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.

Does the customer want to deal with a sales person?

by Frank 8. July 2012 06:00

We are in the enterprise content management business or more explicitly in the information management business and we provide a range of solutions including contract management, records management, document management, asset management, HR management, policy management, etc. We are a software company that designs and develops its own products. We also develop and provide all the services required to make our products work once installed at the customer’s site.

However, we aren’t in the ‘creating innovative software’ business even though that is what we do; we are really in the ‘selling our innovative software’ business because without sales there would be no business and no products and no services (and no employees).

We have been in business for nearly 30 years and have watched and participated as both technology and practices have evolved over that time. Some changes are easy to see. For example, we no longer product paper marketing collateral, we produce all of our marketing collateral in HTML or PDF form for delivery via our website and email. We also now market to the world via our website and the Internet, not just to our ‘local’ area.

Another major area of change has been the interface between the customer and the vendor. Many companies today no longer provide a human-face interface. Most big companies and government agencies no longer maintain a shopfront; they require you to deal with them via a website. Some don’t even allow a phone call or email; your only contact is via a web form.

Sometimes the website interface works but mostly it is a bit hit and miss and a very frustrating experience as the website fails or doesn’t offer the option you need. My pet hate is being forced to fill in a web form and then never hearing back from the vendor. Support is often non-existent or very expensive. From my viewpoint, a major failing of the modern paradigm is that I more often than not cannot get the information I need to evaluate a product from the website. This is when I try to find a way to ask them to please have a sales person contact me as I need to know more about their product or service.

I look forward to a sales person contacting me because I know what I want and I know what questions I need answers to. However, the sad truth is that I am rarely contacted by a sales person (and I refuse to speak to anyone from an Indian call centre because I have no wish to waste my time). However, experience with my customers and prospects tells me that not everyone is as enamoured with sales people as I am. In fact, many of the people I have contact with are very nervous of sales people, some are even afraid of them.

Unfortunately for me, we aren’t in a business where we can sell our products and services via a webpage and cart checkout. We need to understand the customer’s business needs before we can provide a solution so we need to employ high quality sales people who are business savvy and really understand business processes. It is not until I know enough to be able to restate the customer’s requirement in detail that I am in a position to make a sale. Conversely, the customer isn’t going to buy anything from me until he/she is absolutely sure I understand the problem and can articulate the solution.

So, in my industry I rely on a human interface and that usually means a sales person. But, do I really need a sales person and do my customers and prospective customers really want to speak to a sales person? Is there a more modern alternative? Please trust me when I say I have pondered this question many, many times.

Those in my business (selling information management solutions) will know how hard it is to find a good sales person and how hard it is to keep them. The good ones are less than ten-percent of the available pool and even after you hire them they are still besieged by offers from recruiters. Finding and retaining good sales people is in my opinion the biggest problem facing all the companies in our industry. They are also the most expensive of human resources and after paying a recruitment fee and a big salary you are then faced with the 80:20 rule; that is, 20% of the sales force produces 80% of your revenues.

Believe me, if I could find a way to meet my sales targets without expensive and difficult to manage sales people I would. However, as our solutions are all about adapting our technology to the customer’s often very complex business processes this is not a solution that can be sold via a website or automated questionnaire; it requires a great deal of skill and experience.

So for now dear customer, please deal with my sales person; he or she is your best chance of solving that vexing problem that is costing your organization money and productivity. All you really need to do is be very clear about what you want and very focussed on the questions you want answered. There is nothing to be afraid of because if you do your homework you will quickly be able to differentiate the good sales person from the bad sales person and then take the appropriate action. I never deal with a bad sales person and nor should you. I also really enjoy dealing with a professional sales person who knows his/her business and knows how to research and qualify my needs.

A good sales person uses my time wisely and saves me money. A bad sales person doesn’t get the chance to waste my time. This should be your approach too; be happy and willing to deal with a sales person but only if he/she is a professional and can add value to your business.

Sales people call this the value proposition. More explicitly; if the sales person is not able to articulate a value proposition to the customer that resonates with the customer then he/she shouldn’t be there. Look for the value proposition; if it isn’t apparent, close the meeting. Make each and every sales person understand, if they aren’t able to articulate a value proposition for your business then there is no point in continuing the conversation.

