Totally Automatic, Rules-Driven Email Management & Archiving

by Frank 15. December 2015 06:00

 

More than thirty years after the advent of email as a convenient and fast means of business to business communication most organizations still don’t have an effective way to analyze, monitor, select, capture and classify emails. If your organization does, then you are the exception.

This means most businesses don’t come even close to meeting the requirements of any compliance legislation that applies to their business. Nor do they even come close to managing real corporate risk.

It also means that most businesses don’t effectively guard against sexism, racism, obscenity, theft and bullying in their email system.

Is this a case of ‘heads in the sand’ or is the problem seen as just too hard? Maybe, senior management doesn’t really see unmanaged and unmonitored emails as a problem. Well, at least until the first court case.

In my experience, many organizations think they have a solution but in reality, they don’t; at least not a one hundred-percent solution. In the case of email management, ‘good enough’ is certainly not good enough. It only takes one bad email to slip through the cracks to bring the whole house down.

In many examples, organizations rely on end users to monitor, manage and police email. The problem with this model is that end users are human and typically exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses of humans. In this case, we are more concerned with the failings. As humans we are not always on top of our game; we have good days and we have bad days. We get distracted, we are prejudiced, we are sometimes lazy, we are sometimes careless and for a small number, we are sometimes outright dishonest.

Human beings will never produce a one-hundred-percent consistent result; that is not in our nature. Maybe when AI gets to the stage that we can all be ‘upgraded’ to cyborgs this will change, but I seriously doubt it. As long as there is any trace of humanity we will still be lovingly unreliable and inconsistent entities.

You don’t have a one hundred-percent reliable system if you don’t control and standardize all the inputs. Instead, you have a form of ‘managed chaos’ and inconsistent and unreliable results. You will also probably have a false sense of security, “Sure, we are managing all emails (well, kind of).”

I have been a proponent of the fully-automatic, server-centric paradigm for email management for many years and still promote it as the only one hundred-percent reliable way to effectively and consistently manage all incoming and outgoing emails. It is also the only way to manage risk effectively.

To be one hundred-percent sure you must have a one hundred-percent consistent paradigm. That is, a common set of rules that all emails are judged against plus a common set of processes to apply after an email has been ‘judged’.

Following are some example of what our fully-automatic, rules-driven email management system should be doing 24/7:

  • Is the email of a personal nature and harmless? If so, it can be ignored, there is no reason to capture and classify it.
  • Is the email all about business? If so, it needs to be captured and correctly classified within our corporate store.
  • Does the email contain expletives or sexual references? If so, it needs to be captured, quarantined by our security system and referred to a responsible officer for further examination and possible action.
  • Does the email contain references to corporate IP or classified material? If so, it needs to be captured, quarantined by our security system and referred to a responsible officer for further examination and possible action.
  • Is the email about business and does it require some action or response? If so, it needs to be captured, correctly classified within our corporate store and appropriate workflow initiated.
  • Is the email from a senior executive, about business and does it require some action or response with appropriate access controls applied? If so, it needs to be captured, correctly classified within our corporate store with appropriate security and access rights assigned and appropriate workflow initiated.

We produced our first fully-automatic, rules-driven email managements system in 1994. By today’s standards the technology was primitive but it worked and we used it within our business to demonstrate to our customers and partners how it could function in the real world. We called that product GEM for ‘GMB’s Email Management’ system. 

GEM has been redesigned and rewritten multiple times since so as to utilize the latest technology and tools. We still call it GEM even though our company is now called Knowledgeone Corporation, not GMB; the name works for us and our customers and we see no need to change it. It is after all, a ‘gem’ of a product.

We have used each and every version of GEM since 1994 within our company (we are the primary Beta test site) to automatically analyze all incoming and outgoing emails and to store and classify captured emails in our corporate store based on the RecFind 6 relational database. I can’t imagine running my business without GEM and I don’t understand how other organizations can exist without GEM, but they do albeit, taking huge risks.

The latest version of GEM, 2.7.1, is a major upgrade and involves a significant change in the way we connect to email servers of any type (e.g., Exchange, Office 365, GroupWise, Notes, etc.). We have standardized and simplified the interface to the email server using IMAP and converted our Agents to Windows Services to make the installation and management of GEM as easy as possible for your IT staff.

We have also improved the Rules engine to make it as easy as possible to define all the rules you need to manage your emails.

Because we have 21 years’ experience installing, configuring and using GEM in a real-world production example we also have the world’s most experienced GEM consultants to assist our customers.

How GEM integrates with any other EDRMS

GEM is designed to use the RecFind 6 relational database as its image & data repository. However, we provide several options for integrating to any other EDRMS such that the other EDRMS can search for and access emails (and the associated Metadata) captured by GEM. The four main methods, in order of ease-of-use are:

  1. Capturing encapsulated XML records produced by GEM;
  2. Using the RecFind 6 Mini API;
  3. Using the RecFind 6 SharePoint Integration Module (for customers using SharePoint as their EDRMS); and
  4. Using the RecFind 6 SDK

Please contact Support at Knowledgeone Corp for more information on the above methods.

The differences between a Classification System & an Information Management System

by Frank 5. November 2015 06:00

 

We have a large number of records and document management customers using our product RecFind 6 and with new customers the question always arises about how to best organize information in the RecFind 6 database. As the Metadata and business processes in RecFind 6 are 100% configurable, every customer ends up with a unique configuration.

