a common interface for any kind of file types. It's the common interface that can be white labeled to, to fit your document management system, providing any of the tools for annotation, editing, for commenting, redaction, those sorts of things through a common interface no matter what that final type is. We're kind of the technology behind your product. Your customers don't even know that we're in that product, but we've saved you all that development time by providing that common interface for any type of file type.

David: Okay. Any ISV would take this sort of capability that you baked in -- the redactions, the comments, all that sort of that's, that's typical of a legal process in a law office I'm sure -- as well as as well as many other contexts, maybe government context where they're writing regulations or things of that nature. There are a lot of systems on the market. Why was it that you guys dove into this space to do this? I mean there are plenty of other systems that other companies I think are using, but it is it this ability to kind of white label what you do into a third party system?

Steve: Yeah, I mean that's always been for 27 years, that's been what Accusoft does. We are the technology behind the scenes. We provide white labeled solutions that allow other people to accelerate their project ,so they don't have to reinvent the wheel. We saved them development time. That's always been our bread and butter. That's where we've landed with document management as well, again, based on the needs of our customer.

David: Is there a chance that some people will take a look at your redaction capabilities, your markup capabilities, and also want your own document management capabilities? I'm assuming you have that as well?

Steve: Well typically we do have routing and workflow capabilities. We don't provide document management in terms of storage, that's what the customers will add because typically these are on prem or their own private clouds that they're enabling for their customers. They want to use their own storage. We don't lock them into anything on our side. We want to be the technology that provides what we do well, which is the common interface, a white label solution to not have to put those documents out of their system and into Google Docs or Microsoft 365, so that they can actually keep control of those documents and give their customers a common interface to work on them.

David: Oh let's talk about that for a second because you mentioned private cloud, and then you went and said people don't want to keep it in Google Docs or Office 365 so my guess is is that there's a little bit of an aversion among your customer base to public cloud. Why would that be?

Steve: Yeah. For legal customers for example, they're working on a case, they're doing discovery, they don't want those documents to leave their organization. They want them to stay within that cloud solution that they provide them is typically a private cloud or it's an on prem, where they're actually hosting it themselves. Their customers are not going to send those documents to Google Drive or Google Docs because they know that now Google has those secure files on their file system, the internet.

David: In the public cloud...

Steve: Right.

David: ... where there's a lot of people who legitimately have a fear that they're not in control of those documents, right?

Steve: Yep, Exactly. Yep.

David: When I go back to how you white label your solution, or how other third party ISVs could white label your solution into their document management system, that's all through an API?

Steve: Yes, all through REST APIs yep.

David: Okay. The Rust APIs are available to anybody, or do you kind of work more directly with partners? In other words, do you have to kind of recruit the partners, or they have to come to you and get approval? How does that work?

Steve: No, they're available to everybody. We have both on prem, and we also do have our own public cloud. We do have customers that use that, that aren't as sensitive to where their documents are stored or where there worked on, so we do provide that. In those cases, the customers see us as their dev ops for their own organizations, right? We scale those clouds and those servers up as they need to within AWS, but by and large, the most of our business is on prem. They're going to host our server within their infrastructure and call our APIs through through the REST APIs that we require.

David: I see. So the customer is doing that, but really it's the document management system that the customer is using that's making those calls. Correct?

Steve: That's correct yup.

David: If I'm a customer that's using a one of the document management systems that have incorporated your API into it, white labeled your solutions so to say, is that a pretty quick add on? Do I just fire up the document management system, go into the settings or configuration and say, "Hey look, I've got Accusoft's product here and it'll just kind of a snap in?"

Steve: Well that would be exposed to their end users through the provider of that document management system. They typically through a menu item or some, their end user on the legal side for example is not going to call our APIs, that that ISV would have already provided access to our APIs through some kind of menu item or some kind of user interface to that customer.

David: Right. It's in essence of the ISV already supports you and you say you want and the customers using that system, they should be able to go into something and say pick Accusoft as as as one of the plugins solutions. You said on prem and you said a server. Do you package this is as like an appliance that you deliver or do people take delivery of the software and install it on their own system if they're doing the on prem version?

Steve: Yeah, so both. We do provide containers that they can put onto their own system. It's a server install. Once that's embedded into their application that can be distributed to their customers' clouds. Then once it's running, that's they just call it by the APIs.

David: Does the customer license the product separately from you and plug it in, or do they kind of acquire it through the ISV? Are the ISV like a channel for your solution? How does that work?

Steve: The ISV is a channel. You're correct. Yeah. So the the license is through that ISV. Their customer is just consuming that license through that channel, yeah.

David: What made you develop this solution? Like I said, a lot of solutions out there already have this kind of thing. Yeah. How did you get there?

Steve: So for editing, our PrismDoc Editor products, we really started Accusoft like you said, been around for 27 years, over a thousand customers. All of those customers have contracts and renewals that happen every year. Each one of those contract documents were being emailed, used a Microsoft Word on the desktop to start with the latest contract. We would red line that with track changes, email that over to the customer, customer would download it, mark up their own, hopefully send back the right attachment to us where we would then use comparisons just to see, "Okay, are we okay with those contract changes?" So we really wanted to remove the need to track email attachments from all of these contract renewals that we had on our sales side. We wanted to develop a solution that would allow us to build a workflow, keep all of that in an attachment that we control, again not out to the cloud because we don't want our contract information out on the public cloud.

