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?

 

 

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.

 

Records Management in the 21st century; you have computers now, do it differently

by Frank 1. June 2013 06:32

I own and run a computer software company called the Knowledgeone Corporation and we have specialised in what is now known as enterprise content management software since 1984 when we released our first product DocFind. We are now into the 8th iteration of our core and iconic product RecFind and have sold and installed thousands of RecFind sites where we manage corporate records and electronic documents.

I have personally worked with hundreds of customers to ensure that we understand and meet their requirements and I have also designed and specified every product we have delivered over the last 29 years so while I have never been a practicing records manager, I do know a great deal about records and document management and the vagaries of the practise all around the world.

My major lament is that many records managers today still want to run their ‘business’ in exactly the same way it was run 30 or 50 or even a hundred years ago. That is, as a physical model even when using computers and automated solutions like our product RecFind 6. This means we still see overly complicated classification systems and overcomplicated file numbering systems and overcomplicated manual processes for the capture and classification of paper, document images, electronic documents and emails.

It is a mindset that is locked in the past and can’t see beyond the confines of the file room.

I also still meet records managers that believe each and every employee has a responsibility to ‘become’ a junior records manager and both fully comprehend and religiously follow all of the old-fashioned and hopelessly overcomplicated and time-consuming processes laid out for the orderly capture of corporate documents.

I have news for all those locked-in-the-past records managers. Your approach hasn’t worked in the last 30 years and it certainly will not work in the future.

Smart people don’t buy sophisticated computer hardware and application software and then try to replicate the physical model for little or no benefit. Smart people look at what a computer system can do as opposed to 20,000 linear feet of filing shelves or 40 Compactuses and 30 boxes of filing cards and immediately realize that they have the power to do everything differently, faster, most efficiently and infinitely smarter.  They also realize that there is no need to overburden already busy end users by a forcing them to become very bad and very inconsistent junior records managers. End users are not hired to be records managers they are hired to be engineers, sales people, accountants, PAs, etc., and most already have 8 hours of work a day without you imposing more on them.

There is always a better way and the best way is to roll out a records and document and email management system that does not require your end users to become very bad and inconsistent junior records managers. This way it may even have a chance of actually working.

Please throw that old physical model away. It has never worked well when applied to computerised records, document and email management and it never will. Remember that famous adage, “The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and to expect the results to be different”?

I guarantee two things:

1.     Your software vendor’s consultant is more than happy to offer advice and guidance; and

2.     He/she has probably worked in significantly more records management environments than you have and has a much broader range of experience than you do.

It doesn’t hurt to ask for advice and it doesn’t hurt to listen.

I have a solution for Greece

by Frank 23. February 2012 17:24

It is simple, it is brilliant and it came to me this morning as I tried to find any breakfast news channel showing real news instead of endless rehashes and boring talking-head analysis of the embarrassing and grubby Gillard-Rudd squabble. We do a trade.

Greece is in financial trouble and has millions of people out of work with little or no prospect of employment. Australia has a need for workers and a long and proud history of successfully integrating Greek immigrants. Australia also has a large Greek community, especially in Melbourne, well able and willing to support and advise new Greek immigrants.

Greeks may well have a reputation for not working hard in Europe but not so in Australia. Greeks in Australia have always been well regarded as hard-working, industrious and strongly family oriented people; exactly the kind of people Australia needs to grow and prosper. The history of Greek migrants in Australia is a history of hard work, home ownership and pride. In our experience, Greeks look after their families and their homes and take pride in being employed and productive. We need more Greeks.

Julia and Kevin on the other hand we don’t need and don’t want and neither has added anything to our economy other than new taxes and expensive stuff-ups (ceiling bats, school revolution, etc.).  So the equation is simple, add Greeks and take away Julia and Kevin for a growing and healthy Australian economy. It is so simple and logical and such a self-evident solution to our current woes that I don’t know why Tony Abbott hasn’t yet proposed it. I am sure our new Greek citizens will vote for Tony as long as he reduces their taxes (and mine).

Here is the deal. We make an offer to Greece for Australia to take one-million Greek immigrants. The offer includes us funding the travel and relocation costs. We are already doing this for the illegal boat people so it shouldn’t be a problem doing it for legal immigrants. In return, Greece takes Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. It gives them Greek citizenship and a seat in parliament so they can continue doing what they do best. The dysfunctional Greek parliament should be an ideal environment for Julia and Kevin to practice their trade. The Greek economy is already so screwed up it is not like Kevin and Julia can do much harm. Greeks already mistrust and dislike their parliamentarians so Kevin and Julia will fit right in.

The value proposition? Kevin and Julia leaving Australia will have an enormous and positive impact on the Australian economy. Kevin and Julia arriving in Greece will make little difference to an economy already in its death throes. One-million Greek immigrants will have an enormously positive impact on the Australian economy. One-million less Greek citizens and unemployed people to support will have an enormously positive impact on the Greek economy; significantly reducing the debt burden and almost certainly solving the unemployment problem. The Greek and Australian economies will both grow and everyone will be better off.

The downside? The Canberra press gallery will have little to write about and news programs will have to spend more money on gathering real news. Other than this, it is all good news.

Does anyone have the contact details of the Greek ambassador in Canberra?

Google greed is killing the golden goose

by Frank 26. November 2011 13:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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