Google greed is killing the golden goose

by Frank 26. November 2011 13:31

Every year our website is improved and has more relevant content but every year, since Google has been in power, the number of inquiries we receive via our website falls.

I am fond of saying that Google has kidnapped the Internet.  It used to be a public resource but now it is a Google resource, it has been ‘monetised’ by Google and Google continually refines its model to produce more money from the Internet. The net effect of every ‘improved Google algorithm’ is that you have to spend more time and money to be ‘found’.

I contend that a Google search now no longer gives you what you are looking for, it gives you what Google thinks you should have. For example, who asked Google to ‘localise’ searches? I certainly didn’t because I run an international business with my website as our portal to the world.

The Google reign has also spawned a plethora of blood-sucking SEO (Search Engine Optimization) companies that promise the world, guarantee nothing and deliver very little for your money. The fact that normal companies can no longer work out how to be found without help has been a boom to the SEO charlatans. The fact that Google continually plays with its stupid academic algorithm ensures that no strategy works for very long so you are forced to hire an SEO company on an ongoing, never-ending basis just to keep you head above water. Bad luck to those companies that can’t afford to hire an SEO company; even worse luck to those that do spend scarce dollars on SEO for negligible results.

What we need is for Google and Bing and the others to go back to a simple algorithm based on relevant content but that is not going to happen because that would be contrary to the money making algorithms they all employ and the avaricious demands of the stock market.

Who is going to design and develop a brilliant new search engine that works purely on relevant content and gives you exactly what you ask for if it isn’t based on adwords and advertising revenue? It is a bit like asking who will spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on a cancer cure that will be given away free? It simply is not going to happen.

It is my prediction that Google’s insatiable quest for revenue growth will see more and more companies simply drop out of the game because it is too hard to understand and too expensive. They will have to find new ways, and reuse old ways, to reach their customers and prospective customers.

Adding to the difficulty is idiotic and poorly thought out anti-spam legislation passed all over the world (though Europe seems to be ahead with the most brain dead laws) that has done nothing to stop spammers but had severely penalised legitimate businesses making it almost impossible to market by email (for legitimate companies anyway). It has of course also created a whole new industry of blood-sucking ‘double opt-In’ email list spruikers more than happy to take advantage of stupid government legislation and rip-off gullible businesses.

The Wall Street analysts will continue to demand better revenue and income numbers from Google each quarter and Google will respond. Your business will be the loser because the pressures of the financial system will ensure that you have to pay more and more money every year to be found.

We will soon see a rich and poor tier system in place. A small number of very large and rich companies using Google to market on the Internet and a much larger number of smaller and less rich companies dropping out of the game they can’t afford to play in. Lots of small and micro businesses, especially home-based businesses, will fail in the process and many already have.

We saw the same thing happen a lot of years ago with advertising in traditional media. It soon got to the stage where it was a waste of money trying to do corporate advertising if your budget couldn’t stretch to tens of millions of dollars so the little guys simply dropped out of the game. The big media corporations killed the golden goose because of greed and eventually, it changed the whole face of traditional advertising and a great many of those greedy providers are no more.

In my opinion Google is now repeating the same formula with the Internet.  Because of that we are now experimenting with new and old ways to promote our business and reach our customers and prospective customers. I can’t speak for the rest of the world but I get the feeling that a great many smaller companies are moving in the same direction we are. Only time will tell if I am right.

The Internet is broken and there is no solution

by Frank 23. November 2011 13:17

We all know that the current Internet is an ‘open’ system and that it is plagued with spam, phishing attacks, denial of service attacks and major security issues allowing for example, foreign government sponsored attacks of our defense sites and infrastructure sites.

We (private individuals, local government, state government, federal government, defense, small, medium and large business, etc., etc.) spend billions of dollars every year trying to protect ourselves and it doesn’t work because the bad guys are just as creative as the good guys and sometimes I suspect they are even on the same revenue-generating team.

However, the real problem is that we are all spending billions of dollars trying to ‘fix’ the symptoms, not the core problem. Fixing the symptoms has never worked, doesn’t work and will never work for the aforementioned reasons, namely that the bad guys are as creative (if not more creative) than the good guys and the basic system is Swiss cheese.

So, do we continue standing over the toilet tearing up hundred dollars bills or do we acknowledge that the current Internet is broken and can’t be fixed and look for a new way to communicate, run our businesses and promote our businesses?