Steve: We started using some open source solutions for editing and for the red lining and they just weren't scalable enough. Because of our heritage and the technology that we can provide in terms of doing these large scale types applications, we started to develop our own. Actually a developer did it over a weekend kind of as a hackathon type project. He brought it to us—

David: Wait, one of your developers did this?

Steve: Yeah, yeah. He'd say, "You know what? I don't like this open source solution. It kept falling down, with all of our customers and all the scale we are putting on the system, it just wasn't scalable enough for us." He thought he could do a better job over a weekend, and over several weekends he did. He built a great proof of concept, brought it back to the management team, and we gave him the green light to build a minimally viable product, and started through our own workflow solution to try to expose that to our customers, and to see if we could really solve that for us first, and the rest is history. PrismDoc Editor now is the product that other customers can consume in their own document management system to provide that same functionality we provided for our, our customers and our sales team.

David: All right. Hopefully, not only did you pivot there and create this great new solution, but that guy must've gotten a raise out of that one, right?

Steve: He's doing pretty well. Yeah.

David: You've got to love the developers, right? You've got to give them some love when they do something that's so big for your company.

Steve: Absolutely. That just produces even more. There's even more weekend projects going on to try to build these solutions.

David: I'll bet you've got some other developers there who want some same skin like that guy, so hey, let's go do it, or gal, I don't know. That's great. What about when customers want to acquire the solution? What are the costs like, because some people are gonna think, "Okay that's a great solution. I want it as part of my document management system." Or maybe there are ISVs is out there that are watching this or developers who say, "Wow, that's a great solution to build into what I've built especially because it's available by API." How do you charge? What's the business model behind the API? How much does it ends up being to a customer?

Steve: Yeah, so we have a couple of different licensing scenarios. We really want to, because where the ISV is our channel, we really want to have that flexibility so that they can license this the way that they are already licensed their solution. A lot of our customers are per user, and so we offer that model. On our public cloud, we also offer a transaction model. Every time a session is open with that document, is a transaction to us and we charge them accordingly. In either case, that customer has the flexibility to really scale up with us. As their customer base grows, they pay us more money. It just gives them that flexibility to license the way they normally would.

David: That's great. What's next? Now that you've come up with this great solution, made it available via API, what comes next? You obviously experienced some success here in the API economy. Usually, when an API provider experiences a little bit of success like that, they looked at diversify or add on.

Steve: Yeah, we're just in the process of listening to our customers and we want to solve their market needs. We're just going to see where it goes from there and really just continue to focus on our heritage, our ability to work on multiple file types, everything from Word documents to CAD drawings to, to medical images. We'll see what our customers need our help solving and go from there.

David: You said medical images, so explain that application a little bit to me, that sounds interesting. It's a little bit different than the legal world, yeah.

Steve: That's a big part of Accusoft's heritage, are medical images. The editing product would come into play with more around the medical records, but images could be part of those dicom packages that are part of that EHR system.

David: I would also imagine that the application has some suitability in a sales environment. I know I'm doing business --  ProgrammableWeb lies on about 25 different services that we outsource things to, for example, ad serving, analytics, the list goes on when we do AB testing, all kinds of stuff like that. Every time we do a deal with another one of these companies, there's a whole bunch of contractual stuff going back and forth between the lawyers. It's actually insane. It drives me nuts. I can imagine that they're using some sort of CRM system, sales system. Is there a CRM context for this as well?

Steve: Yeah, so we integrate with CRM systems and other document management systems. That initial solution that we developed this for, we integrated with our Infor CRM system. Those contracts originate from our CRM system. We generate those documents with the account information. We already know about that account.

David: I see.

Steve: Once it goes through the red lining processes, it's then put back on, and once it's executed and signed, it's then put right back into the CRM system.

David: There's like three different components there. There's the Infor CRM system. There's the document management system. I'm assuming there's another document management system or is that built into Infor?

Steve: No, we're just using Infor in that case as the document management system yep.

David: All right. Right, so so that's a good example of, it's not just the document management ISVs that are going to incorporate you into their systems. It's also other contexts like CRM.

Steve: Yup, absolutely. We want to work with wherever the documents are stored. Again, our business is not to store the documents, but we want to be the red lining, the workflow from that system of origin through the workflow and the review process and the red lining back to that system of origin.

David: So understood.

Steve: Yeah.

David: Okay. So for anybody who was interested in where they, where can they come find more information?

Steve: Accusoft.com. Yeah, API access for our public cloud is a great way to try these products out. You, you get transactions for free and then you can sign up. Once you've integrated that, and done your proof of concept, you can talk to us about our on prem solutions if that's the route you want to go. Everything is on accusoft.com.

David: When you say you get the transactions for free, you mean like developers can come and experiment and try it out before they actually go live in production. Once they go live and production, that's where the business models supposedly kicks in.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely. We want them to build their proof of concept as easy as possible. That's again, one thing that we've done well over the years is provide those tools for free for developers to build proofs of concept, and then we want to work with you on your distribution model once you're ready to go live.

David: Got It. So it's accusoft.com that's A-C-C-U-S-O-F-T.com. I've been speaking with Steve Wilson. He is the vice president of product development at Accusoft. Steve, thanks very much for joining us today.

Steve: Thanks David.

David: That's great. Another wrap up here on a ProgrammableWeb Developers Rock podcast. Thanks for joining us. For more videos, come to programmableweb.com. You'll find a whole bunch of videos we've got there. You can go to our YouTube channel at youtube.com/programmableweb. For ProgrammableWeb, I'm David Berlind. Thanks for joining us.

 

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