Schwäbisch Hall using a stable Notes export filter to archive digital customer correspondence

Corresponding with customers by e-mail is the most important means of communication in today’s digital world of work: many thousands of mails can accumulate every day, especially in major corporations within the services sector. Despite the short-lived nature of this kind of correspondence, various laws and regulations require that they be properly archived over the long term. This kind of preservation is also in the best interest of the sales staff, as it enables them to carefully track their relationships with customers from the initial contact onward. This is why for years Schwäbisch Hall, a home building and loan association, has been using a reliable software solution that converts e-mails and documents from Lotus Notes to the compliant archiving format PDF/A.

Schwäbisch Hall is Germany’s biggest home loan and savings association and serves 6.8 million customers. The association offers personalized products and services for private retirement planning, wealth management, home ownership, and residential construction financing. Indicative of its strong growth, the association concluded new product agreements with more than 900,000 customers last year alone. Each of these agreements entails a series of letters and e-mails between the association and its clients, as well as among the administrative and field sales staff.

Properly archiving digital client correspondence

Schwäbisch Hall had long been using a Visual Basic product to systematically archive e-mails, and which would first extract the documents from the Lotus Notes mail program, convert them to TIFF using a printer driver, and then archive them in that format in FileNet. The software solution they were using soon reached its technological limits as the number of e-mails to be processed kept growing exponentially. And because the software could not be further scaled, it was time to find an alternative to meet new demands and handle the rising volume: The new solution had to be more stable than its predecessor and yet still fit within the enterprise software architecture that was already in place. “We quickly found the right answer in the form of the n2pdf Lotus Notes extension from SoftVision,” recalled Jürgen Rothe, the application developer at Schwäbisch Hall. “Their software satisfied all our requirements and was exactly what we needed. Not only that, it also came with a more economical licensing model than a competing product that we were also looking at.” The project leaders were first provided with a test license to familiarize themselves with how the tool operates before they finally switched over completely to this new solution.

Easy implementation and stable performance

No problems arose during implementation: All it took to integrate n2pdf within the running system was to load the appropriate files and script libraries onto a central server from which the converter runs in the background and automatically executes the functions from its script. Because the association chose a server license instead of a client installation, the tool was able to be used across the entire organization right from the start. The switchover involved no changes for the employees, simply because n2pdf is not actively used by them, but is part of an automatic archiving workflow instead: An agent on the server automatically converts mails and file attachments and then archives them.

Because the software is employed directly on the central interface between Lotus Notes and FileNet, all of the association’s product and service departments can easily access and use it. Every day the converter transfers some 5,000 mails from Lotus Notes to the archive where they are stored in PDF/A format, which ensures a recognized level of legal and audit compliance. Even documents sent by fax and customer inquiries submitted using the forms on the association’s website are passed through Notes and undergo the same process.

This new solution has been operating with absolute stability since the rollout and has noticeably improved the archiving process. Jürgen Rothe is especially pleased with the seemingly endless configuration options that the converter provides. You can, for example, set the conversion parameters so that when a PDF/A is created, not all of the lettering, such as bold or cursive, is saved, but instead only the information-bearing characters. The advantage of this is that the size of the storage file can be reduced by up to two-thirds. “This handy tip came right from the SoftVision consultant to whom we addressed this problem. Not just in this case, but overall we can certainly say that the manufacturer support works flawlessly. It seems that whenever we talk with the consultants, they take the initiative and recommend solutions as we discuss the issue. Even in the case of more complex requests, they managed to implement a solution only a few days later,” remarked Jürgen Rothe. The software licensing fee is an investment that generates good returns: Schwäbisch Hall’s earlier Visual Basic application involved no licensing costs; however, it was very uneconomical and time consuming for their IT department and outside service providers to fix all the errors and problems that arose with that application. The licensing model used for n2pdf helps customers avoid what are comparatively more expensive outlays.

New software version with enhanced features

The software version currently in use at Schwäbisch Hall cannot correctly accept some complex structures from Lotus Notes. Although this shortcoming only affects a very small number of documents per day, it is important that it be corrected.

In particular, this involves the depiction of Notes files in which customers use checkboxes or radio buttons to select various options. The present n2pdf version shows only the selected answer in PDF, but not the other choices or options that were available. In its latest 4.0 version, the program can now export Notes UI controls as visual controls, and in turn actually show all the options, which is quite useful for following-up with customers or preparing an audit trail. This is why Schwäbisch Hall has already made plans to buy a new license for this software next year and take advantage of all of its enhanced features.