Dealing with a sales person isn’t difficult; it is all up to you to know what you want (the value proposition) and what questions to ask. Do your preparation and you will never fear a sales person again.

 

Project Management – just what does it entail?

by Frank 15. April 2012 06:00

In a previous career with mainframes I spent eight years as a large scale project manager and then a further two years as the international operations manager managing a number of project managers at troubled projects around the world. Those ten years taught me a great deal about what it takes to be a successful project manager and conversely, why some project managers fail.

Notice that I said why some project managers fail, not why some projects fail. It is cause and effect; projects only fail when the project manager fails to do the job required. This particular concept separates good project managers from bad project managers. Good project managers take full responsibility for the success or failure of their projects, bad project managers don’t.

Good project managers are ‘glass-half-full’ people, bad project managers are ‘glass-half-empty’ people. Good project managers are leaders, bad project managers are victims.

So the first piece of advice is to choose your project manager carefully. You want a strong willed, bright and energetic doer, not a facilitator or politician. You want a strong leader, not a careful and political follower; you want Jesus, not the disciples.

The next piece of advice is that you should set quantitative criteria for project success. No ambiguity or motherhood or weaselly words, as the Dragnet cop used to say, “Just the facts Mam.” In my day it was easy, we had to install the new hardware and software, convert from the old system, design and program the new applications and then take the whole system through a 30 day acceptance test with 99% uptime. There was always a contract and the conditions of acceptance were always clearly laid out and assiduously referred to by the customer. We knew what we had to achieve and there was no ambiguity.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with a lot of projects is that the conditions for acceptance and success are not clearly articulated or documented. But, a good project manager will always make sure that the scope and objectives and expected outcomes are clearly defined regardless before accepting the challenge. The bad project manager on the other hand is always happy that there isn’t a clear definition of success because the bad project manager wants to make judging his or her performance as difficult as possible.

I once fired a project manager who told me in three meetings in a row that he had not completed the requested project plan because the project was too complex. Obviously the more complex the project the more its needs a comprehensive project plan otherwise it will be impossible to manage. My failed project manager didn’t want to document the project plan because he didn’t want deadlines and he didn’t want to be judged on how well he was meeting deadlines.

It sounds like an over-simplification but if you want a successful project then choose a successful project manager, one who accepts full responsibility for all outcomes and one who is committed to success.

As part of the interview process, ask them what their philosophy of responsibility is. As an example, here is one I always used.

“Everything that happens is due to me because everything that happens is either due to something I did or something I didn’t do.”

I have never found a good project manager who had a problem with this credo. Bad project managers on the other hand, see it as anathema to their survival strategies. Good project managers accept full responsibility for success or failure, bad project managers do not.

Good project managers also don’t spend all day in an office playing with Excel and Microsoft Project. Nor do they spend all day in meetings or on conference calls. Good project managers integrate themselves into the very bowels of the project and ‘walk-and-talk’ on a daily basis.

Walk and talk refers to the practice of meeting with real workers at all levels of the project, especially end users. Good project managers make the time to talk to end users every day and because of this they know more about what is happening than any senior manager. They are ‘in-touch’ with the project and are constantly aware of changes, problems and successes. Good project managers who practice the walk and talk technique are never surprised in project or management meetings because they always know more than anyone else at the meeting and they always have the very latest information. This is probably why they are such good project managers. If you aren’t prepared to invest at least one hour of your time every day walking and talking to real users then you shouldn’t be a project manager.

Good project managers also always know how to select and manage their team. Because they are natural leaders, management is a natural and comfortable process for them. There is never any doubt in a good project manager’s team about who the leader is and who will make the final decisions and then take responsibility for them. There is no disseminated responsibility. The opposite is always true in a bad project manager’s team with disseminated responsibility and no clear record of who made what decision.

The calibre of the bad project manager’s team is always significantly lower than that of the good project manager’s team. This is because mediocre people always hire mediocre people and a bad project manager is afraid of strong capable staff because he or she finds them threatening. A good project manager on the other hands loves working with strong capable people and revels in the ongoing challenge of managing them. A good project manager is never threatened by strong capable staff, au contraire; he seeks them out because they make it easier for him (or her) to be successful.

There is no magical formula that will ensure a successful project, completed on time and on budget and with all contracted deliverables accepted and signed off. It also doesn’t matter what project management tool you use as long as you do use a project management tool. I don’t particularly like the latest version of Microsoft Project (and that is an understatement) but if required I could use it to manage any project no matter how big and how complex. It isn’t the tool; it is the person that counts.