Some records managers want the shared drives structure replicated in the database. Some want everything filed under a strict hierarchical classification system or Taxonomy. Some customers want the whole process simplified so end users clearly know where to file stuff and where to find stuff. Different managers in a single customer site will often disagree about how the information should be managed. Usually, the IT manager disagrees with the records manager and it is up to us to come up with an agreed and workable compromise; no easy task! There is no “one size fits all” paradigm here. We have grown to accept these discussions as part of every new installation.

Whereas I fully support the principles behind most EDRMS standards as espoused and recommended or even mandated by records management consultants I also find myself agreeing with most end users who just want the whole process simplified and expressed in natural language, not as an arcane, complex, inconsistent and difficult to navigate hierarchical classification system.

To wit, the way you classify information should not dictate how you store, manage and retrieve information.

I have written a paper of this exact subject and although it was in 2009 it is still 100% relevant. Please see this link Do You Really Need a Taxonomy? You don’t have to agree with me but please try to understand the message. End users want easy, fast access, not time-consuming complexity.

Maybe I should begin by telling you how we solve the problem at Knowledgeone Corporation and manage our emails, electronic documents and shared drives with a hybrid system. That is, a combination of RecFind 6 and shared drives. This is also a model we regularly recommend to our customers as an acceptable compromise; one that is simple to implement and one that always works.

I am obviously a big fan of making information as easy as possible to capture and as easy as possible to retrieve. This is especially important to the long-suffering end-user class who have no interest in becoming part-time records managers and who simply won’t use a system if it is too difficult to use and too time-consuming.

End users want direct access to information in the easiest and most timely fashion possible, they do not want to go through a third party or ‘information broker’. This means we need to have both a simple search system as well as a security system that ensures people only see what they are supposed to see.

And of course, the biggest problem with complex, hierarchical classification systems is that no two people file the same way and even a single user will often file things differently over time. This in itself makes the act of finding something by browsing through a classification hierarchy a hit and miss affair.

At Knowledgeone Corporation, we implemented a hybrid model that uses a simply structured shared drive resource plus automated tools to ensure everything that should be captured is captured. This approach is also all about separating the functionality of the Authoring packages (e.g., Word, Excel, Outlook, etc.) from the functionality of the EDRMS. They have different roles to play.

Let’s dispense with the notion that shared drives are evil just as we should dispense with the notion that paper is evil. Each has a part to play in a well management information management system

We use our product GEM to automatically capture all work related emails and we use our product RecCapture to automatically capture all work-related electronic documents from our shared drives. We all use a common shared drive structure to write and store our original electronic documents. Note that we do not use the feature in the RecFind 6 Button to force all ‘Saves’ into RecFind 6. We have this feature because the industry dictates it should be there but it is not popular and most customers never turn it on. Not everything you write should go into RecFind 6 and not everything you write is ready to go into RecFind 6 (though we do have a special ‘draft’ type for those customers that want drafts stored in RecFind 6).

We don’t use what you would call a formal taxonomy, we use what I call a ‘natural’ classification system. For us this means a classification system that perfectly reflects our business practices, processes and vocabulary. In our case, we are customer-centric so everything (apart from a little administrative and supplier stuff) is organized in customer or prospect folders and the lower levels are minimal, being things like Correspondence, Quotes and Orders.

Our RecFind 6 database is mostly based on customer and prospect files; it is our CRM. Customers and prospective customers are our core business just as members and cases are the core business of unions. Every industry has a core business and in my mind this should always be reflected in the classification system used so that it perfectly aligns with the work practices and processes and ‘language’ of most staff. Whenever I consult to a new organization I always try to first determine its core business and its natural language and then design the implementation around these.

We also use RecFind 6 to run our business so it is also our asset management system, our help desk and incident system, our project management system and our R&D development system. For these applications and others that we have implemented in RecFind 6, we have nothing outside of RecFind 6 to capture because all relevant information (e.g., customer support calls, details of meetings, phone calls, quotes, orders, annual leave request, etc.) are entered directly into RecFind 6 by our staff or captured automatically. RecFind 6 is our company repository and the source of all knowledge for my staff.

Because we are customer centric I need to be able to see everything about any customer or prospect in one place. For us this means centralizing on the Entity record (the Entity table is where we store the basic information on each customer or prospect). As RecFind 6 is a relational database we then store all related information in linked tables, all linked to and accessible from the Entity record with a single click.

In our RecFind 6 system, every piece of information I need to refer to is just one-click away once I view the entity record. I can also find any customer’s record instantly in RecFind 6 just by entering the customer number or a part of the organization name. Once I select the customer record, everything thing else I need to know is just one-click away and all links are viewable in a single screen. We are a customer-centric business and our RecFind 6 database is therefore organized as customer centric.

In practice, if someone at Knowledgeone Corporation wants to find something they always look first in RecFind 6 because it is a lot easier and faster than trying to search the shared drives or Outlook. Because we use automated tools (GEM and RecCapture) we are confident that everything that should be captured is captured. We don’t rely on our already too busy staff to remember to capture every important email or electronic document; it is done for them. All they have to do is search and create. Plus most of our information is stored behind customer/prospect/partner numbers in the Entity table so all information is both easy to browse and search (Text, Metadata, BOOLEAN, Saved Searches, etc.).

As a backup, every staff member has the Button installed (in Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Professional) but they rarely use it.

We have a security system configured around our management structure that works fine for us. As a Director for example, most of the stuff I save is with a basic security code (e.g., a letter to a customer) because everyone needs to be able to see it. However, as a Director I also have the right to save things with higher levels of security, e.g., Manager, Director, where appropriate with restricted access. Like all good security systems, it is simple but effective. I am not a fan of overcomplicating anything.

