Design of Modular Structures for Evolvable and Versatile Document Management Based on Normalized Systems Theory

Date: 1 October 2019

Venue: Graduation Hall, Grauwzusters Cloister - University of Antwerp, Stadscampus, Lange Sint-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerp (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 5:00 PM

PhD candidate: Gilles Oorts

Principal investigator: Prof. Herwig Mannaert

Short description: PhD defence Gilles Oorts - Faculty of Business and Economics


Despite technological and operational business advances over the past decades, organizations are still required to draft and manage documents. These documents can take a plethora of forms, such as books, spreadsheets, slide decks, manuals, legal contracts, emails, reports, etcetera. Although a lot of these documents have taken an electronic form, their structure is in essence still the same as their analogue and physical predecessors. Invoices are often just printed and sent by mail, after which they are opened and scanned by the receiving organization. Or instead of printing and handing out new operational procedures, they are often just exported as a pdf-file and saved on a server.

Despite the endless opportunities the revolution in Information Technologies (IT) has brought along, most efforts in document management were limited to just digitizing documents, i.e., transforming them from analogue to digital form as monolithic blocks. In addition, document management is faced with challenges such as content customization, the challenge to convert documents into value-adding products or services, repurposing internal documents for use on the internet and the management of the mountain of documents that are created daily.

In this dissertation, we show how this view of static documents that are a mere representation of their analogue predecessors is out-of-date. Instead, we present a view of multidimensional and ever-changing documents, based on the insights from modularity and Normalized Systems reasoning. An essential concept of our document management approach is that one has to consider the underlying artifacts that are described in documents. The structure of these artifacts is unconditionally connected to the structure of the documents they are described in. For documents to be modular and evolvable, one should therefore always first analyze its underlying artifacts. Ideally, the effort of modularizing documents in an effort to make them evolvable should be preceded by going through the same process for the described artifacts (although this is not a requirement).

The practical implications of this approach are discussed based on a case study of a document management system for study program documentation. To demonstrate the feasibility of our document management approach, a proof of concept application was developed.