What does it take to digitize your records?

by Frank 21. February 2018 06:00

A customer, with a very large physical records database, recently asked us for references for other sites that had digitized their records so he could copy what they did.

We explained that unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work because:

1.      The other customers aren’t interested in a long term ‘free’ consultancy exercise helping him to determine his requirements; and

2.      In our experience (over 34 years) every customer’s requirements and culture are different and each customer requires a unique and personalized solution.

Its back to that time-honoured common-sense approach that says,

“You can’t solve the problem until you first know what the problem is.”

There is no shortcut to doing the job properly, professionally and appropriately (to match the culture of the organization).

Our Approach          

First, we begin with a face to face meeting where our experienced consultant asks a lot of questions about the organization, its structure, its data, its objectives and its timeframes. Then our consultant comes back to our office and engages in a second discussion with our expert team, reviewing our findings and coming to a considered consensus about the best way forward. This is followed by a short report to the customer summarizing our findings, conclusions and recommendations. This is the initial working document that the customer can then review and discuss internally with all stakeholders.

So far, all this is at our cost and comes under the heading of pre-sales.

The customer then usually says something like, “We have discussed your report and are in agreement about the best way forward with a few changes. What is the next step?” We respond by proposing a more formal onsite consultancy, at the customer’s cost, where our consultant interviews the key stakeholders and gathers all the information available about the customer’s records, standards and business processes. Out of this exercise we are able to produce a detailed report and project plan for review by the key stakeholders.

It may take several iterations of review and edit before all parties are satisfied that the detailed plan is appropriate, cost effective and doable. We then produce a formal proposal that includes everything agreed and await the customer’s approval and go ahead.

What does the proposal include?

·        Ordering of any hardware required

·        Installation of any software required

·        Administrator training of key operational staff

·        Pre-implementation consultancy, finalizing how we handle all data and work processes

·        Capture and conversion of existing records from multiple sources, ‘mapping’ the data to our products

·        Implementation consultancy, making all the changes required to the data model and business processes in our products

·        Report production, modifying standard reports and creating new reports

·        Trial run of any conversions and data uploads

·        Review of configured products, data model, business processes, reports, converted data, etc.

·        Approval

·        Final configuration changes

·        End-user training

·        Live conversion and data uploads

·        Go-live

·        Post-implementation consultancy (usually 3 to 6 months later). Did we achieve our objectives?

How long does it take?

In our experience, from start to finish can take from 3 months to 24 months. The main cause of a longer time-frame is how long it takes the customer to make a decision on our proposal. Another lengthening factor can be any complicated integrations that need to be designed and tested.

The actual implementation usually takes from 2 weeks (a very small site) to 3 months (a very large site).

Is every customer implementation really that different?

In 34 years we have never seen two identical implementations. Every implementation has something unique and each implementation uses a different mix of software, tools, training and consultancy to meet its objectives.

There is no substitute for determining your unique requirements in detail and there is no other way to do this other than by speaking to all stakeholders and by involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process. As my ex-partner used to say, “it is just work!”

References:

Sample Project Plan

EDRMS options with RecFind 6

Rolling out a pain free, low cost records and document management solution

Why are your staff still manually capturing and classifying electronic documents and emails?

by Frank 15. June 2017 06:00

For many years we have promoted the totally automatic paradigm for low cost, high productivity content management.

We haven’t just articulated this cost-effective approach, we have also invested in products to help our customers not just meet compliance targets but also become more efficient while doing so.

Specifically, we have invented and produced two products that totally automate the content management process for electronic documents and emails. These two products automate the capture, classification and work processes required for electronic documents and emails.

These two products sit on top of a super-fast, scalable and secure content management database with all the functionality required to manage your rich content. Find any eDoc in seconds, produce any report, audit every transaction.

These two products are GEM and RecCapture, innovations 10 years ago and leading the field today after being comprehensively updated and redeveloped over the years. The content management database is RecFind 6. All products in the RecFind 6 Product Suite are totally compatible with all the latest Microsoft software including Office 365, Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, MS SQL Server 2016 and SharePoint 2016.

Better still, these are low cost products available under a number of licensing options including installed onsite on your server, hosted, Perpetual License, Subscription License and Annual License.

If you would like further information, a demonstration, webinar, meeting, online presentation or quotation please contact us at your convenience at marketing@knowledgeonecorp.com

We look forward to being of service.

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 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?

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.

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.

 

Are you still losing information in your shared drives?

by Frank 18. November 2012 06:00

Organizations both large and small, government and private have been accumulating electronic documents in shared drives since time immemorial (or at least since the early 1980’s when networked computers and file servers became part of the business world). Some organizations still have those early documents, “just in case”.

