Stop thinking Records Management & start thinking Business Process Management

by Frank 25. August 2016 06:00

For many, many years records managers and records consultants have talked about how to give records management more visibility, more focus and naturally, more money.

To help address this need I was asked to write a paper in 2007 called “Changing Records Management from a Cost-Centre to a Profit-Centre” You can read it here at this link:

At that time it was felt that if we could change the records management function to being a profit-centre then we would certainly and rapidly move up the food chain. Whereas I don’t know if anyone has actually accomplished the change from cost-centre to profit-centre, I am pretty sure it hasn’t been a common occurrence just as I am sure that records management hasn’t moved much up the food chain.

It may well be that if we want to accomplish our multiple goals of more visibility, more focus and more money that all we really need to do is start thinking of what we do as just another aspect of Business Process Management. This shouldn’t be too difficult because that is exactly what records and document management is.

In the ‘old’ days when I was a young systems analyst I was often asked to complete a paper flow analysis. This was in the days before office automation, PCs, networks and servers. The big jobs like payroll and inventory management were all done on the mainframe and progressive managers were already looking for other processes to automate or at least improve, mainly to lower costs and improve productivity.

My first success was an improved accounts payable system at Australian Iron & Steel at around 1968 (yes I know, I can’t really be that old). No automation was involved, just significantly improved and shortened paper flows and the deletion of many redundant processes most done because “We have always done it like this”.

The value I brought to the equation was a strong desire to prove myself plus an outside-the-square view of everything. I was never satisfied with the status-quo and I asked “Why?” literally thousands of times. With hindsight and many years of consulting under my belt, I now realize that “Why?” was and is my most powerful tool.

This brings me to the crux of the matter, why don’t I hear “Why?” much more often in the records and document management business today? Sure, consultants will come in and ask “Why?” to try to find out if a particular process is still appropriate. However, I am also sure that the last thing a consultant wants to hear as a response is, “Because we have always done it that way”.

This response means staff are working like robots and not thinking about what they are doing every day. They are not exercising their brain power and are not questioning how the company uses up their valuable time. This is dangerous because if you aren’t adding value then you don’t have any value to your organization.

Would the same employee continue to drive for 10 miles to a mall if a new mall was built just 1 mile away? Probably not given that all things were equal (e.g., same shops). So why doesn’t that same person look for a faster, more productive way to complete their tasks at work? The answer is usually because it has always been done that way and that is what the Policy and Procedures manual dictates. It is also probably the way that the current quality certification says it should be done and documented, with paper of course.

The core problem is that very few people question current processes and very few people dare to question the Policy and Procedure manual and even fewer would dare question the current quality or certification manual. Unfortunately, many people also hide behind the status quo; it is a reason or excuse for not turning their brains on, for not exercising their intellect. This also means that they are adding little value to their organization.

There is a lovely old expression that goes along the lines of “You can’t see the forest for the trees”.

All human beings are guilty of this at one time or another. We get so wrapped up in what we are doing (day in and day out) that we don’t take the time to stop and critically examine the processes that are using up our lives. Repeat, using up our lives.

A major stumbling block is that there seems to be a common belief that records and document management is somehow outside of the normal practices of a business; that it is different and special. This has been fostered by a long time process of records management segregation.

By trying so hard to get the rest of the business community to focus on records management with standards and legislation and the like, we have effectively segregated records management from normal business operational procedures. In most cases, we have created a painful little monster that most people don’t like and resent but put up with because of the vague threat of punitive legislation or not having a particular box ticked and failing an audit. This sounds very much like we are addicted to using the stick instead of the carrot. As any donkey owner will tell you; it doesn’t work.

What I am saying is that although well-meaning, all the standards and legislation we have helped create over the years have made the problem worse not better. We have set ourselves apart and demanded special treatment and special processes not aligned with the core business objectives of the organization we work for.

The solution is to start anew with a new paradigm. The first principle of which is that records and document management is an essential and integrated set of business processes in any organization. Most importantly, governed by the specific needs of each organization, not some otherworld standard. Perfectly aligned with the business objectives of the organization, not some obscure standard that no one really understands or even follows. Blasphemy you say?

No, I am not saying we shouldn’t have a retention schedule and no, I am not saying we shouldn’t implement policy and procedures to govern how we handle information. Nor am I saying we can afford to ignore some piece of legislation that threatens punitive action and fines if we don’t adhere to its dictates.

In a better world we wouldn’t have this annoying plethora of standards, legislation and certifications that overcomplicate, overlap and confuse. Unfortunately, as long as we have multiple layers of government and thousands or millions of politicians and bureaucrats who judge themselves on how much legislation they can impose on us, we have a battle just getting though every day without breaking some rule or another.

It therefore behoves us to be judicious and do our best to make sure we protect our organization. However, our main objective must always be to ensure that everything we do aligns perfectly with the core business objectives of our organization. This has to be our first priority. We have to see records management as just another set of fully integrated, fully aligned business processes. The company has to come first; we are its servant. If it doesn’t succeed then we don’t succeed.

Let me assure you that if you make a concerted effort to consult with senior management and say “I need to make sure that all of our records and document management processes are perfectly aligned with your current and future plans and objectives. Can you please explain to me what you would like us to achieve?” that records management will get the visibility, focus and money it deserves as a real contributor to the company’s overall goals.

 

Don’t segregate, integrate!

The differences between a Classification System & an Information Management System

by Frank 5. November 2015 06:00

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its horses for courses!

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

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

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

 

 

The secret to increased productivity

by Frank 4. August 2015 06:41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to simplify electronic document and email management

by Frank 17. September 2014 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

White papers

Posts

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

by Frank 18. July 2014 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Name

     Correspondence

     Contracts

     Quotes & Proposals.

     Orders

     Incidents

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

Now how does this simple system work?

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

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

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

WARNING

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

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

Good luck.

 

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.

 

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