OnBase by Hyland: A unified, integrated enterprise information platform

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OnBase by Hyland is a single enterprise information platform for managing content, processes and cases, available on-premise or in the cloud. Recent releases have seen enhancements and feature parity extended across desktop and web UIs, new mobile features including offline access, and more capabilities to extend ‘low-code’ / ‘no-code’ solution designs for the citizen developer.

Top takeaways

Supporting the ‘citizen developer / integrator’

Hyland describes OnBase as a “unified integrated platform”, meaning that customers only have one application to upgrade, one system architecture to secure, one point of integration, etc. The company is also enhancing the configurability of many parts of its platform to empower business users to construct low-code / no-code solutions (particularly around case management and capture workflows, and integrations with wider enterprise applications) without a heavy reliance on their IT departments.

Working towards feature parity

Although currently OnBase’s full functionality is still only available through its desktop ‘Unity’ client, a raft of UI and usability enhancements brought in with OnBase 17 clearly demonstrates Hyland’s direction of travel. Responding the rise of the mobile worker (and increased interest in bringing more configuration capabilities to business users), the company is seeking to achieve feature parity across its (Windows) desktop, web, and eventually mobile app UIs. There’s no desktop client for Mac, however (nor plans to deliver one). Mac users must use the browser interface, and so customers still need to have PCs on hand to ensure they have full access to all admin and configuration features.

Perceptive business unit acquisition strengthens data capture automation and medical image support (as separate tools, alongside OnBase)

2017 saw Hyland acquire the Perceptive business unit from Lexmark International, Inc. The move has brought specialist medical image storage and viewing tools, and intelligent capture capabilities, into the overall Hyland stable – not only bolstering the company’s healthcare use case credentials, but also the cross-industry appeal of more automated document entry into the ECM system. However, the Perceptive products have not yet been incorporated into the OnBase unified platform and instead remain as separate offerings under the Hyland banner.

Background

When MWD Advisors covered OnBase by Hyland in January 2016 (at release version 15) we remarked that the company’s single, unified architecture approach (to delivering platform capabilities, business objects and artefact ontologies, and business rules/policies) leads to easier on-premise deployments, with much less need to configure a solution at the code level or resort to IT intervention. Since then the product has seen two further annual release cycles, the most recent being OnBase 17 in June 2017. Between them, OnBase 16 and 17 have included more than 20,000 changes, including 7,000 customer-driven enhancements.

Hyland describes OnBase as being as a single platform supporting ‘content-enabled applications’ that compete against individual ECM, BPM, case management, and capture tools (as well as separate custom built applications in the space).

2017 saw Hyland acquire the Perceptive business unit from Lexmark International, Inc. including Perceptive Intelligent Capture, Acuo VNA, PACSgear, Enterprise Medical Image Viewing and more. Each offers significant capability enhancements to OnBase customers in areas such as records management and retention, workflow, forms, and specific healthcare-related use case solutions, but currently they remain standalone applications, sold and supported by Hyland alongside OnBase, rather than their features integrated into the OnBase platform.

Partnerships vs acquisitions and re-engineering into the OnBase Platform

As well as acquiring vendors for their customer bases and market share, Hyland’s strategy is usually to leverage the acquired company’s expertise to develop new capabilities on the OnBase platform natively (rather than integrate the code as-is). It continues to maintain and support the acquired tool whilst this process is ongoing, but ultimately puts customers on a migration path to OnBase. The continued maintenance period post-acquisition will vary in duration, depending on the complexity of the tool and the task of re-versioning it as native OnBase platform capabilities. Hyland also takes the opportunity to ‘refocus’ the appeal of a tool – for instance, the original AnyDoc tool required significant scripting skills to operate whereas the OnBase ‘version’ is designed to be a lot more ‘business analyst-friendly’. In cases where the functionality isn’t re-developed on the OnBase platform (such as is the case with LawLogix, because of its strong brand identity with existing customers), the tool remains a complementary standalone product, integrated with OnBase (and offered alongside in a sale).

Hyland does still have functional elements covered through partner offerings though. It now uses IdP as its identity provider service (using customers’ own identities) for two-factor authentication, single sign-on, and support for SAML, CAS and SmartCard Authentication (CAC). Although it tends to acquire and re-engineer core content management components to reduce reliance on third parties and client plugins, at present it’s chosen to partner for Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) capabilities (in line with current industry best practices for customers to spread the responsibility for security protection across multiple vendors rather than relying on a single platform for end-to-end coverage).

Technical capabilities

Desktop vs web vs mobile

Most of the changes seen this year in OnBase 17 have been focused on UI usability and consistency and designed to achieve parity across platforms; however, there are still key differences in the experience on offer to different users.