The Internet is old and it is based on very old technology, a bit like the late space shuttle that was finally killed off about twenty years after its real use by date but not without wasting hundreds of billions of dollars recycling and refreshing and patching up old technology. “Mutton dressed up as lamb” as my dear departed mother used to say (often when referring to aging film actresses, she was a little before the Internet and space shuttles).

Our governments have no choice, especially in the face of co-ordinated attacks on vital infrastructure by ‘unfriendly’ governments, but to move sensitive sites off the Internet and on to private networks. Plans for this are already in place in various major countries around the world and are most certainly in formation in the USA. Our governments are well aware that the next major conflict (I hesitate to call it a world war) will be over before it begins unless key government and infrastructure sites are one-hundred percent protected and they cannot be one-hundred percent protected with open connections to the current Internet.

How do you fight a war without water and electricity? How do you transport troops and vital supplies if all airports and roads are shut down? How do you care for your citizens if all hospitals are shut down? How do you feed everyone if there is no transport of food or refrigeration capabilities? How do you work farms with no electricity or fuel? How long do you think a country could survive under these conditions? The aggressor wouldn’t even have to launch a single missile, all ‘weapons’ will already have been delivered by the Internet.

As private individuals we have seen enough of identity theft to be at least aware of the dangers of the Internet as a means of commerce. Is there a month that goes by without yet another leak about stolen credit card data from banks and affiliates and stolen personal information from social networking sites or yet another Nigerian scam? It is not a case of will you be a victim, but when?

My contention is that the current Internet, because of its technology, architecture and politics, cannot be fixed. Just like the space shuttle, it is already way past its real use by date. But, because companies all over the world have invested so much in the Internet they are reluctant to deliver the last rites. It is vested interests, certainly not concern for your security, which is keeping the current Internet alive and not well.

The Internet needs to be replaced with something better, not continually patched up and played with. However, just like those ugly big banks, those in power think it is “too big to fail” and they are wrong, just as they were wrong about those big banks that have now consumed hundreds of billions more of your hard-earned tax dollars.

Saying it is too important or too big to be allowed to fail (as the EU is doing with the PIG countries) is no more than a way of avoiding a real and lasting solution; it is a delay, a stall or “kicking the can down the road” and hoping something will happen in the future to magically solve the problem.

In the next Blog on this topic I will talk about what I think the replacements (plural) should be.

Mobile and Web – The Future of Applications?

by Frank 20. November 2011 07:33

Coincident with the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) beginning in 2008 we have seen the beginning of a seismic shift in the way organizations regard ‘official’ application platforms. Maybe it has a lot to do with cost cutting and the drive to increase productivity; doing more with less. It could also have been driven by the volcanic eruption in social networking that drove the demand for Internet time on both conventional devices like PCs and notebooks but also on mobile devices, especially Smartphones.

Whatever the reason, organizations of all sizes now accept mobile devices into their corporate networks and allow for them in their security systems and application requirements. Before 2008 the BlackBerry was king but just for emails and appointments. It had strong security and integrated well with Exchange. Other phones and mobile devices were seen as just phones or as gadgets or toys.

The Apple iPhone was the beginning of the change and the iPad a veritable tsunami of change. Soon other vendors rushed into the market with new products, many not well thought out, and spent billions of dollars trying to compete with the iPhone and iPad. At the same time the mobile application development industry mushroomed into a major force as software companies of all sizes hurriedly updated their skills to take advantage of the demand for mobile applications.

New operating systems like iOS (Apple) and Android stole the limelight from old timers like Windows and Linux despite having a significant short fall in features and capabilities. Apple led the way with a cool and simple user interface that became the envy of all others. Anyone could use an iPhone or iPad after a few minutes familiarization whereas long term Windows users were still struggling to untangle Windows and work out how to do what should have been simple, intuitive tasks.

The new consumers liked what they saw and bought what they saw in the tens of millions. We are now well into the first really mobile generation. Most people expect to be able to do everything they need to do on a mobile device, even their corporate work. They also expect any application to be instantly and intuitively usable. Their patience for complexity and obtuseness has gone. Microsoft can’t sell them its ‘old way’ anymore because they have seen the future and they prefer it. The future is simple, intuitive, really easy to use and cool; all the things Windows and Linux are not. The Geeks can have the complexity of conventional operating systems; end users prefer the new paradigm as exemplified by the iPad.

