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How to Evaluate COLD (Enterprise Report Management) Solutions Today

Computer-output-to-laser-disc (COLD) technology, also known as enterprise report management, has been around since the 1980s and has been riding down the right-hand side of the technology maturity curve since the 1990s. But many of our financial services and insurance clients have COLD solutions, and many are updating them or even switching approaches and vendors. Some are considering moving to the cloud.

If this is you, here’s an outline of general kinds of criteria you should use to evaluate your organization’s COLD product and services approach.

First, Your Requirements

We recommend you consider the following three categories of requirements when you’re comparing COLD solutions:

  • Operational requirements: These are the issues that will be most important for the operations staff or back-office personnel. This category looks at the ability of a product’s architecture to meet back-end COLD processing needs within a given time window, and how these systems are designed to address performance issues created by increases in the number of reports, the size of reports, and the number of users.
  • Implementation requirements:  These are the issues that will be most important for IT personnel. This category looks at the ability of a COLD product to provide a solid computing infrastructure for the intended application. This includes the system’s ability to leverage the existing infrastructure (such as operating systems and databases), its ability to integrate with other applications (including enterprise content management and storage subsystems), and the level of effort required to deploy and maintain the system.
  • Application requirements: These are the issues that will be most important for line-of-business managers. This category looks at the types of applications that a COLD product can handle. There are several primary applications for which COLD is used, including COM or print replacement, distribution, and data analysis. Some products focus on particular application types.
  • When taken in aggregate, these factors provide a good indication of a given solution’s applicability for particular uses. Clearly, there are other factors that should come into play when making a procurement decision—factors such as vendor stability, future direction, customer support, and price. But focusing on the three differentiating factors above will provide a solid foundation for helping you narrow your choices.

Operational Issues

With COLD implementations, the back-office operations staff that manages the print center is often the group that ends up managing the COLD system operations. For this group, the most critical elements of a COLD system are largely related to volume. Some specific volume-related issues that are of the utmost importance to back-office operations personnel are:

  • The ability to process reports in a restricted processing window. The COLD system must be able to handle the indexing and conversion volumes required to make reports available on time, every time. For example, if you typically run large month-end reports on the last day of the month, the system must ensure that the reports are processed and available to users the first thing the following morning.
  • The ability to meet the retrieval requirements. The COLD system must to be able to handle the archival volumes the application imposes, while providing reasonable retrieval performance for users. This can become challenging as the system grows to support still more users, accessing still more historical data. For example, a single server with the latest hardware might be able to support a few hundred users, but if the number of active users increases, additional servers may be required. In addition, there are challenges associated with supporting large user groups in geographically dispersed organizations.
  • The ability to provide a viable repository solution over time. From a repository standpoint, the COLD system must be able to grow over time to accommodate all the reports that organizations want to manage. However, as the database grows, performance can degrade, which will affect the viability of the COLD product as a long-term solution for large volumes of data.

Implementation Issues

Implementation issues are the factors that are important to IT staff. For this group, the most critical elements of a COLD system are largely related to integration and maintenance.

The COLD-related issues that are important to IT staff include:

  • Platform support: Many organizations have established corporate standards for operating systems, databases, and client platforms. For very specific applications, platform compliance may not be a major issue. However, if the organization decides to deploy COLD functionality for the enterprise, platform support may be a key part of the procurement requirement.
  • Administration effort: IT personnel are interested in reducing the overhead associated with setting up and administering an additional system. Even though the COLD applications themselves may not change after initial setup, minimizing the overall administrative effort can certainly shorten the deployment cycle and allow organizations to expand the COLD system into more than just easier online viewing of reports.
  • Integration capability: The COLD solution must be able to integrate with technologies such as ECM and storage subsystems. In addition, there may be a need to integrate COLD with internal line-of-business systems or ERP systems.

Application Focus

Although COLD is a general technology category, organizations can use COLD systems for many different purposes. Likewise, different COLD products have different strengths or different applications for which they are best suited.

The major applications for which an organization can use a COLD product include:

  • COM and print replacement: By replacing COM (computer output to micrographics) or print, COLD systems provide an on-line archive for report data. Products that provide strong COM and print replacement solutions are generally concerned with page retrieval, storing large volumes of reports, and handling varied retrieval rates.
  • Distribution: Distribution applications are concerned with packaging the reports for users who are not connected to the COLD system. The most common delivery mechanisms are web, email, and self-contained storage devices and media.
  • Data analysis support: Data analysis applications are concerned with the ability to perform complex data extraction or online data analysis. Besides basic index export or hit-list export, products with sophisticated data extraction tools allow administrators to write rule-based scripts that can intelligently extract pieces of data from various sections of a report. Some COLD systems provide basic charting and calculations functions for data analysis. Other COLD systems use third-party products (often on an OEM basis) to provide more advanced report-mining capabilities.

So there you have it: the criteria for evaluating your organization’s approach to COLD products and services. Nail your requirements in all three categories—operations, implementation, and applications—and you will be well on your way to making a sound decision regarding your COLD solution.