HTML5 technology permits a radical simplification in document access across the entire supply chain. Because there are only basic prerequisites in equipping users in the supply chain with the ability to access important documents (the same document and viewer is transmitted to every authorized user), this technology is truly revolutionary.
The requirements are simple:
a) Internet access
b) A computer that can run a browser
c) A browser that was released within the last 3 years or so
- One viewer/editor for all — allowing training and support of one application.
- A configurable viewer that can be modified for a specific requirement. Because the administrator controls the configuration, removing printing, emailing, text extraction capabilities or any combination of functions can minimize security issues. Permission levels can be set so administrators have greater access than standard users.
- As documents are downloaded to the browser they can remain hidden and inaccessible except for access via the HTML5 viewer, no other application can access them. In addition, you can control which pages are made accessible — to both speed up downloads and for security purposes. Redactions, if present, are permanent – no other application on the client can access the redacted content.
- Efficiency is greater because all documents are identical to all users (except if permission levels are used) and everyone is using the same viewer so training and support is minimized.
- Cost and speed — no expensive applications need to be purchased and installed on the user’s workstation. Access to documents is performed simply by accessing any normal web page.
In a likely scenario, the manufacturer of a kitchen faucet can store relevant documents regarding the faucet on their server. Then the distributor, retailer, installer and customer can all easily access any document as long as they meet the requirements above. Whether the documents need to be viewed, printed or forwarded to someone else, no special software, hardware or training is required. Additionally, if the documents — such as installation instructions — are modified, anyone accessing them online will immediately have access to the updated instructions. The same technology can be adopted by the distributor or retailer for quotations, invoices, past orders, and outstanding balances — making any and all documents available through the same means.
Security can also easily be enabled using standard methods to institute password access or two-factor authentication, depending upon the requirements. Permission-based access is also possible as well as text search, annotations and redactions.
The overriding benefit of this technology is that it eliminates the need for special application software to be installed on the client system. The basic components listed above are all that is needed. (Yes, special software is required on the server, but systems specialists handle that burden.) There is almost no need for client customer support because there can’t be differing versions or varying user interfaces. Training would only be necessary for the viewer itself, and that can be configured to the minimal required commands.
There are many examples of how this technology solves past problems:
a. The inability of collaborators to view shared documents as intended is common. For example, margins, page breaks, fonts, tables, and comments can all vary when viewed on different generations of Microsoft Word. Even though Macbooks have long offered Microsoft Word, they are typically a different version and similar issues are likely. Finally, some users don’t have MS Word at all so they can’t be included.
b. Many people don’t have a sense of the proper document format for collaboration. Sometimes paper documents are scanned and saved to a format like JPEG. The JPEG format is intended for color photographs and does not display documents very well. JPEGs also remove the ability to edit. Even if a paper document is scanned and saved to PDF, the text can’t be searched or extracted unless it’s run through an OCR engine. And even then, OCR engines are rarely perfect in their rendition, further adding to the difficulty.
c. Signatures on documents also present issues. The most common process is to email a document to a person for signature. They print it out, sign it and then scan it before returning it. Sometimes that’s adequate, but the document now cannot be searched or have text extracted.
d. PDF is the second best document format for collaboration after MS Office. It makes editing difficult, but comments are possible. Its greatest benefit is that its appearance is consistent on all systems that have a PDF viewer. However, not everyone has one installed and many are unfamiliar and uncomfortable using it. PDF also is updated annually and features that can make older versions incompatible are often added.
PDF can also be password protected for printing or extraction and has the ability to be digitally signed. However, because the user has full access to the application commands, it can be emailed to unauthorized parties.
e. Obsolete document handling applications are also a significant issue. If a document originator uses an uncommon Word processor or a non-Word processing application like Excel, many issues can affect whether anyone else can view the document.
In the end, there are many different ways to view and access documents. However, many of these methods come with significant challenges that can place a drag on efficiency and workflow. A pure HTML document viewer largely eliminates these challenges by simplifying the requirements for users and streamlining document access across the supply chain.
Simon Wieczner is president and CEO of Snowbound Software.