Our searching is also structured the same way. We have configured RecFind 6 to add the objects we need to search on as menu items in the search function just as we would do for any customer. We therefore have a Metadata search menu of Attachments (electronic documents, emails and images), Entities (Customers, Prospects, Partners and Suppliers), People, Incidents, Bugs, Quotes, Invoices, Timesheets, Support agreements, etc. We repeat this with Boolean searches. We make it as easy as possible and as logical as possible so our staff can find anything as fast as possible. After all, I am paying their salaries so I want them to be as productive as possible.

Most importantly, we provide multiple entry-points for searches. I can for example search directly for emails with a Metadata search, searching by a combination of Sender, Recipient, Date, Subject, etc. Alternatively, I can search for customer emails from within the Entity record just by clicking on a single link for all attachments for that customer. We give our staff multiple options just as we give our customers multiple options.

You can search on any field and different classes of users can have different Metadata to both view and search on. The security system determines what each class of user (security group) can both see and then do with the information they can see. That is, the security system determines what tables and fields (and electronic documents and emails) you can see and then what methods (Add, Modify, Clone, Delete, Search, Print, etc.) you can use. Each security group sees only what it needs to see and has only the functionality it needs to get the job done

Because the system is flexible, the records manager for example could choose to search for emails on the way they were classified (say a 3 level hierarchy) but end users could choose to search using a natural selection of Metadata fields such as Sender, Recipient, Subject, Content, Date or ranges of these fields combined in either a Metadata or BOOLEAN or (making it easy for end users) Saved search.

Its horses for courses!

Following the above hybrid approach also means that you can still implement and manage all the recordkeeping principles such as retention and disposal schedules, location tracking, auditing, etc.

My point is that it is possible to meet the needs of all classes of users without frustrating any group.  It just requires a hybrid approach and the configuration of the system to suit each class of user.

Making everyone happy is a lot better than making some people happy and some people unhappy. Why would you do this if you had a choice?

 

 

The secret to increased productivity

by Frank 4. August 2015 06:41

By nature I am and have always been a sequencer and an overlapper. It comes naturally to me. It is how I process everyday events. For example, in the morning when making a pot of tea I first fill up the jug and turn it on to boil before emptying and cleaning the teapot. This is because I want the two tasks to overlap for maximum efficiency. If I emptied and cleaned the teapot first before filling up the jug and turning it on, the elapsed time required to make a pot of tea would be longer and therefore inefficient. With my method I save time because the total elapsed time to make a pot of tea is how long it takes to fill the jug and get it to boil. I correctly sequence and overlap the two events to be more productive. It also helps me to get to work on time.

Here is another simple example. Have you ever been in a restaurant and watched with frustration as the waiter brought out meals and then returned to the kitchen without picking up your dirty dishes? Then watch in frustration again as the waiter comes out to pick up dirty dishes but leaves someone’s lunch at the kitchen counter getting cold? Why doesn’t the waiter pick up dirty dishes, or take your order, on the way back to the kitchen? Life, business and government is full of such everyday examples of non-overlapping, poorly sequenced processes all resulting in lower productivity and higher costs for everyone.

The worst example of all is when employees are allowed to tightly redefine their jobs concentrating more on “this is what I don’t do” instead of “this is what I do”. For these employees, the terms ‘multi-skilling’ and ‘multi-tasking’ are anathema. I envision them standing within a tiny, tight circle where anything outside of that circle is not their responsibility. We may as well brick them up inside a chimney. These are not the kind of employees or practices I want in my business or our public service or our government for that matter. Unfortunately, these are exactly the kind of ant-productivity practices we find throughout our public sector and our government. As most of us are already more than well aware, the problem is more than endemic; it is systemic and probably not fixable short of a revolution. It is no secret why our taxes are so high and getting higher all the time.

Many years ago when I was a trainee programmer I learnt all about overlap while being trained at IBM. The patient instructor made the point that computers only seem to do multiple things at the same time. In fact, the architecture of computer processing at that time meant a computer could only process one command at a time but in making use of overlap and time-sharing it appeared as if it was doing many things at once. For example, the IBM 360 processor would issue an I/O command to a channel to go off and read a record from a disk drive. Relatively speaking, this took an enormity of time because disks were so slow compared to the CPU. So instead of waiting for the channel to complete the I/O request the processor would process other work all the time waiting for the channel to interrupt it and say “I am finished, here is the data you asked for”. So the computer appeared to be doing multiple tasks at once because it correctly sequenced the tasks it had to perform and took full advantage of overlap. Therein lies a lesson for all of us.

When faced with a list of tasks to perform first think about the opportunities for overlap. Then sequence the tasks to take maximum advantage of overlap.  

All it requires is the desire to work smarter, a little thought and a sense of pleasure in making best use of the limited time life allows us all.

In my role as a designer of computer software I always try to take advantage of sequencing and overlap. In my business, the two terms most used when implementing this approach are asynchronous events and multi-threading. These two techniques should always be applied when a list of tasks to be performed is not sequential. That is, they don’t have to be completed one after the other in a strict sequence. We take advantage of the fact that some tasks are independent and therefore can be processed at the same time we process other tasks. We do this in various ways but usually by defining them as asynchronous events and by utilizing a form of multi-tasking or multi-threading (starting two or more events at the same time). Computers aren’t smart (at least not yet) and they rely totally on human programmers to make them behave in an efficient and ‘smart’ way. Computer programmers who don’t understand sequencing and overlap can write very bad and very slow programs even to the extent of making very fast computers look very slow. Then, they waste everyone’s time and become major contributors to the anti-productivity movement.

