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

The Essential Digital Records checklist

by Frank 10. February 2017 12:00

So, you have decided, or have been instructed, to digitize all your records. Now what?

Where do you start? When do you start? What do you need to get the job done?

Lists

Just as with all complex projects, you are best to start with a simple list.

List all the records that need to be digitized; by type, by volume, by current format and by location. Review this list with your peers first (double-check that you haven’t missed anything) and then with management. Ask questions of management like:

 “Do you want me to digitize all of these records regardless of how long it takes and how much it costs?”

“When do you want me to start?”

“What is the budget?”

“What extra resources can I call on?”

“When do you want this project to complete?”

 “What are the metrics that will determine if I am successful?”

These are the core questions, the ones you must ask. Your dialog with your manager will probably result in many more questions and answers depending upon the unique circumstances of your organization. However, as long as you ask these core questions and get answers you are well on the road to producing a project plan.

Management Approval and Ownership

Your project will fail unless you have a senior manager ‘owning’ and supporting it. You need a friend in high places covering your back and authorizing your actions if you are going to be successful.

IT Support

Ask your senior manager to select and appoint a senior IT resource to be your IT point man. You are going to need IT support throughout the project and you need to know before you accept the project that someone senior will be appointed as your IT liaison person. Without readily accessible and committed (to the project) IT support you will fail.

The Project Plan

All project plans begin with multiple lists, for example: a list of all the tasks to be completed, a list of all the people who will work on the project, etc. Most importantly, you need to sort the tasks in order of prerequisites – i.e., we have to complete Task A before we can begin Task B. You also need to have sub-lists for each project employee listing their relevant expertise or capabilities; not everyone is equal. Some people can complete a particular task, some can’t. Some will take a day to complete a task others may take 3 days to complete the same task. You need to be well aware of capabilities before you assign tasks to individuals.

You need a good tool to document and manage your project plan because project plans are complex and dynamic. Never in the history of the world has there been a static project plan. About the last thing you want to change however, is the agreed (with your boss) completion date. Your main objective should always be to complete on time and your second objective should be to complete on budget. If you don’t have a project management system, try Microsoft Project, it’s low cost and relatively easy to use and it can do the job.

Human Resources

If your boss expects you to be responsible for the new records digitization project as well as your normal job you have the beginning of a big problem. If the boss expects you to complete the project without having any assistance your problem is probably terminal. You will need help probably both from within your organization and outside your organization because it is unlikely that you will have all the expertise you need within your organization.

Make sure that your agreement with your boss includes the additional human resources you need to be successful.

Software

It is unlikely that you will already have the software tools you need to be successful.  Basically, the software tools you need are required to capture, digitize, store and retrieve your records. Because records come in multiple formats you will need to ensure that you have the necessary software tools for each format of record to be captured. Refer to the initial list you compiled of records to be digitized by type, by volume, by current format and by location. Make sure that you have a software tool for each type of record. For example, scanning and indexing software to capture paper records.

Most importantly, make sure that you have a secure, scalable image and data repository to store and manage all of your digital records. This will usually be a structured database based on systems such as Oracle or SQL Server.

There is little point in digitizing your records if they can’t be centrally accessed, managed, searched and retrieved.

Hardware

Software requires appropriate hardware. Make sure that you have permission and budget to acquire the prerequisite hardware such as servers, workstations, scanners, etc. You will probably need help from your IT department in defining exactly what is required.

Management

Your job is to manage not facilitate. As project manager, you accept responsibly for both success and failure. Your job is to make things happen. Your job is to continually review progress, to identify and remove roadblocks. Your job is to keep all project staff focussed and on mission. It is a lot of work and a lot of effort and sometimes, a lot of frustration. You have to be prepared to regularly consult with both project staff and users. You have to be prepared to make tough decisions. You have to be committed and focussed on success but not stubborn. Sometimes it is better to give a little to win a lot. Always focus on the end result, completing the digitization project on time and on budget.

Success or Failure

There are absolutely no good technical reasons for failure. The expertise, hardware and software required to digitize all of your records is readily available from a plethora of vendors. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples both good and bad in the market for you to learn from. There is no record that can’t be digitized. The only difference between success and failure is you and your initiative, creativity and commitment.

Digital Transformation of Records Management

by Frank 7. February 2017 06:00

Why is it so hard?

