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.

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?

 

 

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 struggling with physical records management, with paper?

by Frank 16. July 2014 00:01

 

Are you still struggling with physical records management, with paper?

We produced our first computerised records management system in 1984 (when our company was called GMB) and it was called DocFind. It was marketed by the Burroughs Corporation initially to about 100 clients and then we stared marketing DocFind direct and sold it to about another 2,000 clients.

Every one of those clients wanted DocFind just to manage physical records, paper, file folders and archive boxes. There was little or no demand for document imaging and workflow and the term electronic document management had yet to be invented. Office automation was in its infancy. We for example, wrote our letters on an Apple IIe using a word processor called WordStar running under CP/M.

In 1986 we released RecFind, a major remake of the DocFind product. This product was initially marketed by ourselves and NEC and it too focussed just on managing physical records.

However, even in 1986 we knew we had a bigger job to do with the general acceptance of document scanners and workflow so we added imaging and workflow to our product and starting trying to convince our customers and prospective customers to reduce the size of their paper mountain and even to start planning for a ‘Paperless Office’.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I delivered numerous papers extolling the value of the paperless office and worked hard to convince my customers to make the move to Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRMS).

In the mid-1990s the industry discovered ‘Knowledge Management’ (KMS) and industry consultants lost interest in EDRMS and instead heavily promoted the virtues and benefits of KMS, whatever it was. Maybe this was the time organizations lost interest in eradicating paper as senior IT staff and consultants moved on to more interesting projects like KMS.

In 1995 I delivered my first paper on a totally integrated information management system or what I called at the time the ‘It Does Everything Application’ (IDEA). In 1995 I truly thought the age of physical records management was almost over and that the western world at least would move to fully-automated, paperless processes.

How wrong I was 19 years ago.

Today, despite the advanced functionality of our RecFind 6 Product Suite, almost all of my customers still manage physical records with RecFind 6. At least half of the inquiries that come in via our website are for systems to manage physical records.

There is more paper in the world today than there has ever been and organizations all over the world still struggle with managing paper, vast amounts of paper.

Luckily for us, we never succumbed to the temptation to remove the paper handling features from our products. Instead, we added to them with each subsequent release and redesign/rewrite of RecFind. We had to provide upwards compatibility for our clients as they still managed mountains of paper both onsite and offsite.

Being a little older and wiser now I am never again going to predict the paperless office. I will provide advanced physical records management functionality for my clients as long as they require it.

I haven’t given up the fight but my job is to address the real needs of my customers and they tell me and keep telling me that they need to manager paper, mainly file folders full of paper and archive boxes full of file folders. They need to manage paper onsite in shelving and offsite in warehouses with millions of boxes and we do it all.

We manage paper from creation to destruction and throughout the whole lifecycle. We apply retention schedules and classification systems and we track anything and everything with barcodes and barcode readers. We have enhanced our products to cater for every need and we are now probably responsible for millions of tonnes of paper all over the world.

I still hope for a paperless world but I very much doubt that I am going to see it in my lifetime.

So, if you are still struggling with how to best manage all your physical records please don’t despair, you are most certainly not alone! 

  

What is the future of RecFind? - The Product Road Map

by Frank 19. May 2014 06:00

First a little history. We began in 1984 with our first document management application called DocFind marketed by the then Burroughs Corporation (now called Unisys). In June 1986 we sold the first version of RecFind, a fully-featured electronic records management system and a vast improvement on the DocFind product. Then we progressively added document imaging then electronic document management and workflow and then with RecFind 6 a brand new paradigm and an amalgam of all previous functionality; an Information management system able to run multiple applications concurrently with a complete set of enterprise content management functionality. RecFind 6 is the eighth completely new iteration of the iconic RecFind brand.

RecFind 6 was and is unique in our industry because it was designed to be what was previously called a Rapid Application Development system (RAD) but unlike previous examples, we provided the high level toolset so new applications could be inexpensively ‘configured’ (by using the DRM) not expensively programmed and new application tables and fields easily populated using Xchange. It immediately provided every customer with the ability to change almost anything they needed changed without needing to deal with the vendor (us).  Each customer had the same tools we used to configure multiple applications within a single copy of RecFind 6. RecFind 6 was the first ECM product to truly empower the customer and to release them from the expensive and time consuming process of having to negotiate with the vendor to “make changes and get things done.”

In essence, the future of the RecFind brand can be summarised as more of the same but as an even easier to use and more powerful product. Architecturally, we are moving away from the fat-client model (in our case based on the .NET smart-client paradigm) to the zero-footprint, thin-client model to reduce installation and maintenance costs and to support far more operating system platforms than just Microsoft Windows. The new version 2.6 web-client for instance happily runs on my iPad within the Safari browser and provides me with all the information I need on my customers when I travel or work from home (we use RecFind 6 as our Customer Relationship Management system or CRM). I no longer need a PC at home and nor do I need to carry a heavy laptop through airports.