There is an enormous amount of money being invested today in the science of longevity; in trying to find ways to make it possible for people to live longer lives. When the solution becomes available it won’t be cheap and it won’t be available to ordinary people like you and me. It will initially only be available to the elite and to the very rich. However, don’t despair; there is a low-cost way to double the amount of time you have to enjoy life. An easy and available now way to double your life span.

All you have to do is be aware of the possibilities of sequencing and overlap in your life and then work to take advantage of them. If you reduce the amount of time you take to do ‘work’ every day by fifty, forty, thirty or even twenty-percent you are adding years to the time you have to live and enjoy life. It is the easiest and lowest cost way to increase your effective life span.

For example, don’t try to impress your boss by working longer hours; arriving first and leaving last (as my generation did). Instead, impress your boss with a proposal whereby you do more work in fewer hours. You of course need to quantify your proposal and add in some metrics so your increased productivity can be measured and proven.

Please don’t waste your time and your effective life span by pondering ways to avoid work; instead, utilize those same cognitive processes to work out how to complete your assigned work in the fastest way possible. Approach every project looking for ways to better sequence tasks and take advantage of overlap. Make it a game; enjoy it.

I was once told that the average pattern of a human life is eight-hours work, eight-hours sleep and eight-hours play. Of course, with commuting, it is really now more like eight-hours sleep, ten-hours work and six-hours play. Let’s try and double those play hours.

As I am fond of saying, it isn’t rocket science. It is just common sense, a very simple and achievable way to significantly increase your effective life span; the time available to you to enjoy life. Give yourself twice as much time to enjoy life and in doing so, live twice as long. 

Increased productivity doesn’t just provide benefits to the economy; it can also provide very substantial personal benefits. Why don’t you give it a try?

The absolute easiest & lowest cost way to meet all Electronic Document & Records Management (EDRMS) requirements?

by Frank 19. May 2015 06:00

Because we are a software vendor that builds and markets a range of Enterprise Content Management tools under the RecFind 6 banner I have often been asked, “What is the absolute easiest and lowest cost way to meet all compliance requirements?”

I usually respond with a well-considered and ‘traditional’ response that includes information about Business Classification Systems, UI design, Retention Schedules, etc., etc. The solution proposed would also require a significant degree of consulting so that we aware entirely conversant with the customer’s requirements and business practices and also involve a significant amount of end user training.

This is what the customer expects and it falls in line with the traditional, professional approach.

However, the final solution is rarely ‘easy’ or ‘low-cost’ primarily because it has followed the traditional approach. The more we ask questions and consult and the more people we speak to the more complex the solution becomes. This is normal because we end up trying to configure a solution to meet hundreds or thousands of variables.

There is an easier and lower cost way but I fear that very few of my customers would ever consider it because it requires them to disregard everything they have ever learned about rolling out an EDRMS. We have tried proposing it a few times but never with success. It usually gets shot down by the external consultant or the internal records management professional or both.

It doesn’t require a BCS or a Taxonomy and it doesn’t require a complex Retention Schedule and it doesn’t require significant consulting or significant end-user training. Records Management professionals will surely hate it as a ‘career-ending’ trend. It does require an open mind, the ability to think laterally and a willingness to redefine both the problem and the solution.

It only has three requirements:

  1. Know what electronic documents and emails you don’t want to capture;
  2. Provide a powerful but easy-to-use search that allows anyone to find anything instantly; and
  3. Employ a risk-management approach to retention and select a single retention date (e.g., 7 or 20 years).

Fundamental to the success of this non-conformist solution is the acceptance that computers and storage are dirt-cheap compared to human time. If your IT manager or CIO still agonizes and complains about how much disk space you use up for emails and electronic documents then this is definitely not the solution for you. Your IT hierarchy is still living in the long-gone past when computers and disk were expensive and people were cheap (by comparison).

However, if you have practical, sensible IT people then the approach is worth considering especially if your organization has a long history of failing to digitize its records and automate its processes. That is, you have tried at least once to roll out an organization-wide EDRMS and have failed and/or blown the budget. The word ‘pilot’ probably appears often in your company history usually prefixed by the adjective ‘failed’. Don’t feel too bad, most pilots are initiated because management lacks conviction. They are therefore destined to fail.

We have the tools required to implement such a solution but I won’t go into detail about them now. This is a concept paper, not a detailed instruction manual. If you are interested in the concept please contact me and I can then elaborate.

So, if you really do want to rollout a successful EDRMS and do it in the fastest and least disruptive and lowest cost way possible then please write to me and pose your questions.

For the doubters, this is the same way we manage our electronic documents and emails at Knowledgeone Corporation and we have done so for many years. We use our own software; apart from a couple of accounting packages we run our whole company with the RecFind 6 Product Suite and totally automate the capture of all electronic documents and emails. All my staff have to know is how to search and yes, they can find anything in seconds even after 31 years of operation and a very, very large database.

It is not difficult, it is not ‘expensive’, it does not require a huge amount of management or maintenance time and it runs largely in the background. As I said above, all your staff have to learn is how to search.

It does however, require an open mind and a desire to finally solve the problem in the most expeditious manner possible. But, please don’t tell me you want to run a pilot. Test my solution by all means and put it through the most vigorous change control procedures but don’t damn the end result by beginning with a “we are not really sure it will work so are not really committed and won’t allocate much of a budget but let’s try a pilot anyway because that limits our exposure and risk” approach.

I don’t want to waste your time or mine.