Let’s begin with a couple of borrowed quotes:

“Digital transformation is the profound and accelerating transformation of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact across society in a strategic and prioritized way, with present and future shifts in mind.” Or, put more simply:

Digital transformation — the use of technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprises.”

Having been involved in the digital revolution since the early 1980s (Office Automation) and through the 1990s (the Paperless Office) and now into the 21st Century (Enterprise Content Management) I have watched and participated as thousands of clients have, with all good intentions, tried to transform their enterprises into digitally-empowered entities.

Whereas there are many aspects and functions of any enterprise to transform, the high-level aspects are the customer experience, business processes and business models.

As a builder and purveyor of Enterprise Content Management Solutions, my involvement has usually been in the area of business processes, most specifically, Workflow, Electronic Records and Document Management (EDRMS), Email Management and Document Imaging. These are of course, now very old-fashioned terms and likely to be usurped in the near future but for now they are terms we have to work with.

To the layman, it should be a piece of cake. “Work only with electronic documents and get rid of all paper.” Of course, it would be that simple if we lived in a vacuum but we don’t. We have to interact with the world outside. We have to deal with other organizations, with local government and state government and federal government and we all have to meet a plethora of rules and regulations, many still mandating paper. There is also a huge number of people who still prefer to work with paper. Even today, there is a lot of opposition to the digitization of records.

Thirty years ago we struggled because, by today’s standards, the technology was massively expensive and patently inadequate for the task. Someone may well say the same thing about today’s technology 30 years into the future but from my viewpoint, we now have all the technology we need at affordable prices to digitally transform any process.

Yet, when I talk to clients today and examine their operations I see many of the problems I saw 30 years ago. I see veritable mountains of paper, I see scores of manual processes crying out for automation. For the record, we still receive as many requests for physical records management systems (i.e., managing paper and files and boxes) as we do for electronic records management solutions. Our clients still have millions of boxes of old records in offsite storage warehouses. Our clients are still spending millions and millions of dollars storing paper they will never look at again. Our clients are still struggling to obtain the imprimatur of someone senior enough to automate the capture of all emails.

I still see organizations spending years and vast amounts of money trying to implement records classification and retention systems designed for the paper-bound world of the 19th century. Virtually, “Doing it this way because we have always done it this way.”

I see the core problem as blind adherence to the cultural heritage of paper and filing. These ancient customs were primarily focused on ‘filing’ almost to the extent of an obsession. Unfortunately, most of today’s records management systems are also obsessed with filing when they should be obsessed with finding, with ‘discovery’.

It is the obsession with filing that most impedes the digitization of records in most enterprises.

Remove this fixation on filing and suddenly digital transformation becomes a whole lot easier, less costly and significantly less intrusive for the ordinary worker who just wants to quickly search for and locate everything he or she needs to get the job done (or work process completed).

It reminds me of a definition I wrote for Knowledge Management back in 1995:

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

Surely, isn’t this still what every organization needs?

Paper is great for taking notes, for doodling, for sketching, for napkins, for hand towels, for prints, for novels, etc. It is great for a great many things, it is in fact a wonderful invention but it should not be used for records. It should not be filed away, it should not be stored in boxes on dusty shelves in huge warehouses. It should not consume a large part of your operational budget every year. You have better things to spend your money on.

If you truly want to digitize your records then lose the obsession with filing and outlaw paper records. Be brave, be bold, be authoritative.

Focus entirely on dealing with data, information and knowledge – none of which require paper.

It can’t happen overnight but you have to begin as you intend to go forward. Start by telling your suppliers you will no longer accept paper records. Tell them they will no longer receive paper from you. Tell them everything must be in a digital form. Tell your clients you will now only communicate in a digital form. Concentrate on getting the very best out of digital tools like Office365 and email. Find ways to capture every digital record either on creation or receipt. Implement a secure, scalable image and data repository. Hire a corporate Information Manager, not a Corporate Records Manager (who will be obsessed with filing). Bite the bullet and make it happen.

In time, get rid of printers and photocopiers; all you should need for the transition from paper is scanners. Remove the temptation to print anything. Shut your ears to the complaints; there is no point in arguing with someone who isn’t listening.

Of course, the real secret to successfully digitally transforming a process or organization isn’t technology, it is resolve and leadership. If you have failed, it isn’t because you didn’t have the tools, it is because you lacked the leadership and resolve and determination required.

Take a break, have a coffee, contemplate and then tackle it again. With enough resolve and determination, you will get there. Sleep more peacefully at night knowing you have saved millions of trees.

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