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.

Totally Automatic, Rules-Driven Email Management & Archiving

by Frank 15. December 2015 06:00

 

More than thirty years after the advent of email as a convenient and fast means of business to business communication most organizations still don’t have an effective way to analyze, monitor, select, capture and classify emails. If your organization does, then you are the exception.

This means most businesses don’t come even close to meeting the requirements of any compliance legislation that applies to their business. Nor do they even come close to managing real corporate risk.

It also means that most businesses don’t effectively guard against sexism, racism, obscenity, theft and bullying in their email system.

Is this a case of ‘heads in the sand’ or is the problem seen as just too hard? Maybe, senior management doesn’t really see unmanaged and unmonitored emails as a problem. Well, at least until the first court case.

In my experience, many organizations think they have a solution but in reality, they don’t; at least not a one hundred-percent solution. In the case of email management, ‘good enough’ is certainly not good enough. It only takes one bad email to slip through the cracks to bring the whole house down.

In many examples, organizations rely on end users to monitor, manage and police email. The problem with this model is that end users are human and typically exhibit all the strengths and weaknesses of humans. In this case, we are more concerned with the failings. As humans we are not always on top of our game; we have good days and we have bad days. We get distracted, we are prejudiced, we are sometimes lazy, we are sometimes careless and for a small number, we are sometimes outright dishonest.

Human beings will never produce a one-hundred-percent consistent result; that is not in our nature. Maybe when AI gets to the stage that we can all be ‘upgraded’ to cyborgs this will change, but I seriously doubt it. As long as there is any trace of humanity we will still be lovingly unreliable and inconsistent entities.

You don’t have a one hundred-percent reliable system if you don’t control and standardize all the inputs. Instead, you have a form of ‘managed chaos’ and inconsistent and unreliable results. You will also probably have a false sense of security, “Sure, we are managing all emails (well, kind of).”

I have been a proponent of the fully-automatic, server-centric paradigm for email management for many years and still promote it as the only one hundred-percent reliable way to effectively and consistently manage all incoming and outgoing emails. It is also the only way to manage risk effectively.

To be one hundred-percent sure you must have a one hundred-percent consistent paradigm. That is, a common set of rules that all emails are judged against plus a common set of processes to apply after an email has been ‘judged’.

Following are some example of what our fully-automatic, rules-driven email management system should be doing 24/7:

  • Is the email of a personal nature and harmless? If so, it can be ignored, there is no reason to capture and classify it.
  • Is the email all about business? If so, it needs to be captured and correctly classified within our corporate store.
  • Does the email contain expletives or sexual references? If so, it needs to be captured, quarantined by our security system and referred to a responsible officer for further examination and possible action.
  • Does the email contain references to corporate IP or classified material? If so, it needs to be captured, quarantined by our security system and referred to a responsible officer for further examination and possible action.
  • Is the email about business and does it require some action or response? If so, it needs to be captured, correctly classified within our corporate store and appropriate workflow initiated.
  • Is the email from a senior executive, about business and does it require some action or response with appropriate access controls applied? If so, it needs to be captured, correctly classified within our corporate store with appropriate security and access rights assigned and appropriate workflow initiated.

We produced our first fully-automatic, rules-driven email managements system in 1994. By today’s standards the technology was primitive but it worked and we used it within our business to demonstrate to our customers and partners how it could function in the real world. We called that product GEM for ‘GMB’s Email Management’ system. 

GEM has been redesigned and rewritten multiple times since so as to utilize the latest technology and tools. We still call it GEM even though our company is now called Knowledgeone Corporation, not GMB; the name works for us and our customers and we see no need to change it. It is after all, a ‘gem’ of a product.

We have used each and every version of GEM since 1994 within our company (we are the primary Beta test site) to automatically analyze all incoming and outgoing emails and to store and classify captured emails in our corporate store based on the RecFind 6 relational database. I can’t imagine running my business without GEM and I don’t understand how other organizations can exist without GEM, but they do albeit, taking huge risks.

The latest version of GEM, 2.7.1, is a major upgrade and involves a significant change in the way we connect to email servers of any type (e.g., Exchange, Office 365, GroupWise, Notes, etc.). We have standardized and simplified the interface to the email server using IMAP and converted our Agents to Windows Services to make the installation and management of GEM as easy as possible for your IT staff.

We have also improved the Rules engine to make it as easy as possible to define all the rules you need to manage your emails.

Because we have 21 years’ experience installing, configuring and using GEM in a real-world production example we also have the world’s most experienced GEM consultants to assist our customers.

How GEM integrates with any other EDRMS

GEM is designed to use the RecFind 6 relational database as its image & data repository. However, we provide several options for integrating to any other EDRMS such that the other EDRMS can search for and access emails (and the associated Metadata) captured by GEM. The four main methods, in order of ease-of-use are:

  1. Capturing encapsulated XML records produced by GEM;
  2. Using the RecFind 6 Mini API;
  3. Using the RecFind 6 SharePoint Integration Module (for customers using SharePoint as their EDRMS); and
  4. Using the RecFind 6 SDK

Please contact Support at Knowledgeone Corp for more information on the above methods.

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