Outsourcing, Offshoring, what will be the long term result?

by Frank 23. February 2015 06:00

I have written previously about the downside of outsourcing in two previous papers:

Outsourcing doesn’t save, it costs; and

Outsourcing will destroy the West.

From the above you may conclude that I am not a big fan of outsourcing and you would be correct. I have previously declared my bias and whereas my comments are largely directed at the IT industry where I work, they also apply to all industries.

Outsourcing exports jobs, exports wealth and demonstrably and significantly lowers the quality and reliability of our products, software applications and business websites. It also removes employment, training and experience opportunities for our young people.

In addition, another result of the IT outsourcing disease that began with the great fraud of Y2K is that the IT industry has been dumbed-down to such an extent that we now accept mediocrity as normal.

Let’s review that last statement; we now all accept mediocrity in IT projects as normal and, even more scarily, as totally acceptable.

For example, we all seem to accept that business websites, even of our big banks, are buggy and frustratingly difficult to navigate, especially if we want to do something even a little unusual.

Most big companies, especially airlines and travel sites and government departments tell us to do everything online but then present us with badly designed, buggy and frustratingly difficult to use websites.

How often have you had to search the website for a phone number because you weren’t able to do what you needed to do on the website or because you weren’t sure whether the transaction completed or not? How depressed and further frustrated were you when you discovered that the phone number took you to an offshore call centre?

As an IT professional responsible for major systems how frustrated are you having to ‘repair’ the buggy and carelessly tested (if tested at all) code that arrives from the outsourced developer? How many long hours do you and your staff have to spend trying to install the new code and stabilize it? How annoying is it having to support a sub-standard product that you would never put your name to? Have you given up trying to understand the objectives and motives of your senior executives who just don’t seem to care about anything but lowering costs and bigger bonuses (for them, not you)?

Another follow-on of this insidious dumbing-down process is that we now accept lower standards from our local staff. The ‘new normal’ established by outsourced work now means that we seem to accept faulty applications and faulty websites as a matter of course even when developed with local staff. What an awful trend.

We remove employment opportunities from our young people and export them to far away counties where the standards are far lower than ours. We accept the resulting poor quality workmanship as an acceptable trade-off for lowered costs and higher profits. Some executives even have the audacity to call this improved productivity.

Does any senior executive really think that the foreign nationals working on your projects really care a hoot about quality or your company or your customers or especially, your local employees? Do foreign workers really have the same pride in your products as local employees? Do foreign workers have any loyalty whatsoever to your company?

What is wrong with this picture?

Don’t we want our employees to be loyal and to take pride in their work and to care about our reputation and to care about our customers? Shouldn’t employers in turn be loyal to their employees? It doesn’t seem to be the case for many of our larger corporations.

Can we draw a long bow and generalize and say that executives that habitually outsource don’t care about product quality or staff loyalty or their company’s future or their employees or their customers? It certainly seems so to me.

Let’s talk about the economic impact. Outsourced staff spend their salaries in their home country, not here. In addition, every job outsourced means one less job here and that means less spent here to fund our economy and less taxes here to run our country. It also means less capital for local companies and entrepreneurs.

Do I think that a senior executive will read this blog and then say, “Good thinking Frank, I will review that decision I made to outsource those 30 jobs to India/Philippines/Thailand.” No I don’t; I think that the situation is now so bad that it is irreversible.

Depressingly, I think that the trend will accelerate and that in only a few years’ time we won’t make anything in this country. It won’t affect me too much because I am at the end of my career after 40 plus years in IT. But boy, do I worry about the future for my grandchildren and their children. The bureaucrats tell us we will all have to work in the services industry (does that mean working at McDonalds or at a hotel or resort or even in IT or financial services?).

My generation has already seen our manufacturing industry destroyed. We no longer make tyres or shoes or clothes and will shortly no longer make cars. It won’t be too much longer before we are totally dependent upon the outside world, especially the so-called third-world, for everything we consume. How secure a future is that?

Your generation dear reader, will most likely see most services, including IT and financial services, outsourced in the next few years.  The world is now so interconnected there is no reason to do anything in a high cost country like Australia including IT and financial services. All we will have to sell in the future is stuff we can dig up like iron ore and blind Freddy can already see how vulnerable that makes our economy.

What are we going to be left with in 10 or 20 years’ time? What are these ‘service industries’ we are all going to be working in? What will be our national Balance of Payments when everything we consume has to be imported? How independent can we be as a nation when we are massively indebted to foreign countries? What happens if they call in the loans?

How secure will this country be when we are dependent upon the third-world for everything? How vulnerable is our future security and prosperity?

Where will your grandchildren work?

Aren’t you just a little bit concerned?

How to simplify electronic document and email management

by Frank 17. September 2014 06:00

I have written about this topic many times in the past (see links at the end of this post) but the lesson is always the same. There are two key rules:

1.     If your system relies on people being 100% consistent and reliable it won’t work; and

2.     If you system places an additional workload on already busy workers it won’t work.

The message is, if you simplify and automate your system you give it the best possible chance of working.

If your system works as automatically as possible and doesn’t require much effort from your workforce then it has the best possible chance of being successful.

With today’s technology and tools there is simply no need to burden your workforce with capture and classification tasks. Do you still see people still using typewriters, rotary phones or Morse code? No you don’t because there is much better technology available. So why do you persist with an old, outdated and unsuccessful model? Why do you ask your staff to manually capture and classify electronic documents and emails when there are much better, much faster, much more consistent and much more reliable ways to achieve a better result? It is after all 2014, not 1914; we all use computers and smart phones now, not typewriters, wind-up rotary phones and Morse code.

