Why the multiple ECM Repository/Silo model is not a good idea

by Frank 15. November 2016 06:00

“43 Reasons why Managing Records in-Place may not be good enough”

Enterprise Content Management is a moving target, constantly evolving with new challenges and new paradigms. For example, how do we filter out only relevant information from social media? How do we avoid capturing personal data and being culpable under privacy laws? How do we capture all emails containing sexism, racism and bullying without being guilty of an invasion of privacy of the individual? How do we meet all of our compliance obligations when our staff are spread across multiple states/counties/provinces and multiple countries with different legislation and compliance requirements? All weighty challenges for the modern Knowledge Manager or CIO.

Another interesting challenge for Knowledge Managers and CIOs is the newer document management paradigm of being asked to manage all content without a single central repository. That is, to be responsible for all content across a myriad of locations controlled by a myriad of applications and a myriad of departments/organizations and people. Back when I was an employee and not an employer, my tough (ex-military) manager in Blue Bell, PA would just bang his fist on his desk and say, “Goddam Frank, just do it!” That was always a signal for me to get creative.

However, try as I may, I am finding it nigh on impossible to get creative enough to work out how I could effectively and reliably manage all content across an enterprise without a single central repository.

In multiple-repository systems we find multiple document stores; local files, network file shares, local data bases, multiple file servers, multiple copies of SharePoint and multiple Cloud repositories like Dropbox, Box, iCloud, Google Cloud Storage and other hosted document storage. The CIO may proudly claim to manage multiple information silos but what he or she really has is a laissez faire document management ecosystem that may well be centrally monitored (hopefully) but is most certainly not centrally managed.

In the multiple silo model the documents in our multiple locations are ‘managed’ by multiple people and multiple applications (e.g., SharePoint, Google Docs, etc.). We may have implemented another layer of software above all these diverse applications trying to keep up with what is happening but If I am just ‘watching’ then I don’t have an inviolate copy and I don’t have any control over what happens to the document. I am unable to enforce any standards. There is no ‘standard’ central control over versioning or retention and no control over the document life cycle or chain of evidence.

For example, you wouldn’t know if the document had since been moved to a different location that you are not monitoring. You wouldn’t know if it had been deleted. You wouldn’t know its relationship to other documents and processes in other silos. You wouldn’t know its context in your enterprise and therefore you wouldn’t know how relevant this document was. The important distinction is that under the multiple silo model you are ‘watching’ not managing; other software is managing the life-cycle and disposition of the document.

All you really know is that at a certain point in time a document existed and what its properties were at that time (e.g., historical ‘natural’ Metadata such as original filename, author, date created, etc.). However, you have no contextual Metadata, no transactional Metadata, no common indexing and no common Business Classification System. In this case, you don’t have a document management system, you have a laissez faire document management ecosystem, an assortment of independently ‘managed’ information silos. Most importantly, you are not able to link documents to business processes that transcend organizational structures and silos.

Sure, SharePoint and Cloud silos make collaboration easier but at what cost? What can’t we do with this multi-silo ecosystem? Why doesn’t this solution meet the best-practice objectives of a document management system? What are the major areas where it falls short? How does the proliferation of multiple silos and content repositories affect us? What are our risks? Here is my assessment of the major shortfalls of this paradigm.

 We are unable to:

1.    extract the critical insights that enterprise information should provide

2.    define all the relationships that link documents to enterprise business processes

3.    find the right information at the right time

4.    provide a single access point for all content

5.    Implement an effective, consistent enterprise-wide document security system

6.    effectively protect against natural or man-made disasters

7.    produce evidence-standard documents

8.    minimize document handling costs

9.    guarantee the integrity of a document

10.guarantee that a document is in fact the most recent version

11.guarantee that a document is not an older copy

12.minimize duplicate and redundant information

13.meet critical compliance targets like Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the HIPAA

14.create secure, searchable archives for digital content

15.effectively secure all documents against loss

16.implement common enterprise version control

17.facilitate enterprise collaboration

18.Improve timeliness

19.manage enterprise document security and control

20.manage smaller and more reliable backups

21.achieve the lowest possible document management and archiving costs

22.deliver the best possible knowledge management access and search

23.guarantee consistent content

24.optimize management and executive time

25.standardize the types of documents and other content can be created within an organization.

26.define common use template to use for each type of document.

27.standardize the Metadata required for each type of document.

28.standardize where to store a document at each stage of its life cycle.

29.control access to a document at each stage of its life cycle.

30.move documents within the organization as team members contribute to the documents' creation, review, approval, publication, and disposition.

31.implement a common set of policies that apply to documents so that document-related actions are audited, documents are retained or disposed of properly, and content that is important to the organization is protected.