Developers like us all over the world have shifted their focus from Windows application development to web (i.e., it runs in a browser on any device) and native mobile application development for devices like the iPhone, iPad and Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets running Android. We have invested in new people and have learnt new languages and new techniques appropriate to this new mobile world. Long live Xcode, farewell  .NET and Silverlight.

I can confirm that our development plans for the future are based on designing and developing mobile and web applications to at first complement our existing Windows .NET apps and then to eventually replace them. We see the future as one where all of our applications are being run either as operating system independent web applications (in browsers like IE, Safari, FireFox and Chrome) or as discrete modules running as native mobile apps on Smartphones and tablets.

Dell and Lenovo and HP probably know much better than me but if I was  in their space I wouldn’t be planning on selling too many PCs and notebooks in the future.

The need to manage emails differently to paper

by Frank 16. November 2011 13:16

The ISO standard 15489, see the following link, clearly and succinctly defines records as evidence of a business transaction and also clearly says that a record is a record regardless of media. This means that the business of records management means the management of all types of records including paper, electronic documents, images and emails.

For too long records managers have avoided managing emails on the basis that it is too difficult. One of the most common excuses I hear is that they don’t manage emails because they can’t avoid accidentally capturing ‘personal’ emails. This is of course nonsense as all it takes is a corporate email policy clearly defining the ownership of all corporate emails and advising staff what to do to ‘protect’ personal emails (e.g., put “Personal” in the subject line).

Of course why people are using the corporate email server to send and receive sensitive personal emails is beyond me. If it is personal and sensitive then do not use the corporate email server, use Gmail or Twitter or send an SMS. This should also be spelled out clearly in the company email policy; Caveat Emptor, “Let the user (buyer) beware.” That is, if you are silly enough to use the corporate email server for sensitive personal emails then be prepared to be embarrassed when other people read them.

However, let’s assume we have decided to manage emails in the most effective manner possible, and that certainly doesn’t mean printing them out and filing them as paper records, how should we best capture, classify, store, index and retrieve them?

Should we do it the exact same way we have traditionally managed paper records with file numbers, titles and a classification built from a hierarchical taxonomy? Or, should we do it in a way that makes it as easy and as fast as possible to capture and search for and view them? That is, shouldn’t we handle emails in a way most appropriate to their form, structure and content?

Emails don’t start out as paper so why convert them to paper?

Emails don’t start out with file numbers and titles so why assign them?

End users naturally search for emails by sender, recipient, subject, date sent, date received, etc., so why force them to search for emails by file number, title and or classification? Why make it as hard as possible for the end user to find an email when it is just as easy (even easier in fact) to make it as easy as possible for an end user to find an email by its natural and well-known attributes?

An email is not the same as a paper document or an electronic document or an image. An email has structure and content that everyone in the world is aware of and everyone in the world prefers to search for an email using that well known structure and content.

I course am talking about the common fields or elements of an email being sender, recipient, CC, BCC (usually not available), subject, body text and attachments. All we really need is three types of common searches; full text, Metadata and BOOLEAN (combining values of the elements of the Metadata in an AND, BUT OR NOT relationship) searching on these common fields and anyone can find any email in seconds.

By all means link an email to its parent folder (but it is not necessary) but please don’t force the long suffering end user to search for the emails the same way we have searched for paper over the centuries.

Allow the end user to search by date, sender, recipient, CC and subject plus the full text of the body of the email, plus any attachments. Give them a natural search that everyone understands and that no one needs to be trained on.

If you want to be as efficient as possible then don’t try to capture emails at the desktop, capture them at the server. Capture them before someone has the opportunity to delete them or simply forgets to capture them.

Capture them efficiently and totally consistently with an automatic rules-driven process that consistently and reliably (not forgetting or deleting anything) applies your corporate email policy day in and day out come hail or shine with no time off for  maternity leave, paternity leave, compassionate leave, public holidays, illness or vacations. You can do this because emails are different to paper, they can be easily captured, stored and indexed automatically; paper can’t be.

That is, use the computer to automate the capture of emails in a way that you cannot do to automate the capture of paper. Use the structure and content of emails and the power of the computer to your advantage.

Contrary to popular opinion, emails are actually much easier to capture and index than paper records but only if you use the computer to take advantage of the email’s natural structure and content. However, if you choose to manage emails the same way you manage paper then emails will indeed be difficult and time-consuming to manage.