Emails are managed by email servers, (yes, even Google). Email servers allow plug-ins and add-ons and are ‘open’ so you can automatically monitor and capture incoming and outgoing emails.

Electronic documents are always saved somewhere, for example on your shared drives or directly into your DMS. As such they can be captured and interrogated programmatically.

It is entirely possible to ‘parse’ any electronic document or email and its associated attributes and Metadata and make consistent decisions about whether or not to capture it and how to classify it when captured. It isn’t rocket science any more, it is just analysis, design and programming. We can go even further and determine who should be notified and what action(s) need to be initiated in response to each new email or electronic document.  

We can easily implement an end-to-end business process whereby every electronic document and email is managed from creation to destruction and we can do this with minimal human involvement. Where human involvement is required, for example making a decision or deciding upon an appropriate response, we can also automate and manage the business processes required and simply ‘present’ staff with all the required information when required.

Isn’t this was the Knowledge Management revolution was supposed to be about?

“A system that provides the user with the explicit information required, in exactly the form required at precisely the time the user needs it.”

The new model is all about automation and processing at the server rather than at the user’s workstation; a fully automatic, server-centric paradigm. A system that is all about the ‘Push’ rather than the ‘Pull’ model. A model whereby the computer services the end user, where the end user is not a slave to the computer.

We could also call it management by exception. “Please only give me what I need to see when I need to see it.”

None of the above is new or revolutionary thinking, it is all just common sense. None of the above requires yet-to-be invented technology or products, it only requires existing and proven technology and products.

The fully-automatic, server-centric approach should be the default choice and it should be a no-brainer for any organization that needs to implement an email and document management regime. Unfortunately, too often it isn’t.

If you have the responsibility of rolling out an email and document management system and the fully-automatic, server-centric approach isn’t on your agenda then your boss should be asking you why not.

References:

White papers

Posts

How to clean up your shared drives, Frank’s approach

by Frank 22. August 2014 06:00

In my time in this business (enterprise content management, records management, document management, etc.) I have been asked to help with a ‘shared drive problem’ more times than I can remember. This particular issue is analogous with the paperless office problem. Thirty years ago when I started my company I naively thought that both problems would be long gone by now but they are not.

I still get requests for purely physical records management solutions and I still get requests to assist customers in sorting out their shared drives problems.

The tools and procedures to solve both problems have been around for a long time but for whatever reason (I suspect lack of management focus) the problems still persist and could be described as systemic across most industry segments.

Yes, I know that you can implement an electronic document and records management system (we have one called RecFind 6) and take away the need for shared drives and physical records management systems completely but most organizations don’t and most organizations still struggle with shared drives and physical records. This post addresses the reality.

Unfortunately, the most important ingredient in any solution is ‘ownership’ and that is as hard to find as it ever was. Someone with authority, or someone who is prepared to assume authority, needs to take ownership of the problem in a benevolent dictator way and just steam-roll a solution through the enterprise. It isn’t solvable by committees and it requires a committed, driven person to make it happen. These kind of people are in short supply so if you don’t have one, bring one in.

In a nutshell there are three basic problems apart from ownership of the problem.

1.     How to delete all redundant information;

2.     How to structure the ‘new’ shared drives; and

3.     How to make the new system work to most people’s satisfaction.

Deleting redundant Information

Rule number one is don’t ever ask staff to delete the information they regard as redundant. It will never happen. Instead, tell staff that you will delete all documents in your shared drives with a created or last updated date greater than a nominated date (say one-year into the past) unless they tell you specifically which ‘older’ documents they need to retain. Just saying “all of them” is not an acceptable response. Give staff advance notice of a month and then delete everything that has not been nominated as important enough to retain.  Of course, take a backup of everything before you delete, just in case. This is tough love, not stupidity.

Structuring the new shared drives

If your records manager insists on using your already overly complex, hierarchical corporate classification scheme or taxonomy as the model for the new shared drive structure politely ask them to look for another job. Do you want this to work or not?

Records managers and archivists and librarians (and scientists) understand and love complex classification systems. However, end users don’t understand them, don’t like them and won’t use them. End users have no wish to become part-time records managers, they have their own work to do thank you.

By all means make the new structure a subset of the classification system, major headings only and no more than two levels if possible. If it takes longer than a few seconds to decide where to save something or to find something then it is too complex. If three people save the same document in three different places then it is too complex. If a senior manager can’t find something instantly then it is too complex. The staff aren’t to blame, you are.

I have written about this issue previously and you can reference a white paper at this link, “Do you really need a Taxonomy?”

The shared drives aren’t where we classify documents, it is where we make it as easy and as fast as possible to save, retrieve and work on documents; no more, no less. Proper classification (if I can use that term) happens later when you use intelligent software to automatically capture, analyse and store documents in your document management system.

Please note, shared drives are not a document management system and a document management system should never just be a copy of your shared drives. They have different jobs to do.

Making the new system work

Let’s fall back on one of the oldest acronyms in business, KISS, “Keep It Simple Stupid!” Simple is good and elegant, complex is bad and unfathomable.

Testing is a good example of where the KISS principle must be applied. Asking all staff to participate in the testing process may be diplomatic but it is also suicidal. You need to select your testers. You need to pick a small number of smart people from all levels of your organization. Don’t ask for volunteers, you will get the wrong people applying. Do you want participants who are committed to the system working, or those who are committed to it failing? Do you want this to succeed or not?

If I am pressed for time I use what I call the straight-line-method. Imagine all staff in a straight line from the most junior to the most senior. Select from both ends, the most junior and the most senior. Chances are that if the system works for this subset that it will also work for all the staff in between.

