Q&A with the Granddaddy of Document Management aka Tom Lee: Part I

October 11, 2010
Salt Lake City, UT

This week in our ongoing Q&A series, we are joined by Tom Lee of Quintec International. Quintec is a leading cloud based technology company based in the UK that is aimed primarily at the Legal, Insurance and Finance markets.

Q: First off Tom, tell our readers a bit about you and your company?

Tom: Great. I have been in I.T. for over 33 years and have witnessed many changes in technology from the early Mainframes to Super- Mini's, Client/Server and now to the Cloud! At Quintec, we provide our clients with business advice, consultancy, software, training and technical support. These services are delivered by an experienced team of consultants, a rapid support team and a plethora of technical guys who never seem to stop working! I wished I had their energy!

Q: And I'm sure they wish they had your experience. After 33 years I bet you've seen some interesting things in I.T. Tell me the scariest moment of your career?

Tom: That's easy, because I still have nightmares about it!

My first job in I.T. was way back in the mid-seventies and I worked in a large Computer Operations department as a Trainee Computer Operator. This was when computer rooms were as big as football pitches and I remember this one was vast with bank after bank of disk drives, seven gigantic line printers with bursters & collators attached, card readers, and these new whizzy things called diskette drives with floppy diskettes that were 8inches wide!

I had only been working for the company a matter of weeks. There were four of us on shift one night and stupidly we decided to play football just to pass the time with a ball ingeniously crafted from paper and Sellotape. Sounds silly doesn't it, but back then it really helped pass the time through the night while all the batch processing was going on.

Well, this one night I was in goal and I threw the ball out to a colleague a little too hard I guess. The ball hit a wall, bounced over a wall divider and somehow hit the main power supply lever! The whole room plunged into darkness and all four IBM Mainframes powered down simultaneously! Obviously this could not happen nowadays but back then, believe me IT DID!

Needless to say, this caused utter chaos and the following morning over one thousand users couldn't logon to their terminals until about 11.30am because of me. I don't think I have ever felt as guilty before or since! The culprit was never found and the story rarely discussed until just five years ago at a company reunion when my old boss who had recently retired, finally found out 'from a so-called friend' that it was me! He said that if he had of found out who was responsible he had orders to sack them on the spot!

Well what doesn't get us fired, only makes us stronger right?

Q: I hear some people in the UK call you the "Granddaddy of document management." How did you get this name?

Tom: It first started in a pub in London when I was relaxing with a few friends one evening after work. A few that were present that night were I.T. Directors of law firms who were messing around as one does after a few beers, and it just was something that was said in jest, I think! Then, with a couple of snippets that have been published in the press over the years, it just stuck! I guess part of it is that I'm just getting old and also that I have been involved in the release and distribution of each of the main document management systems during the past twenty years, namely SoftSolutions, DOCS Open and iManage.

In my opinion, the real granddaddies of document management are the "old boys" from the SoftSolutions outfit who released the first ever enterprise-wide DMS way back in the late 1980's. They were the real inventors and pioneers who first spotted a gap in the market.

Incidentally Dan, you work for these guys! You should feel very proud to be working for a company of such pedigree with a long history, and with people of such repute.

In my private life I am still not a granddad yet, but I don't think it's going to be much longer!

Q: Well that is a great segway into my next questions. How has document management technology changed over the past 10-20 years?

Tom: WOW Dan! Give me some easy questions like what's my favorite football team and stuff! At my age I can't remember some of the things that happened last week let alone over the past 20 years!

Well, if you are asking me to go back that long, my view is that it was all about storing, searching and retrieving documents back then, and in my opinion, to a large extent it's still the same today.

Back then, law firms and other document centric organizations were busy migrating away from their old DP/WP mini computers and onto the new client/server technology. This all seemed great at the time but many didn't realize that built into the very fabric of the WP software on these super-mini computers was a primitive form of document management. Although there is no resemblance to what is available today, this held very basic profile information for each document and secretaries and typists alike had learned to rely on this as they could easily identify and retrieve documents.

Once on client/server architecture, companies found that this basic document management was lost and saving documents into folders, sub folder and sub-sub-sub folders (this always confused me) was sometimes a disaster as many versions of a document could exist so retrieving the required documents could be somewhat time-consuming and the process very confusing. I think you could use the metaphor, three steps forward and one step back, in this case. Perhaps, Microsoft and WordPerfect, the two main protagonists at the time should have included a document management option within their word processors for singleware applications. It's a good job for me they didn't!

Anyhow, this left the door wide open for the pioneers of this technology. Two such document management systems were released to answer to the problem. The first was SoftSolutions, in its early years quickly became the dominant player. A short time after followed the PC DOCS offering known as DOCS Open, which is better known nowadays as Open Text DM5. I believe some firms are still using a hybrid of this product to this very day.

SoftSolutions were bought out in 1994 by WordPerfect and then in quick succession by the Novell Corporation, and their DM software incorporated into their Novell GroupWise offering, I guess the rest has been written into the history books!!!

Both products were ground breaking in their day, the first being built upon the proprietary but very fast 'FLAME' database whilst DOCS Open did just what it said on the tin, it was 'Open', and could run on most of the SQL databases of the day, namely Microsoft's SQL, SYBASE and ORACLE!

Over the years Microsoft has threatened from time-to-time to include some form of document management capability to control and manage their singleware applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc., but none of these ever came to fruition!

These day's firms need to be quite sophisticated, they need the ability to liaise and collaborate with their clients and colleagues, to store records as well as emails in the same repository and more recently be able to store certain telephone conversations when the need arises.

Sometimes, I think that certain DM suppliers have forgotten the first rule of DM and that is to speedily search and retrieve documents! To me, it's still the most important function provided by a DM! For example, I recently was in at a customer site and she showed me a 'simple search' using an industry leading DM system across 1,800 users and 40 offices worldwide! To be honest, I could have easily made a cup of coffee in the time the search results were returned! Surely, this is a drastic waste of time and resources!

Thanks Tom! That's incredible insight and discussion.

This was just a portion of my very insightful interview with Tom Lee so check back on Thursday as part II of this Q&A will be posted.