Why RF6Cloud is the lowest cost and easiest way to solve any Content Management need

by Frank 8. December 2017 06:01

Why is RF6Cloud such a big improvement on the old Enterprise Content Management, Records Management, Document Management paradigm?

The Old Model

As Knowledgeone Corporation, we have worked with the old model since 1986. Big upfront software costs, big annual software maintenance costs, expensive computer hardware and software, extensive and expensive consultancy and training programs, expensive IT support.  Yes, it worked but it was and is very expensive and it takes a very long time.

The New Model

As RF6Cloud, our new company and new paradigm, we set out to change and disrupt the industry. The same end result but a much faster, much less invasive and much less expensive process to get there.

What you don’t need with RF6Cloud

Because we host the solution ‘In the Cloud’ you don’t need expensive servers and software. Because we run and maintain everything, including taking your backups, you don’t need IT people. Because we provide a pre-configured solution and an easy way for you to upload all your data and standards you don’t need weeks or months of expensive consulting.

Because we have created a whole series of online training courses on our YouTube channel plus detailed online help you don’t need weeks of onsite training courses.

Free Support

You also won’t get any ‘do not reply’ emails from us either and you don’t need to spend hours on our website trying to find our how to contact us. Just click on Contact Us and ask your question. We respond to each and every contact. We welcome your input and questions. We look forward to hearing from you. Online support is free.

Management Console & Dashboard

We also provide you with a management console and dashboard so you are always in control of your app.

A single low-cost monthly subscription

A complete, secure, scalable and robust solution for just a few dollars per month per user. There is nothing else to pay.

“Much less than the average employee spends on coffee each month.”

A no-obligation free one-month trial

If you are still nervous, sign up for our one-month free trial. It’s the full solution and you get full service during the trial. Please put us to the test, we are happy to accept your challenge.

It’s your Data

If you decide not to proceed after the trial, we promise to delete all of your data and if required, even provide you with a backup before deleting your data. The same goes for any time in the future should you decide for any reason to cancel your subscription. We will provide you with a full backup of your data before deleting it. That is a guarantee.

Still have questions?

Please ask away Contact Us

 

 

Moving your Records to the Cloud, a Checklist

by Frank 15. February 2017 06:00

You or your boss have decided to move your records management processing to the Cloud, that is, to a Cloud based records management solution.

Typical Scenario

Currently, you run a legacy records management system on old servers somewhere in the computer room. You are aware that the records management software you are running is old and out of date and no longer supported. You also suspect that the server and operating system and databases software are similarly old and out of date. You also have no confidence in the backups and don’t think your server is included in any Disaster Recovery Plan.

The boss recently attended a risk management seminar and came back full of enthusiasm and focussed on minimizing processing risks. Yours records management system was identified as a big risk because you are responsible for 1.5TB of company data, documents and emails going back 20 years. The boss delegated to you and said, “Get it done!” Where do you start?

You could just call up a selection of records management software vendors and ask them to provide quotations but without prior research and preparation on your part, what you receive back will not be apples to apples. Each vendor will see the problem differently and you will spend a lot of time trying to answer a plethora of often confusing questions. There will be no clear conclusions and it will be difficult to make a selection of vendor or even know what you will end up with.

Take Advantage of the Opportunity

Alternatively, as you have already decided that a new software solution is required, it is a great time to re-evaluate everything you hold and everything you do. This is the time to cull and to modernize and improve all of your business processes. Please don’t, under any circumstances, be convinced by anyone to try to transfer your in-house mess to the Cloud, that would-be anathema.

Instead, plan on instructing the vendors on how you want to go forward, not on how you process now. Do your research and culling and modernizing and produce a report before you call in the vendors.

Cull and Simplify

The first job is to research exactly what you have in your database and associated physical files both in-house and at offsite record centres. You are going to need help from someone who is still an expert in your legacy system and you are going to need help from IT when trying to analyse the contents of your database. Nevertheless, get the help you need and then produce a list of all holdings, both physical and electronic. Do your best to find out exactly what is being held by offsite storage companies.

This isn’t thankless work because if you do your job well there is the very real potential of saving your company a lot of money in both floor space and offsite storage costs. Let’s be a hero.

Use your retention schedule and obtain management decisions to cull as much as possible, both electronic and physical. If in doubt, lean towards “throw it out” rather than “let’s hold on to it just in case.” If you haven’t had cause to reference something in 7 plus years, it is extremely unlikely that you ever will so, as you walk around the filing areas, repeat this mantra under your breath, “If in doubt, throw it out!”

Now look at your business processes, how old and manual and inefficient are they? For example, do end users have to fill in forms and submit them to records when trying to find something or can they just login and find it in seconds?