Make it clear to all that the shared drives are not your document management system. The shared drives are there for ease of access and to work on documents. The document management system has business rules to ensure that you have inviolate copies of important documents plus all relevant contextual information. The document management system is where you apply business rules and workflow. The document management system is all about business process management and compliance. The shared drives and the document management system are related and integrated but they have different jobs to do.

We have shared drives so staff don’t work on documents on ‘private’ drives, inaccessible and invisible to others. We provide a shared drive resource so staff can collaborate and share information and easily work on documents. We have shared drives so that when someone leaves we still have all their documents and work-in-process.

Please do all the complex processes required in your document management system using intelligent software, automate as much as possible. Productivity gains come about when you take work off staff, not when you load them up with more work. Give your staff as much time as possible so they can use their expertise to do the core job they were hired for.

If you don’t force extra work on your staff and if you make it as easy and as fast as possible to use the shared drives then your system will work. Do the opposite and I guarantee it will not work.

Using barcodes to raise productivity and lower costs in Records Management processes

by Frank 6. August 2014 06:00

Did you know that in the spring of 1969 the first true bar code systems were installed? One went into a General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, where it was used to monitor the production and distribution of automobile axle units. The other went into a distribution facility run by General Trading Company in Carlsbad, New Jersey, to help direct shipments to the proper loading-bay doors.

Did you also know that the very first product to be sold with a barcode and scanner was a single packet of chewing gum at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio on June 26, 1974?

Both these interesting facts came from an excellent article on the history of barcodes by Tony Seideman. Please see this link.

The overall advantages and benefits of barcodes are well known; speed, accuracy, ease of implementation and cost-effectiveness.

In a nutshell, barcodes are cheap to produce, easy to implement and easy to read. They are infinitely better than a human keying in information. Barcodes are reliable and they just work.

Modern supermarkets simply couldn’t function without barcodes on products and barcode readers at checkouts.

Most well-run records management facilities also use barcodes to great advantage to track file-folders and boxes, run audits and speed up the entering of information. Most offsite records storage facilities use barcodes to track boxes on shelves. It is what we call a “no brainer.”

However, despite the obvious benefits, especially the cost benefits, many organizations today still manage physical assets bereft of barcodes. You may well ask “why?” and so do I. Given the low cost of both barcodes and barcode readers and the well-proven technology, I honestly can’t think of any reason for not using barcoding technology to manage physical assets like file-folders and archive boxes. It just doesn’t make any sense whatever to me. It is analogous to running ten miles to deliver a message rather than just phoning or texting. How many messages a day can you deliver by running and how many can you deliver a day by phoning or texting?

Why ask staff to write down file-folder numbers or enter them on a keyboard when you can ‘wand’ or 'scan' them much more accurately and infinitely faster using a barcode reader? Why put up with processing 20 file movements a day by hand when you can easily process 200 a day using a barcode reader?

If you have 30 file-folders on your desk that you have to process why would you do it manually by keying in each file number (and making mistakes) over 30 minutes when you could process the same number of file-folders in 30 seconds using a fixed barcode reader (and not making any keying mistakes)?

When you have 500 file-folders to add to archive boxes provided by your offsite storage provider why would you take hours to do it laboriously with lists and the keyboard when you could do it in minutes using a barcode reader? Simply use your portable barcode reader to read the box barcode then read each file-folder barcode number as you add it to the box and then read the box number again when finished to complete the transaction. What could be faster or simpler?

So, what do you need to convert your slow and error-prone manual-entry records management processes to fast and accurate barcode-enabled processes?

1.       A records management software package that supports barcodes (I don’t know of any modern RM system that doesn’t)

2.       *A supply of pre-printed barcodes (or you can print them out of your records management software package)

3.       Some fixed or wedge barcode readers (expect to pay $150 to $250 each)

4.       One or more portable barcode readers (expect to pay $1,000 to $2,000 including cables, battery chargers, etc.)

*A word on barcode labels. It pays to make them as durable as possible. This usually means laminating them as un-laminated barcodes produced on a laser printer tend to have a short life expectancy. The easiest way to obtain high quality, laminated barcode labels is to order them from a specialist print house. This way you can specify exactly what you need in terms of format and size and be assured of a long life and reliability. Nothing frustrates more than a worn barcode that doesn’t read properly.

Of course someone has to stick the barcode label on the file-folders and then tell the computer system (i.e., file-folder number AB/2003/00067 is now barcode number 1000049). You have a choice of how to do this. If you don’t have too many file-folders you can bite the bullet and add them all as a special project. Or, you can decide just to add them to every new file-folder created and to add barcodes to existing file-folders when they cross your desk. It is your decision based on volume and resources. However, you need to invest the effort to reap the benefits.

Then if you really want to benefit you will assign a different class of barcode to ‘locations’. That is, offices, shelves, rooms, etc., and even people. This is so you can do an audit on a regular basis using your portable barcode reader. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where everything is and even, where some things aren’t?

Finally, assign yet another set of barcodes to your archive boxes so it is as easy and as fast as possible to move file-folders into and out of archive boxes.

The above describes just the simplest application of barcodes but even so, the benefits and cost savings are significant. The more creative of you will comes up with many more ways to make barcodes pay big dividends. We have one customer for example, that automatically allocates barcodes to emails in Outlook to make them easier to monitor and track both electronically and physically. See this link:

Barcodes are simple to use, low cost and well-proven, ‘risk-free’ technology. The effective use of barcodes and barcode readers can remove drudgery, lower costs and massively improve productivity.

If you aren’t using barcodes your boss should be asking you “why not?”

