Self-registering, self-managing records, a reality or just a pipe-dream? Chapter 3

by Frank 31. October 2011 14:00

Records are evidence of any business transaction and as such include all types of documents including paper, electronic and email. To meet any records management standard or compliance standard you must be capturing and managing records of all types. If you are not, then your practises are seriously deficient and I predict that at some time in the foreseeable future you will be discussing these same deficiencies with a judge or government bureaucrat. I can also predict that you will not enjoy the discussion or the financial consequences.

When looking at how to implement our new fully-automatic paradigm we need to apply tools and technologies appropriate to each type of ‘record’. In this chapter I will discuss the best technologies and tools to use to automate the management of paper records.

I started giving presentations on the coming paperless office in 1984 but gave up some 5 years later because it patently wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I made the point then that until government outlawed laser printers and copiers that paper usage was bound to increase, not decrease and so it has been over the intervening years. So, managing paper in all its forms (e.g., loose paper, file folders, archive boxes) is still a major challenge and a major cost for all enterprises.

The most common technology currently applied to paper is barcoding. Barcodes are usually placed on file folders, archive boxes and shelf or storage locations and then human beings point barcode readers at these same containers and locations to register and track them. It works fine when used properly and barcodes can be super labour-saving devices but it is still a very labour intensive and decidedly non-automatic process.

Barcodes are proven and reliable and in wide-use (e.g., UPC barcodes on all the products you buy in a supermarket) but there are better technologies now available.

A quick review of current and proven technologies provides us with a surprisingly short list and comprises:

  1. Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  2. Global Positioning System (GPS)
  3. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)
  4. Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN)

Of the four I think that GPS and RFID are the most appropriate for paper. However at this time I have rejected GPS because of technical difficulties (e.g., finding a satellite from the basement) and cost. This leaves me with RFID as the sole choice from proven technologies for our fully-automated paper management paradigm.

RFID has progressed a long way since its inception in the 1970’s both in functionality and cost-effectiveness (RFID tags now cost just cents) and it is now an entirely appropriate technology to utilize to automate the management of paper.  The question is, “how best to utilize RFID technology?” A second question may well be, “why aren’t more organizations today already utilizing RFID technology to automate paper processing?”

Let me answer the second question first. Historically the rollout of RFID has suffered because of high costs and a lack of standards. There are industry standards for barcodes (e.g., Code3of9) but historically each RFID vendor came up with their own standards both for the tags and for the computer interface required for other systems to ‘talk’ to them.

Whereas there are still issues with RFID standards the situation today is light years better than it was say ten or even five years ago to the degree that  the lack of standards is no longer a reason not to use RFID technology.

Before answering the first question let’s talk a little about RFID technologies. I will generalise and say that there are three types of RFID tags for us to consider:

  • Passive
  • Semi-passive; and
  • Active

Passive tags are the cheapest to buy (say from 7 cents up) but have the shortest maximum reading distance, usually no more than twenty feet (six metres).  Semi-passive and Active tags are more expensive because they have more circuitry and batteries but have a far better maximum reading distance of up to one-hundred feet (thirty metres). And finally, Semi-passive tags still rely on the reader for power to transmit but Active tags can transmit under their own power.

For my fully-automatic solution I have chosen Active tags despite their higher cost because as I keep telling my customers, “computers are cheap and people time is expensive!”

Active tags provide far more options for us when trying to solve our problem so in the end they are the better choice and I believe, the most cost-effective choice because of their inherent benefits.

In the next chapter in this series I will answer the first question posed above and explain how I would best utilize Active RFID technology to fully automate the management of all paper records.

Self-registering, self-managing records, a reality or just a pipe-dream? Chapter 2

by Frank 25. October 2011 00:35

In the first Blog on this topic I asked the question “is the solution fully-automatic, self-registering, self-classifying, self-managing records? Is it possible? Do we have the technology?”

Since I invented the concept of fully-automatic, self-registering, self-classifying and self-managed records I would have to say, with a degree of bias, that it certainly is the solution to what appears to be an impossible to manage problem using current tools and methods; what I earlier called “this burdensome task.”

As to whether we have the technology I think we do but the solution may involve a synthesis of technologies from other industries to achieve our aims.

I have visited with hundreds of our customers all over the world plus hundreds of prospective customers and I can confidently say that not one manages its records one-hundred percent and that most don’t even come close. In a few cases it is because they don’t have the right tools but in most cases the tools have a super-set of the functionality required, they are just not being utilized effectively.