32.manage when and if a document has to be converted from one format to another as it moves through the stages of its life cycle.

33.guarantee that all documents are treated as corporate records, that common retention policies are applied determining which documents must be retained according to legal requirements and corporate guidelines.

34.guarantee enterprise-wide Regulatory compliance

35.produce an enterprise-wide audit trail

36.share information across departmental and/or silo boundaries

37.centrally manage the security access to documents/information across different areas of the organization.

38.consistently classify documents as each repository may be used by a different department and be classified differently.  

39.identify duplicates based on document name.

40.easily find things based on metadata, as it wouldn’t be common across repositories.

41.control access via AD single sign on

42.access all enterprise documents using a single license.

          43.centrally audit access and changes to metadata.

What are your risks?  Your risks are huge!

 

 

 

 

 

Document Imaging, Forms Processing & Workflow – A Guide

by Frank 28. July 2014 06:00

Document imaging (scanning) has been a part of most business processing since the early 1980s. We for example, produced our first document imaging enabled version of RecFind in 1987. So it isn’t new technology and it is now low risk, tried and proven technology.

Even in this age of electronic documents most of us still receive and have to read, analyse and process mountains of paper.

I don’t know of any organization that doesn’t use some form of document imaging to help process paper documents. Conversely, I know of very few organizations that take full advantage of document imaging to gain maximum value from document imaging.

For example, just scanning a document as a TIFF file and then storing it on a hard drive somewhere is almost a waste of time. Sure, you can then get rid of the original paper (but most don’t) but you have added very little value to your business.

Similarly, capturing a paper document without contextual information (Metadata) is not smart because you have the document but none of the important transactional information. Even converting a TIFF document to a PDF isn’t smart unless you first OCR (Optical Character Recognition) it to release the important text ‘hidden’ in the TIFF file.

I would go even further and say that if you are not taking the opportunity to ‘read’ and ‘capture’ key information from the scanned document during the scanning process (Forms Processing) then you aren’t adding anywhere near as much value as you could.

And finally, if you aren’t automatically initiating workflow as the document is stored in your database then you are criminally missing an opportunity to automate and speed up your internal business processes.

To give it a rating scale, just scanning and storing TIFF files is a 2 out of 10. If this is your score you should be ashamed to be taking a pay packet. If you are scanning, capturing contextual data, OCRing, Forms Processing, storing as a text-searchable PDF and initiating workflow then you get a 10 out of 10 and you should be asking your boss for a substantial raise and a promotion.

How do you rate on a scale of 0 to 10? How satisfied is your boss with your work? Are you in line for a raise and a promotion?

Back in the 1980s the technology was high-risk, expensive and proprietary and few organizations could afford the substantial investment required to scan and process information with workflow.

Today the technology is low cost and ubiquitous. There is no excuse for not taking full advantage of document imaging functionality.

So, where do you start?

As always, you should begin with a paper-flow analysis. Someone needs to do an inventory of all the paper you receive and produce and then document the business processes it becomes part of.

For every piece of paper you produce you should be asking “why?” Why are you producing paper when you could be producing an electronic document or an electronic form?

In addition, why are you producing multiple copies? Why are you filing multiple copies? What do your staff actually do with the paper? What happens to the paper when it has been processed? Why is it sitting in boxes in expensive off-site storage? Why are you paying to rent space for that paper month after month after month? Is there anything stored there that could cause you pain in any future legal action?

And most importantly, what paper can you dispose of?

For the paper you receive you need to work out what is essential and what can be discarded. You should also talk to your customers, partners and suppliers and investigate if paper can be replaced by electronic documents or electronic forms. Weed out the non-essential and replace whatever you can with electronic documents and electronic forms. For example, provide your customers, partners and suppliers with Adobe electronic forms to complete, sign and return or provide electronic forms on your website for them to complete and submit.

Paper is the enemy, don’t let it win!

Once you have culled all the paper you can, you then need to work out how to process the remaining paper in the most efficient and effective manner possible and that always ends up as a Business Process Management (BPM) exercise. The objectives are speed, accuracy, productivity and automation.

Don’t do anything manually if you can possibly automate it. This isn’t 30 years ago when staff were relatively cheap and computers were very expensive. This is now when staff are very expensive and computers are very cheap (or should I say low-cost?).

If you have to process paper the only time it should be handled is when it is taken from the envelope and fed into a document scanner. After that, everything should be automated and electronic. Yes, your records management department will dutifully want to file paper in file folders and archive boxes but even that may not be necessary.  Don’t accept the mystical term ‘compliance’ as a reason for storing paper until you really do understand the compliance legislation that applies to your business. In most cases, electronic copies, given certain safeguards, are acceptable.