Every organization has some form of shared drives whether or not they have an effective and all-encompassing document management system in place (and very few organizations even come close to meeting this level of organization).

All have megabytes (1 million bytes or characters, 106=ten to the power of 6) of information stored in shared drives, the vast majority has gigabytes (109), many now have terabytes (1012) and the worst have petabytes (1015).

As all the IT consultants are now fixated on “Big Data” and how to solve the rapidly growing problem it won’t be long before we are into really big numbers like exabytes (1018), zettabytes (1021) and finally when civilization collapses under the weight, yottabytes. For the record, a yottabyte is 1024 or one quadrillion gigabytes or to keep it simple, one septillion bytes. And believe me the problem is real because data breeds faster than rabbits and mice.

Most of this electronic information is unstructured (e.g., Word and text files of various kinds) and most of it is unclassified (other than maybe being in named folders or sub-folders or sub-sub-folders). None of it is easily searchable in a normal lifetime and there are multiple copies and versions some of which will lead to legal and compliance nightmares.

The idea of assigning retention schedules to these documents is laughable and in general everyone knows about the problem but no one wants to solve it. Or, more precisely, no one wants to spend the time and money required to solve this problem. It is analogous to the billions of dollars being wasted each year by companies storing useless old paper records in dusty offsite storage locations; no one wants to step up and solve the problem. It is a race to see which will destroy civilization first, electronic or paper records.

When people can’t find a document they create a new one. No one knows which is the latest version and no one wants to clean up the store in case they accidentally delete something they will need in a month or a year (or two or three). Employees often spend far more (frustrating) time searching for a document to use as a template or premise than it would take to create a new one from scratch.

No one knows what is readable (WordStar anyone?) and no one knows what is relevant and no one knows what should be kept and what should be destroyed. Many of the documents have become corrupted over time but no one is aware of this.

Some organizations have folders and sub folders defined in their shared drives which may have at one time roughly related to the type of documents being stored within them. Over time, different people had different ideas about how the shared drives and folders should be organized and they have probably been changed and renamed and reorganized multiple times.  Employees however, didn’t always follow the rules so there are miss-filings, dangerous copies and orphans everywhere.

IT thinks it is an end user problem and end users think it is an IT problem.

The real problem is that most of these unstructured documents are legal records (evidence of a business transaction) and some are even vital records (essential to the ongoing operation of the entity). Some could be potentially damaging and some could be potentially beneficial but no one knows. Some could involve the organization in legal disputes, some could involve the organization in  compliance disputes and some could save the organization thousands or millions of dollars; but no one knows.

Some should have been properly destroyed years ago (thus avoiding the aforementioned legal and compliance disputes) and some should never have been destroyed (costing the organization evidence of IP ownership or a billable transaction). But, no one knows.

However, everyone does know that shared drives waste an enormous amount of people’s time and are a virtual ‘black hole’ for both important documents and productivity.

There is a solution to the shared-drives problem but it can’t happen until some bright and responsible person steps up and takes ownership of both the problem and the solution.

For example, here is my recommendation using our product RecCapture (other vendors will have similar products designed as ours is to automatically capture all new and modified electronic documents fully automatically according to a set of business rules you develop for your organization). RecCapture is an add-on to RecFind 6 and uses the RecFind 6 relational database to store all captured documents.

RecCapture allows you to:

  • Develop and apply an initial set of document rules (which to ignore, which to keep, how to store and classify them, etc.) based on what you know about your shared drives (and yes, the first set of rules will be pretty basic because you won’t know much about the vast amount of documents in your shared drives).
  • Use these rules to capture and classify all corporate documents from your shared drives and store and index them in the RecFind 6 relational SQL database (the initial ‘sweep’).
  • Once they are in the relational database you can then utilize advanced search and global change capabilities to further organize and classify them and apply formal retention schedules.You will find that it is a thousand times easier to organize your documents once they are in RecFind 6.
  • Once the documents are saved in the RecFind 6 database (we maintain them in an inviolate state as indexed Blobs) you can safely and confidently delete most of them from your shared drives.
  • Then use these same document rules (continually being updated as you gain experience and knowledge) to automatically capture all new and modified (i.e., new versions) electronic documents as they are stored in your shared folders. Your users don’t need to change the way they work because the operation of RecCapture is invisible to them, it is a server-centric (not user-centric) and a fully automatic background process.
  • Use the advanced search features, powerful security system and versioning control of RecFind 6 to give everyone appropriate access to the RecCapture store so users can find any document in seconds thus avoiding errors and frustration and maximizing productivity and job satisfaction.