But for heaven’s sake please don’t bog down the whole process in an overly complex, inexplicably intricate and incomprehensible Taxonomy. Please keep it simple or you will end up with hundreds or thousands of unmanageable rules to maintain. I have written about this previously in a paper entitled “Do you really need a Taxonomy?” and I recommend that anyone contemplating managing emails first reads this paper.

The message is as simple as simple can be; keep it simple or it won’t work!

Form Factor – The real problem with mobile devices doing ‘real work’

by Frank 13. November 2011 13:02

The golden grail for any manufacture wanting to dominate the mobile device business market would be the ‘perfect’ form factor. A key second requirement would be the ability to hold all your working files and run all your work applications.

By ‘form factor’ I mean both the size of the device and the size of the screen and keyboard.

We business users (I have a BlackBerry, iPad2 and a Dell notebook) are tired of having to carry multiple devices with us on business trips. Look at the chaos in any US airline check in line and see the frustration and exasperation generated by having to unpack and then retrieve multiple devices.

I would like to carry just one device and I want it to be really easy to use and power up and to have a really long battery life. Unpacking and powering up a notebook and then starting a browser and then running the Windows Outlook web client is a huge pain in an airport when all you want to do is quickly check your emails.  The notebook is also lucky to last two hours without a recharge.

So, when I need to quickly check my emails I use my BlackBerry. But, when I want to read and study a large document or spreadsheet or create a new document the BlackBerry is hopeless (the screen and keyboard are too small) so then I have to use either my notebook or my iPad 2.

I could probably use just my iPad 2 but it doesn’t fit into my pocket and neither does it run my normal office applications like Word and it doesn’t have a file system where I can maintain copies  of all the files I will need on my trip so it is a pain. It almost does the job but I still need the notebook for serious stuff.

I love the iPad 2 but it isn’t there yet as the true alternative to the notebook. I am hoping that Apple is listening to its customers and that it will address the dumb limitations of the iPad (like no file system or separate USB port) in the iPad 3 next year.

In the meantime, I almost get by by using a clever little iPad app called Wyse PocketCloud. This is the equivalent of Microsoft’s remote desktop and it enables me to see my desktop PC at work and all my folders and files when I am travelling. It also allows me to run any of the applications on my desktop and even allows me to demonstrate our Windows products like RecFind 6. It is easy to set up and in my experience works really well and is amazingly fast.  However, you obviously need a Wi-Fi connection to get full benefit but I am hopeful that when the iPad supports 4G we will be able to operate successfully without Wi-Fi.

And of course the iPad 2 isn’t a phone and neither is the notebook (yes, I know I could use Skype but I hate it) so I still need the BlackBerry.

Now back to form factor and we still don’t have a solution that will enable us to carry just a single device because everything we have is either too big or too small. Too big to fit in my pocket and too small to view and create serious business documents.

I have seen experimental devices that have folding screens and also ones that project the screen onto any handy wall but so far these are just gimmicks. No vendor has come up with a solution to the classical dilemma – that is, give me something that is small enough to fit into my pocket but which can become big enough (keyboard and screen) to do serious work.

So RIM, HP, Lenovo, Dell, Apple and Samsung how about it? When are you going to invent something for the business traveller that replaces all three of my travelling devices and provides the perfect compromise between small size and usability? If you do, you will certainly get my business.

For the future I am going to try and travel with just my BlackBerry and iPad 2 using Wyse PocketCloud. I also use Pages, Numbers and Keynote on the iPad 2 as my serious business apps. I am going to see if I can live without the notebook which is the heaviest, most inconvenient and most difficult and slowest to get up and running with the shortest battery life. I will let you know how I fare in a future Blog.

Self-registering, self-managing records, a reality or just a pipe-dream? Chapter 5

by Frank 9. November 2011 07:34

In this chapter we talk about how we can use standard tools to automate the capture and processing of all electronic documents and emails – the biggest challenge for any organization struggling with compliance and trying to manage its vast store of information.

I said in an earlier chapter that all of the tools we need are available and proven, such as RFID tags for paper documents. This is also true for all forms of electronic documents.

We at Knowledgeone Corporation have developed our own tools to enable full automation just as I am sure our competitors have developed similar tools (and if not, why not?).