Please avoid the “we do it this way because we have always done it this way” syndrome. Be brave, be innovative, think outside the square; this is your time to shine! Sit down with users and ask them how they would like the new system to work. There are three magic questions you can always use to solicit the answers you need.

1       “What are we doing now that you think we shouldn’t be doing?”

2       “What aren’t we doing now that you think we should be doing?”

3       “What are we doing now that you think we can do better?”

Document your new business processes.

Produce a report

We aren’t talking about a magnum opus, all we need is a short, concise report that lists all the holdings after culling as well as your ‘new’ required business processes also suitably culled and modernized.

As we are going to provide this report to vendors to begin the quoting process we also need to include information on your operational and security requirements. You will need help here but it doesn’t really matter if your report isn’t 100% accurate, at least for now. What you are primarily interested in is getting an apples to apples response from your chosen vendors. If it later turns out that you need 60 users not 50 users or 3TB of storage rather than 2TB of storage or an average half second response time as opposed to a 1 second response you can easily get the vendors to adjust their quotes.

In other words, don’t agonize over whether or not your report is perfect (it can never be anyway) just make sure it is logical and makes sense and reflects your needs at a point in time.  You are guessing about what future usage and processing needs will be anyway because lots of things will change when the new records system is rolled out.

What to look out for

The following is a guideline, not an exhaustive or complete list. It should be a subset of your requirements.

  • Make sure the vendors understand that your data needs to be stored in the country you nominate.
  • Make sure that the records management software includes the functionality you require. Try not to be too prescriptive, leave room for the vendor to tell you how they would solve your problem with its unique solution. Be cautious about ‘optional’ features that may or may not be in your implementation.
  • Make sure the contract includes the vendor capturing and importing all your data and documents in agreed formats.
  • Make sure your system is fully redundant. Obviously, the safer it is and the more redundancy you have the higher the cost. It’s a trade-off, argue with your masters for the highest possible level of redundancy.
  • Get commitments of support that meet your needs.
  • Get commitments on planned and unplanned downtime that meet your needs.
  • Get commitments on backups that meet your needs.
  • Get commitments on bandwidth and response time that meet your needs. Remember that there are two connections to worry about; your company’s connection to the Internet and the data centre’s connection to the Internet. Be aware of possible bottlenecks.
  • Get commitments on data centre redundancy. What happens if their internet connection fails or their power fails?
  • Make sure that your data is as secure as possible. Ask them what international and government standards they meet on data security.
  • Make sure that you are able to dynamically grow or shrink your requirements; it is a foolish person who thinks he/she can accurately predict the future.
  • Make sure that there is an out clause in your contract; look carefully at any termination clauses. You want an ongoing assurance of service but you do not want to be locked in and you do not want to have to pay unfair or unreasonable penalties if you terminate.
  • Make sure that there are sensible clauses to handle disputation.
  • Make sure that your data always remains your property. Don’t allow the vendor to exercise any lien on your data in the future. Your data should always be your property and you should always have access to it no matter the circumstances.
  • Make sure that you clearly understand and agree with the billing algorithm; if it appears too complex then it is too complex. Please don’t give your accountant anything that will be a nightmare to reconcile every month. Don’t sign until you know exactly what your monthly subscription cost is going to be.

References

And finally, as always, ask for references. Other people have been down this road and it behoves you to learn from their experiences. Don’t just call them, go and visit them and spend time asking for their opinion. Use your 3 magic questions again.

1       “What did you do (moving to the Cloud) that you now think you should have done differently?”

2       “What did you do that you now think you shouldn’t have done?”

3       “What didn’t you do that you now know you should have done?”

Then it should just be a matter of selecting a vendor, agreeing a project plan and making it happen. If you have done your homework, it will be far easier than expected.

 Good luck.

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.

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.

 

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.

A lifetime of maintenance and support?

by Frank 31. March 2013 06:00

I run a software company manufacturing enterprise content management products that has been offering maintenance on its products for nearly 30 years and that has never failed to produce at least one major update per year during that time. We have also always offered multiple year options for our software maintenance. We call it the ASU, Automatic Software Upgrade. We currently offer 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 year terms; the longer the term, the lower the cost per year.

I got the idea for a new software maintenance offering from Garmin, the satellite navigation company. Essentially, I bought a Garmin because the manufacturer of a car I bought in 2008 stopped issuing updates to its integrated satellite navigation system and it is now pretty useless as it doesn’t know about all the new and changed road systems.

An attraction of the Garmin was that they offered a ‘lifetime’ supply of updated maps for a single fee that I could download up to four times a year. The end result is that my Garmin is always up to date with all new and changed roads and is one hundred-percent useful while the satellite navigation system in my car is now useless because it is so out of date.