This is simple advice like my favourite about how to do well on the stock market, “buy low and sell high.” If you want a successful project, always start with a successful project manager. He or she will take care of everything else.

Workflow – What does it really entail?

by Frank 8. April 2012 06:00

Workflow has been defined as “the glue that binds business processes together.” Depending upon your background and experience that particular definition may or may not be as clear as mud. Despite having been a key factor in business application processing for a very long time workflow is still very poorly understood by many in business and is more often than not too narrowly defined.

For example, you do not need to pay big bucks for a heavy-duty workflow package and all the services associated with it to implement workflow in your organization. Workflow is really about automating some business process using whatever tool is appropriate. You can automate a business process with Word or Excel or Outlook for that matter and the most common starting point is to first capture a paper document as a digital document using simple tools like a document scanner. You don’t even need a computer (apart from the human brain, the world’s best computer) to implement workflow.

Designing and implementing workflow is more about the thought processes, about evaluating what you are doing and why you are doing it and then trying to figure out a better and more efficient way to do it. It is about documenting and analysing a current business process and then redesigning it to make it more appropriate and more efficient. It is by making it more efficient that you make productivity gains; ideally, you end up doing more with less and adding more value.

You shouldn’t undertake any investigation of new workflows without first having defined objectives and metrics. You should also always begin with some basic questions of your staff or end-users:

  1. What are you doing now that you think could be done better?
  2. What aren’t you doing now that you think you should be doing?
  3. What are you doing now that you don’t think is necessary?

I call these the three golden questions and they have served me well throughout my consulting career. They are simple enough and specific enough that most end-users can relate to them and produce answers. These three simple questions provide the foundation for any business process re-engineering to come. They are also the catalyst to kick off the required thought processes in your end-users. Out of these three simple questions should come many more questions and answers and the information you need to solve the problem.

In every case in the past I have been able to add value well before using tools and creating workflows just by suggesting changes to current manual business processes. As I said earlier, workflow is really about thought processes, “How can I do this in a better and more efficient way?”

Adding value always begins by saving time and money and usually also entails providing better access to information. Real value in my experience is about ensuring that workers have access to the precise information they need (not more and not less) at the precise time they need it (not earlier and not later).  It sound simple but it is the root of all successful business processes, that is, “please just give me what I need when I need it and then I can get the job done.” Modern ‘just-in-time’ automated production lines only work if this practice is in place; it is fundamental to the low cost, efficient and high quality production of any product or service.

When something ‘just works’ very few of us notice it but when something doesn’t work well it frustrates us and we all notice it. Frustrated workers are not happy or productive workers. If we do our job well we take away the sources of frustration by improving work processes to the point where they ‘just work’ and are entirely appropriate and efficient and allow us to work smoothly and uninterrupted without frustration and delays. This should be our objective when designing new workflows.

Metrics are important and should always be part of the project. You begin by taking measurements at the beginning and then after careful analysis, predict what the measurements will be after the project. You must have a way of measuring, using criteria agreed beforehand with your end-users, whether or not you have been successful and to what degree. It is a very bad trades person who leaves without testing his work. We have all had experiences with bad trades people who want to be paid and away before you test the repaired appliance, roof or door. Please do not be a bad trades person.

Metrics are the way we test our theory. For example, “If we re-engineer this series of processes the way I have recommended you will save two hours of time per staff member per day and will be able to complete the contract review and sign off within two days instead of seven days.” The idea is to have something finite to measure against. We are talking quantitative as opposed to qualitative measurement. An example of a qualitative measurement would be, “If we re-engineer this series of processes the way I have recommended everyone will be happier.” Metrics are a quantitative way to measure results.

In summary, implementing workflow should always be about improving a business process; about making it better, more appropriate and more efficient. Any workflow project should begin with the three golden questions and must include defined objectives and quantitative metrics. The most important tool is the human brain and the thought processes that you will use to analyse current processes and design improved processes. Every new workflow should add value; if it doesn’t you should not be doing it.

Critically, workflow must be about improving the lot of your staff or end users. It is about making a process easier, more natural, less frustrating and even, more enjoyable. The staff or end users are the only real judges because no matter how clever you think your solution is if they don’t like it, it will never work.