Enhancements have focused on updates to the Unity Client (for Windows desktop) and OnBase’s Web Client – primarily focused on elevating and standardising the user experience (naming conventions, iconography, etc.). These have updated how users find and act on documents, bringing more of a ‘Microsoft Office’-like experience to the interface.

Web access still doesn’t support ‘high volume processes’ though (which power users / administrators might want for bulk ingest), or scanned-in multi-page documents. So, administrators requiring ‘heavyweight’ usage dealing with getting content into OnBase will still need a PC and the Windows client.

OnBase 17 brought a native CAD viewer (supporting both AutoCAD DWG and PDF files) to the Unity Windows desktop Client with future plans to do the same for the Web Client. Hyland reports that the functionality has been brought in-house to provide a more feature-rich user experience.

The OnBase Web Client now relies less on plugins as well, which means that support is now more consistent across browsers too. Hyland has evergreen browser support for Chrome, Firefox, and IE (partial support in OnBase 16, full support coming later), and a greatly enhanced HTML web client for Mac users on Chrome, Safari, and Firefox too (improving navigation and usability, with the ability now to group, stack, sort, resize, and filter columns).

Hyland’s first OnBase mobile app was for Blackberry in 2009. Since then, mobile coverage has expanded, but again clients don’t yet offer feature parity (with Android currently lagging a year behind). Broadly speaking, though, OnBase Mobile apps are designed to combine the client UI with built-in device-based security components that extend the offer. OnBase mobile apps (on iOS and Windows Tablet) support offline working by synchronising content down to the user’s device. The sync feature can take advantage of ‘unit of work’ metadata based associations to collate content, and can leverage workflow engine rules and actions to automate work assignment based on business logic.

The iOS and Windows Tablet mobile app also boasts new image processing features, including automatically cropping and de-skewing, and applying colour and image size preferences. It can also automatically capture geolocation information (when capturing an image or photo, or when creating new e-forms and Unity forms), so that content can later be displayed on an Esri map or suitably tagged in reporting dashboards.

Capture

As well as enhancing its UIs, Hyland has paid a lot of attention to capture functionality. As well as improvements to mobile capture, OnBase now supports a continuous flow of individual document images rather than having to process in batches; users can also design capture processes in a visual workflow-like environment in OnBase Studio (designed to appeal more to business users).

OnBase now sports ‘intelligent classification’ capabilities for newly captured documents, enabling it to determine a document’s type, based on content either in or outside of OnBase itself (with an auto-verification tool that can ‘learn’). Beyond this, bounded within the accounts payable domain only for now, OnBase leverages machine learning techniques in its iCAP (intelligent Capture for Accounts Payable) tool to apply additional metadata from the document (beyond the classification-by-headers functionality previously available through the AnyDoc tool, acquired by Hyland in 2013). NB Hyland still sells both products. Whereas Perceptive Capture is used for line item capture, iCAP is restricted to headers only.

Business rules can be applied to convert the format of files when they arrive into OnBase. Hyland has also added functionality to OnBase Unity Forms with more rich formatting capabilities in addition to signatures, workflow routing, and pre-population of fields (to improve the user experience when a form is embedded in a customer’s portal UI).

WorkView | Case Manager

OnBase WorkView | Case Manager is a case management application designer that enables organisations to track the information and interactions surrounding a specific business process, designed to provide customers with oversight of the data and documents related to the requests or cases to which they are assigned. New in OnBase 17, WorkView mobile apps can be configured to provide a responsive design user experience.

UI enhancements to WorkView include a visual indicator of related documents, attribute marking, and improved field validation messages; with configuration enhancements adding new integrations with external databases. There’s also an improved administration experience, enabling a test version to be deployed into production without it having to be re-coded.

Workflow

Hyland has also released a number of enhancements to OnBase’s workflow engine. For instance, workflow now supports child tasks now out-of-the-box for parallel processes; forms workflow in the desktop client (e.g. composition, data collection, signatures / verification) have been enhanced (with an improved UI forms designer too); document retention can now be triggered by a date keyword; multiple conditions can now be ‘chained’ together (say, to insert a placeholder or content fragment). There’s also improved support for XML, PDF output files, and batch placeholder creation in document composition. The generation of dynamic documents from atomised content held within OnBase documents and other database sources is now part of workflow, with a highly configurable UI (instead of requiring coding).

OnBase Reporting Dashboards are designed for the citizen developer to configure their own dashboard interfaces. Functionality also includes new dashboard items (such as combo box, list box, tree view, bubble maps, pie maps, and groups).

Hyland reports that one of the most requested enhancements in OnBase 17 was to be able to archive email notifications (which had been sent outside of OnBase) back into the OnBase repository.