I am willing to bet that your records manager will be operating off a retention schedule that is old, out-of-date, modified from another schedule, copied, modified again and ‘made-to-fit’ your needs. It won’t be his/her fault because I can probably guarantee that no budget was allocated to update the retention schedule on an ongoing basis. I am also willing to bet that no one has a copy of all of the current compliance rules that apply to your business.

In my experience, ninety-percent plus of the retention schedules in use are old, out-of-date and inappropriate for the business processes they are being applied to. Most are also way too complicated and crying out for simplification. Bad retention schedules (and bad retention practices – are you really destroying everything as soon as you are allowed?) are the main reason you are wasting thousands or millions of dollars a year on redundant offsite storage.

Do your research and save a fortune! Yes, records are very important and do deserve your attention because if they don’t get your attention you will waste a lot of money and sooner or later you will be penalised for holding information you could have legally destroyed a long time ago. A good records practice is an essential part of any corporate risk management regime. Ignore this advice at your peril.

Obviously, processing records efficiently requires software. You need a software package that can:

  1. Scan, OCR and Forms Process paper documents.
  2. Capture and store scanned images and associated Metadata plus any other kind of electronic document.
  3. Define and execute workflow.
  4. Provide search and inquiry capabilities
  5. Provide reporting capabilities.
  6. Audit all transactions.

The above is obviously a ‘short-list’ of the functionality required but you get the idea. There must be at least several hundred proven software packages in the world that have the functionality required. Look under the categories of:

  1. Enterprise Content Management (ECM, ECMS)
  2. Records Management (RM, RMS)
  3. Records and Document Management
  4. Document Management (DM, DMS)
  5. Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRMS)
  6. Business Process Management (BPM)

You need to define your business processing requirements beginning with the paper flow analysis mentioned earlier. Then convert your business processing requirements into workflows in your software package. Design any electronic forms required and where possible, re-design input paper forms to facilitate forms processing. Draw up procedures, train your staff and then test and go live.

The above paragraph is obviously a little short on detail but I am not writing a “how-to” textbook, just a simple guide. If you don’t have the necessary expertise then hire a suitably qualified and experienced consultant (someone who has done it before many times) and get productive.

Or, you can just put it off again and hope that you don’t get caught.

 

Can you save money with document imaging?

by Frank 4. November 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6 that includes extensive document imaging capabilities. We have thousands of customers around the world and as far as I can see most use RecFind 6 for document imaging of one kind or another.

This certainly wasn’t the case twenty years ago when document imaging tools were difficult to use and were expensive stand-alone ‘specialised’ products. Today however, almost every document management or records management product includes document imaging capabilities as a normal part of the expected functionality. That is, document imaging has gone from being an expensive specialised product to just a commodity, an expected feature in almost any information management product.

This means most customers have a readily available, easy-to-use and cost-effective document imaging tool at their fingertips. That being the case there should be no excuse for not utilizing it to save both time and money. However, I guarantee that I could visit any of my customers and quickly find unrealised opportunities for them to increase productivity and save money by using the document imaging capabilities of my product RecFind 6. They don’t even have to spend any money with me because the document imaging functions of RecFind 6 are integrated as ‘standard’ functionality and there is no additional charge for using them.

So, why aren’t my customers and every other vendor’s customers making best use of the document imaging capabilities of their already purchased software?

In my experience there are many reasons but the main ones are:

Lack of knowledge

To the uninitiated document imaging may look simple but there is far more to it than first appears and unless your staff have hands-on experience there is unlikely to be an ‘expert’ in your organization. For this reason I wrote a couple of Blogs earlier this year for the benefit of my customers; Estimating the cost of your next imaging job and The importance of document imaging. This was my attempt to add to the knowledge base about document imaging.

Lack of ownership

The need for document imaging transects the whole enterprise but there is rarely any one person or department charged with ‘owning’ this need and with applying best-practice document imaging policies and procedures to ensure that the organization obtains maximum benefits across all departments and divisions. It tends to be left to the odd innovative employee to come up with solutions just for his or her area.

Lack of consultancy skills

We often say that before we can propose a solution we need to know what the problem is. The way to discover the true nature of a problem is to deploy an experienced consultant to review and analyse the supposed problem and then present an analysis, conclusions and recommendations that should always include a cost-benefit analysis. In our experience very few organizations have staff with this kind of expertise.