Certainly, not one organization I have had contact with meets all of the compliance legislation it is supposed to meet. Even when they have the tools required the job is just too big, too complex and, that word again, too burdensome. The biggest problem, apart from the huge scale of the problem, is getting the co-operation and ‘buy-in’ from all staff.

Many systems rely on each and every staff member becoming an expert records and electronic document and email manager and on each staff member always behaving in an entirely consistent and reliable manner. This basic assumption is of course fatuous and ignores both the diversity of human beings and human nature. We may all be born equal but we don’t end up equal in intelligence, experience, expertise and attitude. I also don’t know anyone who exhibits one-hundred percent consistent behaviour day after day after day. Au contraire, in my observation we are all human and we all have failings and we are all sometimes better and sometimes worse. Let’s call it the human condition.

The effect of the human condition means that any system that relies on each and every staff member behaving in an entirely consistent and reliable manner is seriously flawed and will never work. Let me repeat that, “will never work!” In fact, any system that ignores human nature is a bad design and will inevitably fail.

So in my mind, if I can’t rely on human beings to be perfectly consistent in the application of a given set of rules and processes then we need to take human beings out of the equation and replace them with something that is perfectly consistent in the way it analyses, captures and classifies records. Ergo, my fully-automatic model bereft of human frailties.

Because technology isn’t quite there yet I am not proposing to use robots or artificial humans (i.e., Androids) a la Blade Runner. I am however proposing to use rules-driven systems and where possible, artificial intelligence. I am also proposing to utilize technologies currently available but not yet generally applied within what AIIM calls the content management industry.

In the next chapter I will discuss the tools and technologies I would use and explain how my method will address most of the problems of this burdensome task.

Do we now have the ‘It Does Everything’ Application?

by Frank 13. October 2011 15:00

Back in 1995 I wrote a paper called ”Document Management, Records Management, Image Management Workflow Management…What? – The I.D.E.A

IDEA stood for “It Does Everything Application” and I predicted the merging of what were then disparate applications like records management, document management, imaging and workflow into a single ‘it does everything’ application. It made sense back then and it makes even more sense now because most content management vendors now have applications that encompass all of the aforementioned applications plus many more.

We have of course also followed the same path and the RecFind today is a far cry from the RecFind of 1995. Today’s version, RecFind 6, is in fact the 7th total redesign and rewrite of our iconic product. Just like the grandfather’s axe story; “the handle has been changed 6 times and the blade 4 times but it is the same axe my grandfather used  60 years ago.” It is the same RecFind just improved somewhat over time.

We have in fact moved way past the original concept of an IDEA and the current RecFind is now able to be configured by our customers to be almost any application. This is possible because of a new architecture which allows RecFind to run multiple and different applications concurrently. We believe that this is the new model for all high end information management software going forward; a significant improvement over my original IDEA paradigm.

Our customers can now leverage off a single investment (RecFind 6) to satisfy multiple application software requirements. These include Asset Management, Business Process Management, Case Management, Content Management, Contract Management, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Digital Asset Management, Document Management, Document Scanning, Imaging, Enterprise Content Management, Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRMS), Email Archiving, Email Management, Help Desk, Human Resources Management, Knowledge Management (KMS), Library Management, Records Management (RMS) and Workflow.

The big difference and major improvement over past generation systems is that everything is done via a high level configuration tool, not by changing source code. This means every RecFind 6 customer in the world runs a ‘standard’ version of our software even though each customer has RecFind uniquely configured to its precise requirements. This means every customer can benefit from our regular updates and new releases and that no customer is impacted by a ‘special’ maintenance contract.

When I presented the concept of RecFind 6 to a bunch of other vendors during a round table discussion at a records management convention a few years ago they all scoffed at the idea and said it was impossible. One vendor even said they had investigated doing what we proposed but that it was impossible.

As we developers all know, nothing is impossible in IT; it just takes time and money. RecFind 6 is evidence that it can be done and I already see other vendors following our lead.

The concept of  generic application solution (which is one way of describing RecFind 6) is one that both empowers and liberates the long-suffering customer. The customer can now change anything, including the data model, reports, language and any business process without waiting on the vendor or sending the vendor money. The customer can leverage off an investment in a single product to create multiple products and realize significant savings. Surely this is the model the world wants and needs, especially in these difficult economic times we all live in?