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.

 

A simple guide to using shared drives to capture & classify electronic documents and emails

by Frank 18. July 2014 06:00

I have written previously about ways to solve the shared drives problem (click here) and I have written numerous articles (and a book) about ways to manage emails and electronic/digital records. However, we still receive multiple requests from customers and prospective customers about the best, and simplest, way to effectively manage these problems.

The biggest stumbling block and impediment to progress in most cases is the issue of a suitable taxonomy or classification system. Time and time again I see people putting off the solution while they spend years and tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars grappling with the construction of a suitable taxonomy. I have written about this topic previously as well and if you want my recommendations please click on this link.

If you really want the simplest, easiest to understand, easiest to use and lowest cost way to solve all of the above problems then please forget about spending the next twelve to eighteen months grappling with the nuances of your classification system. It isn’t necessary.

What you need instead is a natural classification structure that reflects your business processes. Please give your long-suffering end users something they will instantly recognize and can easily work with because it is familiar from their day to day work. Give them something to work with that doesn’t require them to become amateur records managers battling to decipher a complex, hierarchical classification system that requires an intricate knowledge of classification theory to interpret correctly. Give them something that makes it as easy as possible to file everything in the right place first time with absolutely minimal effort. Give them something that makes it as easy as possible to find something.

What I am proposing isn’t a hundred-percent solution and it won’t suit every organization but I guarantee that it will turn chaos into order in any organization that implements it. You may well see it as an eighty-five-percent solution but that is a hell of a lot better than no solution. It is also easy and fast to implement and relatively low cost (you will need some form of RM software).

First up you need to make decisions about what kind of business you are.  Notice that I said “what kind of business you are” not “what kind of records you manage” or “how your business is structured”.  Most importantly, strongly resist the temptation to base your classification structure on your existing business structure or organization’s departments/agencies and instead base it on your most common business processes. Please refer to the following extract from:

Overview of Classification Tools for Records Management by the National Archives of Australia, ISBN 0 642 34499 X (an excellent reference document if you need to understand classification systems).

“Classifying records and business information by functions and activities moves away from traditional classification based on organisational structure or subject. Functions and activities provide a more stable framework for classification than organisational structures that are often subject to change through amalgamation, devolution and decentralisation. The structure of an organisation may change many times, but the functions an organisation carries out usually remain much the same over time.”

I would also strongly resist the temptation to build your classification structure on content; it is way too difficult. Instead, as I have said above, base it on your common business processes.

When I say classification structure I mean the way you name and organize folders in your shared drives. I can’t give you a generic solution because I am not that clever; I don’t know enough about your business. I can however, give you an example.

Please also remember that for the most part, we are dealing with unstructured source information; Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Emails, etc. Emails are a little easier to deal with because they have a limited but common structure, e.g., Date Received, Sender, Recipient, CC and Subject. With other electronic documents we are have far less information and are  usually limited to Author (not reliable), Date Created, Date Modified and Filename. Ergo, as I said earlier, trying to base a classification system on the content of unstructured documents is both difficult and inexact. It is certainly doable but you will have to spend a lot more money on consulting and sophisticated software to achieve your ends.

In my simple example of my simple system I am going to assume that your business is customer (or client) centric, i.e., as opposed to being case-centric or project-centric, etc. The top level of your classification structure therefore will be the client name and/or number. To make it as simple as possible I am going to propose only two levels. The second level represents your most common business processes, that is, what you do with each customer. So for example, I have:

Customer Name

     Correspondence

     Contracts

     Quotes & Proposals.

     Orders

     Incidents

I am also not going to differentiate between emails and other types of electronic documents, I am going to treat them all the same.

Now how does this simple system work?

  1. Staff producing electronic documents don’t have their ‘own’ shared drive, all staff use the common classification structure. This is very important, let one or more people be exceptions and you no longer have a system you can rely on to meet your needs for reliable retrieval and any compliance legislation you are subject to.
  2. Staff drag and drop or ‘save-as’ emails from their email client to the correct sub-folder.
  3. Similarly, staff save (or drag and drop) electronic documents into the correct sub-folder. You can control access if required by applying security to electronic documents.
  4. You purchase or build a document repository (based on any common database such as SQL Server, MySQL, etc.) and within this repository you replicate the folder structure of your shared drives with logical folders and subfolders.
  5. You purchase or build a tool that constantly monitors the shared drives (e.g., using .NET Watcher technology) and that instantly captures a copy of any new or modified document (you do need to configure your repository to automatically version modified documents). You may also decide to automatically delete the original source document after it has been captured.
  6. You build or purchase a records and document management software package that allows you to index, search and report on all the information in your repository.
  7. You train your staff in how to save and search for information (shouldn’t take more than a half to one day) and then you go live.

I would also recommend applying a retention schedule based on sub folder (e.g., contracts) and date created and have the records management system automatically apply it to manage the lifecycle of captured documents. There is no sense in retaining information longer than you have to; it is also a dangerous practice.

Please note that the above is just an example and a very simple one at that. You need to determine the most appropriate folder structure for your organization.

WARNING

Do not let the folder structure become overly complex and unwieldy. If you do, it won’t work and you will end up with lots of stuff either not captured or captured to the wrong place. The basic rules are that if it takes more than few second to decide where to file something then it is too complex and that any structure more than 3 levels deep is too complex.

And finally, this isn’t just a theory, it is something we do in our organization and it is something many of our customers do. If you would like to read more on this approach there are some white papers and more explanations at this link. Alternatively, you can contact us and ask questions at this link.

Good luck.

 

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