The Importance of Document Imaging

by Frank 1. April 2012 06:00

 

Document imaging or the scanning of paper documents, has been around a long time. Along with workflow, it was the real beginning of office automation.

Document imaging did for office automation what barcode technology did for physical records management and asset management. That is, it allowed manual processes to be automated and improved; it provided tangible and measurable productivity improvements and as well as demonstrably better access to information for the then fledgling knowledge worker.

Today we have a paradox, whereas we seem to take document imaging for granted we still don’t utilize it to anything like its full capabilities. Most people use document scanners of one kind or another, usually on multi-function-devices, but we still don’t appear to use document scanning nearly enough to automate time-consuming and often critical business processes.

I don’t really know why not because it isn’t a matter of missing technology; we seem to have every type of document scanner imaginable and every type of document scanning software conceivable.  We just seem to be stuck in the past or, we just are not applying enough thought to analysing our day to day business processes; we have become lazy.

Business processes based on the circulation of paper documents are archaic, wasteful, inefficient and highly prone to error because of lost and redundant copies of paper documents; in fact they are downright dangerous. Yet, every organization I deal with still has critical business process based on the circulation of paper. How incredibly careless or just plain stupid is that?

Let’s look at it from the most basic level. How many people can read a paper document at any one point in time? The answer is one and one only. How many people can look at a digital image of a document at any one point in time? The answer is as many as need to. How hard is it to lose or damage a paper document? The answer is it is really, really easy to lose of damage or deface a paper document. How hard is it to lose or damage or deface or even change a secure digital copy of a document? The answer is it is almost impossible in a well-managed document management system.

So why are we still circulating paper documents to support critical business processes? Why aren’t we simply digitising these important paper documents and making the business process infinitely faster and more secure? For the life of me, I can’t think of a single valid reason for not digitising important paper documents. The technology is readily available with oodles of choice and it isn’t difficult to use and it isn’t expensive. In fact, digitizing paper will always save you money.

So why do I still see so many organizations large and small still relying on the circulation of paper documents to support important business processes? Is it a lack of thought or a lack of imagination or a lack of education? Can it really be true that thirty-years after the beginning of the office automation revolution we still have tens of thousands or even millions of so called knowledge workers with little knowledge of basic office automation? If so, and I believe it is true from my observations, then it is a terrible reflection on our public and corporate education systems.

In a world awash in technology like computers, laptops, iPhones and iPads how can we be so terribly ignorant of the application and benefits of such a basic and proven technology as document imaging?

Some of the worst example can be found in large financial organizations like banks and insurance companies. The public perception is that banks are right up there with the latest technology and most people look at examples like banking and payment systems on smartphones as examples of that. But, go behind the front office to the back office and you will usually see a very different world; a world of paper and manual processes, many on the IT department’s ‘backlog’ of things to attend to, eventually.

Here is a really dumb example of this kind of problem. I recently decided to place a term deposit with an online bank. Everything had to be done online and the website didn’t even offer the download of PDFs which would have been useful so you could read through pages of information at your leisure and find out what information they required so you could make sure you had it handy when completing the forms on the website.

I managed to find a phone number and rang them up and asked for the documentation in PDF form only to be told they were paperless and that everything had to be done online. So I persisted going from page to page on the website, never knowing what would be required next until the last page and yes, you guessed right. On the very last page the instructions were to print out the completed forms, sign them and mail them in. Paperless for me; much to my inconvenience and paper for them, again much to my inconvenience.  There is really no excuse for this kind of brainless twaddle that puts the consumer last.  Their processes obviously required a signature on a paper document so the whole pretence of an online process was a sham; their processes required paper.

Hopefully, when they received my paper documents they actually scanned and digitized them but I am willing to bet that if I could get into their back office I would find shelf after shelf of cardboard file folders and paper documents. Hopefully, next time I ring up they can actually find my documents. Maybe I could introduce them to the revolutionary new barcode technology so they could actually track and manage their paper documents far more efficiently?

The message is a simple one. If you have business processes based on the circulation of paper you are inefficient and are wasting money and the time of your staff and customers. You are also taking risks with the integrity of your data and your customer’s data.

Please do everyone a favour and look carefully at the application of document imaging, a well-proven, affordable, easy to implement and easy to manage business process automation tool.

 

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