The scourge of unscrupulous ‘automatic renewals’ via the Internet

by Frank 9. October 2011 21:53

Is it just me or have the rest of you noticed a re-emergence of this scourge?

I am not talking about the situation where the purchase form or the install program up-front asks you if you would like your maintenance or monthly product supply to be automatically renewed or not; that is fine by me and good business. I am talking about the situation where you eventually discover that you have agreed to an automatic renewal of supply or maintenance without being aware of it.

As far as I am concerned, if it can happen without you being aware of it, it is at best an unscrupulous practice and at worst it is fraud.

I don’t care if the automatic renewal condition was cunningly ‘hidden’ in the densely-packed and obtuse terms and conditions you had to say “I agree” to. I consider that excuse the refuge of scoundrels.

The scoundrels also rarely give you the opportunity to cancel an unrequested automatic renewal via the web-site; that would be too easy. They usually make you search for hours to find a phone number you can call and then you have to go through torture on an automated phone system (they hope you will give up) before you can finally speak to a human being and demand that the auto-renewal be cancelled.

My first experience with this awful form of marketing was with the original AOL email service; cancelling was a nightmare. This practice was around a long time before AOL however with the ‘book clubs’ that sent you piles of unrequested books every month and insisted that unless you returned them, you owned them and had to pay for them. Charging consumers for products or services they didn’t ask for was disreputable back
then and it is disreputable now.

Three of the products I have bought on the Internet over the last month have incorporated the invisible automatic renewal into their online sale process. I have managed to battle all three and cancel the automatic renewal but not without a reasonable degree of effort and time. None of them notified me of the automatic renewal in either the purchase process or the install process.

My theory is that this is one of the ‘innovations’ coming out of the tail-end of the GFC as companies scramble to reduce costs and increase and lock-in revenue.

The problem is how to combat this scourge; it is akin to stopping a burglar when you are way from your home. How do you stop something when you don’t know it is happening?

The best advice I can give is to be aware it is happening (more and more if my experience is anything to go by) and to refuse to do any repeat business with any company that practices this deceitful way of misappropriating your hard-earned money. I should probably start a website to name and shame the practitioners but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting law suits.


Frank is a senior executive of Knowledgeone Corporation and spends a large amount of money every year via the Internet of hardware and software for our software development group. His message to vendors is that he will not deal with them if they employ hidden automatic-renewal practices.


Information Management

Forget Man Versus Wild Let’s Talk Technology Versus Communication

by Greg 3. October 2011 22:50

I like to think of myself as well travelled and on the ball, however on a recent trip to
outback Queensland in the far north of Australia my theory was well and truly put to the test.

I was involved in implementing the EDM functionality of the RecFind product for a local authority which I had worked with a number of times. Local authorities are some of my favourite sites to work with as they tend to use most components of the product.

Scanning documents was a major part of the project and during discussions a member of staff asked me could they scan dingo ears. I thought OK, easy answer to that one
as you just fold it over and flatten it out, thinking that “dog ears” are quite common on documents that have been well used.

The next question was “what about the plastic?”. Thinking that many old documents may well be in plastic covers my suggestion was that you may need to take it out of the plastic cover to scan it. A puzzled look at this point made me think about what I was suggesting so I thought I had better investigate the situation a bit further. It turned out that what I thought were “dog ears” on documents were in fact dingo ears, real dingo ears! The Council was taking part in a bounty program in which residents could bring in dingo ears to claim their bounty.

Needless to say the situation provided a few jokes during the rest of my time onsite and not one dingo ear made it through the scanner.

Dingo ears aside, the EDM project was a great success providing an easy and quick way for staff to access documents at their desk or out and about using a laptop. Use of the RecFind High Speed Scanning Module made processing large numbers of documents an easy task from the initial scanning, to staff accessing them as a fully searchable PDFs. The RecFind Button also made it possible for staff to store a wide range of documents from within the application in which it was authored, as well as email that could be captured directly from within each user’s mailbox.

Digitizing large numbers of paper documents should not be a traumatic experience. You provide the documents, we provide the expertise. And a couple of dingo ears if really desired….


NB: Greg is a long-serving member of the RecFind ‘Flying-Team’ of consultants and he spends a large part of his time on airplanes and in foreign locales savoring and enjoying the local wildlife as well as assisting our customers.


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