Negative impact of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008

All over the world since 2008 our customers have been cutting staff and cutting costs and eliminating or postponing non-critical projects. Some of this cost cutting has been self-defeating and has produced negative results and reduced productivity. One common example is the cancelling or postponing of document imaging projects that could have significantly improved efficiency, productivity and competitiveness as well as reducing processing costs.  This is especially true if document imaging is combined with workflow to better automate business processes.  I also wrote a Blog back in July 2012 for the benefit our customers to better explain just what business process management is all about called Business Process Management, just what does it entail?

In answer to the original question I posed, yes you can save money utilizing simple document imaging functionality especially if you combine the results with new workflow processes to do things faster, more accurately and smarter. It is really a no-brainer and it should be the easiest cost justification you have ever written.

We have already seen how most information management solutions like RecFind 6 have embedded document imaging capabilities so most of you should have existing and paid-for document imaging functionality you can leverage off.

All you really need to do to save your organization money and improve your work processes is look for and then analyse any one of many document imaging opportunities within your organization.

A clue, wherever there is paper there is a document imaging opportunity.

Are you also confused by the term Enterprise Content Management?

by Frank 16. September 2012 06:00

I may be wrong but I think it was AIIM that first coined the phrase Enterprise Content Management to describe both our industry and our application solutions.

Whereas the term isn’t as nebulous as Knowledge Management it is nevertheless about as useful when trying to understand what organizations in this space actually do. At its simplest level it is a collective term for a number of related business applications like records management, document management, imaging, workflow, business process management, email management and archiving, digital asset management, web site content management, etc.

To simple people like me the more appropriate term or label would be Information Management but as I have already covered this in a previous Blog I won’t beleaguer the point in this one.

When trying to define what enterprise content management actually means or stands for we can discard the words ‘enterprise’ and ‘management’ as superfluous to our needs and just concentrate on the key word ‘content’. That is, we are talking about systems that in some way create and manage content.

So, what exactly is meant by the term ‘content’?

In the early days of content management discussions we classified content into two broad categories, structured and unstructured. Basically, structured content had named sections or labels and unstructured content did not. Generalising even further we can say that an email is an example of structured content because it has commonly named, standardised and accessible sections or labels like ‘Sender’, ‘Recipient’, ‘Subject’ etc., that we can interrogate and rely on to carry a particular class or type of information. The same general approach would regard a Word document as unstructured because the content of a Word document does not have commonly named and standardised sections or labels. Basically a Word document is an irregular collection of characters that you have to parse and examine to determine content.

Like Newtonian physics, the above generalisations do not apply to everything and can be argued until the cows come home. In truth, every document has an accessible structure of some kind. For example, a Word document has an author, a size, a date written, etc. It is just that it is far easier to find out who the recipient of an email was than the recipient of a Word document. This is because there is a common and standard ‘Tag’ that tells us who the recipient is of an email and there is no such common and standard tag for a Word document.

In our business we call ‘information about information’ (e.g., the recipient and date fields on an email) Metadata. If an object has recognizable Metadata then it is far easier to process than an object without recognizable Metadata. We may then say that adding Metadata to an object is the same as adding structure.

Adding structure is what we do when we create a Word document using a template or when we add tags to a Word document. We are normalizing the standard information we require in our business processes so the objects we deal with have the structure we require to easily and accurately identify and process them.

This is of course one of the long-standing problems in our industry, we spend far too much time and money trying to parse and interpret unstructured objects when we should be going back to the coal face and adding structure when the object is first created. This is of course relatively easy to do if we are creating the objects (e.g., a Word document) but not easy to achieve if we are receiving documents from foreign sources like our customers, our suppliers or the government. Unless you are the eight-hundred pound gorilla (like Walmart) it is very difficult to force your partners to add the structure you require to make processing as fast and as easy and as accurate as possible.

There have been attempts in the past to come up with common ‘standards’ that would have regulated document structure but none have been successful. The last one was when XML was the bright new kid on the block and the XML industry rushed headlong into defining XML standards for every conceivable industry to facilitate common structures and to make data transfer between different organizations as easy and as standard as possible. The various XML standardisation projects sucked up millions or even billions of dollars but did not produce the desired results; we are still spending billions of dollars each year parsing unstructured documents trying to determine content.

So, back to the original question, what exactly is Enterprise Content Management? The simple answer is that it is the business or process of extracting useful information from objects such as emails and PDFs and Word documents and then using that information in a business process. It is all about the process of capturing Metadata and content in the most accurate and expeditious manner possible so we can automate business processes as much as possible.

If done properly, it makes your job more pleasant and saves your organization money and it makes your customers and suppliers happier. As such it sounds a lot like motherhood (who is going to argue against it?) but it certainly isn’t like manna from heaven. There is always a cost and it is usually significant. As always, you reap what you sow and effort and cost produces rewards.