One of my goals for the remainder of 2014 and 2015 following is to convince my customer base to move to the RecFind 6 web-client from the standard .NET smart-client. This is because the web-client provides tangible, measurable cost benefits and will be the basis for a host of new features as we gradually deprecate the .NET smart-client and expand the functionality of the web-client. We do not believe there is a future for the fat/smart-client paradigm; it has seen its day. Customers are rightfully demanding a zero footprint and the support of an extensive range of operating environments and devices including mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Our web-client provides the functionality, mobile device support and convenience they are demanding.

Of course the back-end of the product, the image and data repository, also comes in for major upgrades and improvements. We are sticking with MS SQL Server as our database but will incorporate a host of new features and improvements to better facilitate the handling of ‘big data’. We will continue to research and make improvements to the way we capture, store and retrieve data and because our customer’s databases are now so large (measured in hundreds of Gigabytes), we are making it easier and faster to both backup and audit the repository. The objectives as always are scalability, speed, security and robustness.

We are also adding new functionality to allow the customer to bypass our standard user interface (e.g., the .NET smart-client or web-client) and create their own user interface or presentation layer. The objective is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to create tailored interfaces for each operating unit within their organization. A simple way to think of this functionality is to imagine a single high level tool that lets you quickly and easily create your own screens and dashboards and program to our SDK.

On the add-in product front we will continue to invest in our add-in products such as the Button, the MINI API, the SDK, GEM, RecCapture, the High Speed Scanning Module and the SharePoint Integration Module. Even though the base product RecFind 6 has a full complement of enterprise content management functionality these add-on products provide options requested by our customers. They are generally a way to do things faster and more automatically.

We will continue to provide two approaches for document management; the end-user paradigm (RecFind 6 plus the Button) and the fully automatic capture and classification paradigm (RecFind 6 plus GEM and RecCapture). As has been the case, we also fully expect a lot of our customers to combine both paradigms in a hybrid solution.

The major architectural change is away from the .NET smart-client (fat-client) paradigm to the browser-based thin-client or web-client paradigm. We see this as the future for all application software, unconstrained by the strictures of proprietary operating systems like Microsoft Windows.

As always, our approach, our credo, is that we do all the hard work so you don’t have to. We provide the feature rich, scalable and robust image and data repository and we also provide all of the high level tools so you can configure your applications that access our repository. We also continue to invest in supporting and enhancing all of our products making sure that they have the feature set you require and run in the operating environments you require them to. We invest in the ongoing development of our products to protect your investment in our products. This is our responsibility and our contribution to our ongoing partnership.

 

Why product training is so important

by Frank 23. June 2013 06:00

I run a company called the Knowledgeone Corporation that produces a software application called RecFind 6 that is used to provide records management, document management, workflow, document imaging, email management and general business process management functionality. Every installation is different because we configure RecFind 6 to the exact requirements of each customer. All installations include some form of business process management and many include a reasonable degree of complexity, especially, when integrating to other systems.

We are always proposing to new and existing customers and negotiating contracts and the one item in the pricing summary that is always under attack is training. As well as questioning the need for face to face training, many customers also try to reduce the cost by just training a core group that will then train the rest of the staff who will use the new system.

I try to explain that effective and complete training is fundamental to the success of the project; that training isn’t a cost, it is an investment in success. I rarely win.

I also try to convince my customers of the importance of ongoing training for new releases and new employees but I am rarely successful.

I try to explain that cutting costs on training is a sure fire way to ensure that the project will never be as successful as it could be. I rarely win this argument either.

And finally, I always recommend that an IT person attends the training course because his/her services will be need by the application administrator throughout the year. This rarely happens.

Yet, time after time and in example after example, projects (not just ours) are significantly less successful than they should be because someone in management decided to cut costs by skimping on training; by not training operational staff in how to use the product in the most cost effectively and productive way possible.

If you skimp on training you are almost certainly dooming your project to failure.

Lack of knowledge on how to best use a product is an insidious cancer. The project may begin with a big bang and lots of congratulations but deep within your organization the cancer has already started to grow. “I don’t like this product.” “This product is too hard to use.” “I can’t find anything with this product.” “My staff don’t understand this product.”

By year two, many people and departments simply don’t use the product any more. By year three there is a concerted push to find a replacement for this product that “is too hard to use. No one understands it.” The replacement project manager or application owner, who hasn’t been trained, is unable to address the complaints and soon also decides that the problem is with the product. It would be a bad career move to decide anything else.

In year four the organization begins looking for a replacement product. In year five, at great expense they select a replacement product and then lower costs by skimping on training. The cycle starts again.

If you skimp on training and re-training your project is doomed to failure.

How many expensive failures does it take before we learn the lesson?

Training is an investment in productivity, not a cost.

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.

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.

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