RecCapture isn’t expensive, it isn’t difficult to set up and configure and it isn’t difficult to maintain. It can be installed, configured and operational in a few days. It doesn’t interfere with your users and doesn’t require them to do anything other than their normal work.

It captures, indexes and classifies documents of any type. It can also be used to automatically abstract any text based document during the capture process. It makes all documents findable online (full text and Metadata) via a sophisticated search module (BOOLEAN, Metadata, Range searching etc.) and military strength security regime.

Accredited users can access the document store over the network and over the Internet.  Stored documents can be exported in native format or industry standard XML. It is a complete and easy to implement solution to the shared drives problem.

I am sure that Knowledgeone Corporation isn’t the only vendor offering modern tools like RecFind 6 and RecCapture so there is no excuse for you continuing to lose documents in your shared drives.

Why don’t you talk to a few enterprise content software vendors and find a tool that suits you? You will be amazed at the difference in your work environment once you solve the shared drives problem.  Then ask the boss for a pay rise and a promotion; you deserve it.

Can you save money with document imaging?

by Frank 4. November 2012 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of knowledge

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

Lack of ownership

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

Lack of consultancy skills

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

Negative impact of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Will the Microsoft Surface tablet unseat the iPad?

by Frank 28. October 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces a content management system called RecFind 6. We need to be on top of what is happening in the hardware market because we are required to support the latest devices such as Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface tablet. Our job after all is to capture and manage content and the main job of devices like the iPad and Surface tablet is to allow end users to search for and display content.

At this time we plan to support both with our web client but each device has its special requirements and we need to invest in our software to make sure it perfectly suits each device. The iPad is by now a well-known partner but the Surface tablet is still something of a mystery and we await the full local release and our first test devices.

As we produce business software for corporations and government our focus is on the use of tablets in a business scenario.  This means using the tablets for both input and output meaning, capturing information and documents from the end user and well as presenting information and documents to the end user.

When looked at from a business perspective the Surface tablet starts to be a much better proposition for us than the iPad. I say this because of three factors; connectivity, screen size and open file system. To my mind these are the same three factors that severely limit the use of the iPad in a business environment.

Let me elaborate; I can connect more devices to the Surface, the slightly larger screen makes it easier to read big or long documents and the open file system allows us to easily upload and download whatever documents the customer wants. Ergo, the Surface is a much more useful product for our needs and the needs of our corporate and government customers.

So, after a superficial comparison, the Surface appears to have it all over the iPad or does it?

Maybe not given the early reviews of the buggy nature of Windows 8 on RT. Maybe not given that Windows 8 will never be as easy to use or as intuitive as iOS. Maybe not given that the iPad just works and no end user ever needed a training course or user manual. I very much doubt that end users will ‘learn’ Windows 8 as easily as they learnt iOS.

One unkind reviewer even referred to the Surface as a light-weight notebook.  I don’t agree though with its attached keyboard it is very close. I do think it is different to a notebook and I do applaud Microsoft for its investment and innovation. I think the Surface is a new product as opposed to a new generation notebook and I think most end users will see it that way too.

As is often the case both products have strengths and weaknesses and the real battle is yet to come as early adopters buy the Surface and test it. This is a critical time for acceptance and I hope Microsoft hasn’t released this product before it is ready. The early reviews I have read about the RT version are not encouraging especially as everyone still has awful memories of the Visa experience.

Microsoft is super brave because it is releasing two new products at the same time, the Surface hardware and Windows 8. Maybe it would have been smarter to get Windows 8 out and proven before loading it on the Surface but my guess is that Microsoft marketing is in one hell of hurry to try to turn the iPad tide around. There must be a lot of senior executives in Microsoft desperate to gain control of the mobile revolution in the same way they dominated the PC revolution. The Surface plus Windows 8 is a big-bang approach rather than the more conservative get-wet-slowly approach and I sincerely wish them all the best because we all need a much better tablet for business use. Apple also needs a little scare to remind it to be more respectful of the needs of its customers. Competition is always a good thing for consumers and Apple has had its own way with the iPad for too long now.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPad but I am frustrated with its shortcomings and I am hoping that more aggressive competition will force them to lift their game and stop being so damn arrogant.

I am about to place my orders for some Surface tablets for testing as soon as the Windows 8 Pro version is available and promise an update sometime soon about what we find. Watch out for an update in a month or so.

Are you also confused by the term Enterprise Content Management?

by Frank 16. September 2012 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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