Is content management something you should consider? The answer is definitely yes with one proviso; please make sure that the benefits are greater than the cost.

 

Business Processes Management, BPM, BPO; just what does it entail?

by Frank 15. July 2012 06:00

Like me I am sure that you have been inundated with ads, articles, white papers and proposals for something called BPM or BPO, Business Process Management, Business Process Outsourcing and Business Process Optimisation.

Do you really understand what it all means?

BPM and BPO certainly aren’t new, there have been many companies offering innovative and often cutting-edge technology solutions for many years. The pioneering days were probably the early 1980’s. One early innovator I can recall (and admired) was Tower Technology because their office was just across from our old offices in Lane Cove.

In the early days BPM was all about imaging and workflow and forms. Vendors like Tower Technology used early version of workflow products like Staffware and a whole assortment of different imaging and forms products to solve customer processing problems. It involved a lot of inventing and a lot of creative genius to make all those disparate products work and actually do what the sales person promised. More often than not the final solution didn’t quite work as promised and it always seemed to cost a lot more than quoted.

Like all new technologies everyone had to go through a learning process and like most new technologies, for many years the promises were far ahead of what was actually delivered.

So, is it any different today? Is BPM a proven, reliable and feature-rich and mature technology?

The answer dear friends is yes and no; just as it was twenty-five or more years ago.

There is a wonderful Latin phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’ which means “Let the buyer beware”. Caveat Emptor applies just as much today as it did in the early days because despite the enormous technological progress we have all witnessed and experienced we are still pushing the envelope. We are still being asked to do things the current software and hardware can’t quite yet handle. The behind the scenes technicians are still trying to make the product do what the sales person promised in good faith (we hope) because he didn’t really understand his product set.

Caveat Emptor means it is up to the buyer to evaluate the offering and decide if it can do the job. Of course, if the vendor lies or makes blatant false claims then Caveat Emptor no longer applies and you can hit them with a lawsuit.  However, in reality it is rarely as black and white as that. The technology is complex and the proposals and explanations are full of proprietary terminology, ambiguities, acronyms and weaselly words.

Like most agreements in life you shouldn’t enter into a BPM contract unless you know exactly what you are getting into. This is especially true with BPM or BPO because you are talking about handing over part of your core business processes to someone else to ‘improve’. If you don’t understand what is being proposed then please hire someone who does; I guarantee it will be worth the investment. This is especially true if you are outsourcing customer or supplier facing processes like accounts payable and accounts receivable. Better to spend a little more up front than suffer cost overruns, failed processes and an inbox full of complaints.

My advice is to always begin with some form of a consultancy to ‘examine’ your processes and produce a report containing conclusions and recommendations. The vendor may (should) offer this as part of its sales process and it may be free or it may be chargeable.  Personally, I believe in the old adage that you get what you pay for so I would prefer to pay to have a qualified and experienced professional consultant do the study. The advantage of paying for the study is that you then ‘own’ the report and can then legally provide it to other vendors to obtain competitive quotes.

You should also have a pretty good idea of what the current processing is costing you in both direct and indirect costs (e.g., lost sales, dissatisfied customers, unhappy staff, etc.) before beginning the evaluation exercise. Otherwise, how are you going to be able to judge the added value of the vendor’s proposal?

In my experience the most common set of processes to be ‘outsourced’ are those to do with accounts payable processing. This is the automation of all processes beginning with your purchase order (and its line items), the delivery docket (proof of receipt), invoices (and line items) and statements. The automation should reconcile invoices to delivery dockets and purchase orders and should throw up any discrepancies such as items invoiced but not delivered, variations in price, etc. Vendors will usually propose what is commonly called an automatic matching engine; the software that reads all the documents and does its best to make sure you only pay for delivered goods that are exactly as ordered.

If the vendor’s proposal is to be attractive it must replace your manual processing with an automated model that is faster and more accurate. Ideally, it would also be more cost-effective but even if it is more costly than your manual direct cost estimate it should still solve most of your indirect cost problems like unhappy suppliers and late payment fees.

In essence, there is nothing magical about BPM and BPO; it is all about replacing inefficient manual processes with much more efficient automated ones using clever computer software. The magic, if that is the word to use, is about getting it right. You need to know what the current manual processing is costing you. You need to be absolutely sure that you fully understand the vendor’s proposal and you need to build in metrics so you can accurately evaluate the finished product and clearly determine if it is meeting its stated objectives.

Please don’t enter into negotiations thinking that if it doesn’t work you can just blame the vendor. That would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Remember Caveat Emptor; success or failure really depends upon how well you do your job as the customer.

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