However, first I need to explain the difference between structured and unstructured information and how important it is to add structure (content) to any electronic document if we are to achieve our aim of self managing records.

As a general example of structured versus unstructured an email has structure and a Word document does not. It is true they both have natural attributes (properties) that we can automatically capture like original filename and author but we need more.

An email has structured content in the form of:

  • Sender
  • Recipient
  • CC
  • BCC
  • Subject (text)
  • Body of email (text)
  • Attachment (text)

A Word document doesn’t have a ‘standard’ internal structure and we can’t easily extract contextual information out of it as we can with an email. We therefore describe an email as ‘structured’ and a Word document as ‘unstructured’.

This means that automatically processing emails is relatively simple but that Word documents present a challenge because of a lack of a standard structure that we can interrogate.

It is true we can write clever algorithms to extract the text from Word documents (and we have) and then analyze it against our business rules but it isn’t easy and it is not one hundred-percent reliable.

If you want to make you job infinitely easier and the results much more reliable you need to add content. We do this via a proven technique called ‘tags’. We have the ability to process tags in our standard products and you can easily add tags to electronic documents. In fact anyone can add meaningful tags (e.g., File Number or Contract Number) by using standard templates for all key electronic documents. The only effort is in setting up the templates, after that it is a virtually automatic process.

Conversely, it is actually much harder to add tags to emails because most of the emails we process come from outside our organization whereas most of the electronic documents we process are created within our organization.

So, for our fully automatic model let’s assume we are automatically adding tags to all the important electronic documents we create using templates. These tags contain all the information we need to be able to correctly capture, classify and manage (including workflow) the documents in our records management system.

We also assume that we are able to process all incoming and outgoing emails at the email server and correctly select and classify emails based on their structured content, i.e., the values in the any and all of the components of an email, e.g., the domain name of the sender, the recipient, the subject line and keywords in the text of the body of the email or the attachment.

Now all we need are the tools to do this. In the Knowledgeone Corporation RecFind 6 product suite we utilize RecFind 6, RecCapture and GEM. These three products contain all the functionality we require to fully automate the capture, classification and management of electronic documents and emails.

RecCapture (for electronic documents) and GEM (for emails) both include the functionality that allows you to add your business rules. They are therefore called ‘rules-driven’ automatic processes. The rules interrogate the natural properties of the document plus any structured information (including embedded tags) as well as the full text of any component (e.g., an attachment). You can add as few or as many rules as you need to correctly identify, capture and classify any electronic document or email.

We have used both RecCapture and GEM internally at K1Corp for many years in this manner to fully automate our electronic documents and emails. No one at K1Corp has to manually capture anything. I guess that makes us unusual in this business, a software company that actually uses its own products.

The final message is that a fully automatic records management system isn’t just a possibility, it is a reality. All it takes is the will and effort; all the required tools are available and proven.

When is a Contract Not a Contract? When it’s an Agreement of Course

by Greg 6. November 2011 13:02

Contract, Agreement or Lease?  One could argue different names but there are very similar principles in the management of each.

In the last six months I’ve worked with a number of customers ranging from international gaming developers, cable television providers, and state government departments to educational institutes.  There may be differences in their core business models and delivery, but the common denominator is that they all need to manage contracts, agreements or leases.

Spreadsheets seem to be a very common way of managing these types of documents, in a dare I say it, ineffectual kind of way.  Can a spreadsheet send out automated reports to notify business owners when contracts/agreements/leases are due for renewal in the next 30, 60 or 90 days?  No, but RecFind 6 can!

Can a spreadsheet notify the business owner if a value or field has changed?  No, but RecFind 6 can!

Can a spreadsheet store a fully searchable electronic copy of the executed document?  No, but RecFind 6 can!

With the addition of a few simple triggers RecFind 6 can perform these types of calculations:

  • Status based on a calculation of start date, expiry date and renewal date
  • Annual amount based on a calculation of dates and length of contract
  • Apply the appropriate security on contract profile and executed documents.

Configuring this standard functionality within RecFind 6 is quite simple and provides instant benefit that can only enhance the way you manage vital information.  It might be a bit presumptuous to say but I think once you’ve managed your contracts/agreements/leases in RecFind 6, you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t configured this functionality sooner!

Talk to us.


Self-registering, self-managing records, a reality or just a pipe-dream? Chapter 4

by Frank 3. November 2011 14:00

This article is about using RFID technology and Active tags in particular to help us fully automate the paper records management process.

