Document management (DM) tools give business users the power to not only edit files but transform content creation, streamline workflows, and run a more organized business overall. These tools, which often leverage PDF files, have been so ubiquitous that you probably use DM management in your day-to-day work life without giving it much thought. Still, the field continues to evolve and modernize all of the time.
We recently spoke with Eugene Xiong, founder and Chairman of Foxit Software Inc., about how the competitive landscape is changing when it comes to PDF technology and some of the challenges businesses still face when it comes to this omnipresent tech. In our discussion, we covered the current direction of DM and some predictions about intelligent features in the space.
PCMag (PCM): Where do you see the DM space as a whole going in the next 18 months?
Eugene Xiong (EX): One thing we are seeing in particular is that DM is increasing focus on giving the individual document a newfound sense of identity. It's very hard to have a full, total digital workflow with today's standard DM systems. Sometimes you have to download the file from the system and then use a different tool to process it. In that case, this document is totally out of control of the document system.
Several years ago, we developed a tech we call ConnectedPDF . The basic idea was that, if we took advantage of the connections embedded within the document, it would give the file more meaning. Connected PDF works like this: Once a document is shared, the creator can keep track of who received it, what they did with it, and see when tasks were completed. It also offers strong access controls to individual users. This is all happening in real time. You can configure PDF permissions even after the file has been sent out.
It is here that we realized that the changing landscape of the DM space is all about giving companies more control over their PDF and making it feel much more "alive" than a standard document. I think, in the future, within the timeframe that you mentioned, within a year or two, I think DM systems will shift the focus onto the document itself. This will be the trend instead of just having disparate systems that don't work together. That's what we are hopefully trying to do: to promote the document into a more free space based on open standards and also cloud services. We build a cloud that connects all the different documents together.
PCM: What sort of technologies are going to affect DM in the future? Do you see the PDF space implementing artificial intelligence (AI) features?
EX: I actually don't think it's a right fit. That's a lot of unstructured data in PDF. If you just take all kinds of different PDFs and put them into an AI engine, it doesn't generate meaningful results. What we're trying to do is actually understand the document a little bit more so, starting from the creation of the file, we assign an ID to the document. That allows the document to travel to different places and understand what people are doing concerning the file. Once we have enough data about the document, then we can approach applying AI by looking at some of the more structured data. That's going to generate much more meaningful result.
Documents by themselves contain so-called unstructured data. It's very hard to extract data in a reliable and consistent way from something like a PDF white paper. I think it's very easy these days to promote AI in your product because it's very exciting tech. The truth of the matter is that documents were designed for human consumption only. They have a great deal of unstructured data that current AI tech just can't decipher effectively. With that said, we'll see more initiatives to extract structured data—things such as pricing info, titles, and names—and that will drive more meaningful document intelligence to users and managers. It will provide a much bigger help in terms of increased productivity for knowledge workers.
PCM: What should small to midsize businesses (SMBs) be thinking about when it comes to DM?
EX: That's a good question, and small businesses need to give a great deal of thought to DM. Foxit itself is not a big enterprise; we are still an SMB ourselves. And even then, we still see huge amounts of information exchanged within our organization and between ourselves and other companies. The answer to that is to build a complete document solution that is cloud-based and web-based.
A lot of small businesses might get scared when they talk about DM. They have to pay a lot of money and also go through a lot of effort to deploy, configure, and maintain those kind of DM systems. We see that, in the near future, a lot of providers, including we here at Foxit, are going to provide a complete solution—not only just a DM system but also document productivity tools. We have an easy-to-use, browser-based PDF version which offers all the customization features as any other product but it requires no additional installation. Smaller businesses should be focused on adopting lighter, more sensible solutions for their PDF operations.