Integrations

OnBase 16 and 17 updated the platform’s integrations with AutoCAD, MS Office (e.g. ability to edit Office documents within OnBase without the user needing to have Office installed), SAP (e.g. archive link now supports SAP.NET Connector 3.0), DocuSign (e.g. the OnBase workflow engine can now be used for embedded sending, and allowing modification of document ‘envelopes’ in DocuSign before being returned to OnBase), and geospatial mapping tool Esri (e.g. users can click on a building on a map to see blueprints stored in OnBase; they can also send a document to a map from within OnBase for additional context). OnBase 17 has focused on bringing more of these integrations to the web client (for instance, although Esri integration was available in OnBase 16, this integration has become much richer in OnBase 17).

Hyland’s Application Enabler tool exposes OnBase functionality (such as “retrieve document”, “launch e-form”, “compose document”, embedding an OnBase button, keyboard shortcut or mouse click) for customers to create tighter integrations with third-party applications.

Hyland describes its workflow configuration UI as being designed for when a customer needs to build a small ‘content-enabled application’ (say, integrating with SAP to leverage its content in a wider workflow) without resorting to developer effort.

OnBase mobile apps can also provide a solution for business applications or legacy systems that don’t have their own mobile app, but that are integrated with OnBase. Leveraging OnBase’s integrations, these systems can send data and content to OnBase and trigger process workflows that mobile users can access to make decisions or execute approvals. Once the user’s work is complete, OnBase can automatically update the data and content in the system of origin.

ShareBase by Hyland

Hyland’s cloud-based document sharing and collaboration tool ShareBase by Hyland has a more rapid release cycle to OnBase’s annual release cycles. Recent enhancements include workflow actions in ShareBase (e.g. push documents out from OnBase to be shared via ShareBase, send emails with a link to a folder, import documents from ShareBase into OnBase). Workflow actions can be used to extend custom business processes and ‘collaboration zones’ out to non-enterprise users, outside the corporate firewall (for instance, in an HR or partner workflow). ShareBase can also be used as a cloud-based document management solution. Here, ShareBase is pitched as addressing customers’ needs for anytime, anywhere access to files, with a much greater emphasis on mobile and web use cases and ‘less complex’ business needs in comparison with OnBase.

Future plans

Although many of OnBase 17’s enhancements have focused on feature parity across UIs (desktop, web, and mobile), Hyland still doesn’t offer a desktop client for Mac users; and it isn’t planning the same level of mobile functionality for Android users (compared with its iOS app) until a future release.

Also on Hyland’s roadmap for OnBase 18 in 2018 is a native CAD viewer (DWG and PDF files) in the web UI, ending a reliance on third-party plugins. Although Reporting Dashboards are available in the OnBase Web Client (and render on iOS and Android browsers), they’re not available on OnBase mobile apps.

Also over the next two years, Hyland plans beta releases of further ‘intelligent capture’ capabilities tailored to specific use cases (in its key markets): capture of transcripts, in higher education and colleges; explanation of benefits, in healthcare; as well as looking at industry-specific use cases in financial services / insurance; and use cases in HR (common across industries).

Suitability

OnBase’s full functionality is still only available through its Windows desktop client (the “Unity Client”). There’s no version of the desktop client for the Mac; instead Mac users must use OnBase’s web interface – but Hyland argues that most of its Mac users tend to be “on the consumer side” and not requiring the sort of administration features they’d miss from the Windows client. That said, enhancements in OnBase 17 have clearly demonstrated Hyland’s direction of travel in seeking to achieve feature parity across desktop, web, and eventually mobile app UIs. However, this does mean that currently customers do need to have at least some Windows PCs for admin functions, regardless of their organisation preference for desktop type. It also reduces the scope for rolling out configuration capabilities further into the realms of business users (in a mixed desktop footprint environment) to just those users on Windows PCs.

Hyland describes OnBase as a “unified integrated platform” that can be leveraged to deliver ECM, BPM, capture, case management and EFSS solutions built upon a single content repository and database – meaning that customers only have one application to upgrade, one system architecture to secure, one point of integration, and so on. It’s also enhancing the configurability of many parts of its platform to empower ‘citizen developers’ to construct low-code / no-code solutions (particularly around case management and capture workflows, and integrations with wider enterprise applications) without a heavy reliance on their IT departments.

Of course, after each new acquisition there is a period when new functionality is only available to customers purchasing a bundle of OnBase alongside a new stablemate. However, as a rule Hyland’s approach is to grow the platform without compromising its unified codebase credentials. It’s this commitment to consistency that’s helping OnBase attract customers and developers to build custom applications on the platform, leveraging its configurable and scalable capabilities, and providing a unified, simplified upgrade path with each release cycle as long as OnBase APIs are correctly deployed.

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