However, the first thing any organization should do is to remove as much paper as possible from the equation and in doing so reduce its RFID costs as far as possible. This is usually done by a proven process known as ‘Document Imaging’. In regular parlance we ‘scan’ as much of our incoming paper as is practicable and legally allowed and convert it to an electronic record usually in the form of an indexed PDF.

What this means is that the first result of the document scanning process is a TIFF file, a bit image (where no text is extractable or searchable). In order to add more value to our document and improve search results we should next process our TIFF image with an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tool to extract the text from the bit image. We then combine the bit image and the extracted text into a single document by converting both of them to a single PDF document. The PDF now contains both image and text so it is full text searchable and the text can be extracted if required.

I will cover how we fully automate the management of all electronic records in the next chapter.

Now to the core paper problem; paper is generally either sent to us or produced in-house as the result of some business process. If we are smart we produce as little paper as possible in-house and manage all of our in-house documents as electronic documents (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.). As mentioned above, we also try to capture as much of the incoming paper as we can by scanning it and converting it to electronic records (indexable PDFs). It is the paper we can’t or are prevented from converting to an electronic record we now have to deal with.

Our paper records are usually managed as ‘loose’ paper (i.e., as single documents) or file folders (loose paper collections) or archive boxes (file folder and loose paper collections). We have to decide which of these classes of paper records to apply RFID tags to (i.e., loose papers, file folders and archive boxes) and what data to encode on the tags.

I think the usual decision would be to apply tags to a small number of loose documents (e.g., important documents that travel ‘loose’ throughout an organization) and then to all file folders and archive boxes. There may be an argument that says we don’t need to tag archive boxes if the contents are tagged but that decision will depend upon each organization’s specific needs and tools.

As to what data to encode that is totally dependent upon each client’s needs and the various classes of documents and containers it manages as well as its compliance needs. It is probably worthwhile mentioning here that Active RFID tags can also differentiated by the way they store data. There are three types of data-storage (and again I generalise):

  1. Read-only
  2. Write-once, Read-many (WORM); and
  3. Read-Write

Read-only tags are the least useful because they can’t be changed or added to once they have been created. WORM tags can’t be overwritten but can have data added at a later time. Read-Write tags are the most useful because their data can be modified at any time. Each type of tag has its most appropriate uses depending upon your needs and budget.

For my fully-automatic solution I will again choose the most expensive option, the Read-Write tag because it provides us with the most features and most flexibility and again let me say, “Computers are cheap, people-time is expensive!”

In my system, our Active RFID tagged documents now communicate directly with the records management system and database. Our paper documents are now active, not passive and are able to both receive and pass on information as they are processed.

They can tell us where they are, they can tell us that a process is due or overdue and they can tell us when they are due to be archived or destroyed.  They will tell us if they are moved and they will signal an alarm is they are moved away from a predetermined area or building. If we have also RFID tagged our employees (either chipped them – probably not practicable but certainly possible, or more reasonably, RFID enabled their employee badges) then our active documents will tell us who has them and who is reading them and at what time. They will also maintain a complete history or ‘Audit Trail’ either on the RFID tag itself or within our database.

It may sound like science fiction but it is not as all the technology and tools required are current and proven and ‘affordable’ and in use in other applications like container and freight and asset tracking. Our task is to simply adapt the most appropriate elements of RFID technology to paper records management.

Our now fully-automatic new system obviously requires a records management computer system and database plus RFID reader/writers at strategic locations in our enterprise. We also need a suitably appropriate and well-designed Taxonomy or classification system and a predetermined set of rules (workflow) with which to manage our now RFID-enabled paper. The Taxonomy and Workflows should be combined into what we usually call a ‘File Plan’ such that we can encode all of the information required to manage the full life cycle of the record (the Continuum model) into an RFID tag. As each document is captured with an RFID tag its information is automatically entered into our records management system’s database and the management process immediately begins with the document and computer system in constant contact thereafter.

The Read-Write tags chosen provide us with the flexibility required by for example allowing us to reprogram the workflow or retention as and when required. This feature is essential if we are to meet the real world requirements of the records management profession. We can do this via our records management system in a controlled and audited and secure way.

This article is just a skeletal view of what is possible and how it can be done. A complete description would entail writing a wordy tome inappropriate to this medium. However, the above is all possible; it is not science fiction.

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.

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