As well as the advantage of always being up to date the Garmin deal was great because it was a single transaction; I don’t have to worry about renewing it every year and I don’t have to worry about future cost increases.

I thought why not offer a similar deal to RecFind 6 customers? They too have to keep up to date and they too don’t want to worry about having to budget and renew the ASU every year and future cost increases.

In our case we chose to re-name the five year ASU option to the ‘Lifetime’ option. If you choose the Lifetime option you automatically receive all updates for as long as you use RecFind 6 and you also receive free support via email and our web form for as long as you use RecFind 6.

The fee is one-time and the price is therefore fixed for life. You no longer have to worry about budgeting and contracting for renewals every year and your RecFind 6 software will continue to be relevant, fully supported and improved with new and enhanced functionality.

If at any time in the future a customer purchases new software from us or additional licences they can be added to its Lifetime ASU for a single one-time fee.

Frank’s perspective:

For the record, I buy a lot of software for our development team and none offer lifetime maintenance; all only offer annual maintenance and it is very expensive (up to 25% of the value of the software) and the price seems to go up every year. If I could convince my software vendors to offer a lifetime deal I would jump at the offer.”

Frank McKenna | Knowledgeone Corporation
CEO & Sales & Marketing Director
f.mckenna@knowledgeonecorp.com

Why aren’t more software vendors offering this same maintenance option?

Are you still losing information in your shared drives?

by Frank 18. November 2012 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RecCapture allows you to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could you manage all of your records with a mobile device?

by Frank 2. September 2012 06:00

I run a software company and I design and build an enterprise strength content management system called RecFind 6 which among other things, handles all the needs of physical records management.

This is fine if I have a big corporate or government customer because the cost is appropriate to the scale of the task at hand. However it isn’t fine when we receive lots of inquiries from much smaller organizations like small law forms that need a records management solution but only have a very small budget.

A very recent inquiry from a small but successful engineering company was also a problem because they didn’t have any IT infrastructure. They had no servers and used Google email. However, they still had a physical records management problem as well as an electronic document management problem but our solution was way outside of the ballpark.

Like any businessman I don’t like to see business walk away especially after we have spent valuable consultancy time helping the customer to understand the problem and define the need.

We have had a lot of similar inquiries lately and it has started me thinking about the need for a new type of product for small business, one that doesn’t require the overhead and expense of an enterprise-grade solution. It should also be one that doesn’t require in-house servers and a high overhead and maintenance cost.

Given our recent experience building a couple of iOS (for the iPhone and iPad) and Android (for any Android phone or tablet) apps I am of the opinion that any low cost but technically clever and easy-to-use solution should be based around a mobile device like a smart phone or tablet.

The lack of an in-house server wouldn’t be a problem because we would host the solution servers at a data centre in each country we operate in. Programming it wouldn’t be a problem because that is what we do and we already have a web services API as the foundation.

The only challenge I see is the need to get really creative about the functionality and the user interface. There is no way I can implement all the advanced functionality of the full RecFind 6 product on a mobile device and there is no way I can re-use the user interface from either the RecFind 6 smart-client or web-client. Even scaled down the user interface would be unsuitable for a mobile device; it needs a complete redesign. It isn’t just a matter of adapting to different form factors (screen sizes), it is about using the mobile device in the most appropriate way. It is about designing a product that leverages off the unique capabilities of a mobile device, not trying to force fit an application designed for Windows.

The good news is that there is some amazing technology now available for mobile devices that could easily be put to use for commercial business purposes even though a lot of it was designed for light weight applications and games. Three examples of very clever new software for mobile devices are Gimbal Context Aware, Titanium Mobile SDK and Vuforia Augmented Reality. But, these three development products are just the tip of the iceberg; there is literally a plethora of clever development tools and new products both in the market and coming to market in the near future.

As a developer, right now the Android platform looks to be my target. This is mainly because of the amount of software being developed for Android and because of the open nature of Android. It allows me to do far more than Apple allows me to do on its sandboxed iOS operating system.

Android also makes it far easier for me to distribute and support my solutions. I love iOS but Apple is just a little too anal and controlling to suit my needs. For example, I require free access to the file system and Apple doesn’t allow that. Nor does it give me the freedom I need to be able to attach devices my customers will need; no standard USB port is a huge pain for application developers.

I am sorry that I don’t have a solution for my smaller customers yet but I have made the decision to do the research and build some prototypes. RecFind 6 will be the back-end residing on a hosted server (in the ‘Cloud’) because it has a superset of the functionality required for my new mobile app. It is also the perfect development environment because the RecFind 6 Web Services SDK makes it easy for me to build apps for any mobile operating system.

So, I already have the backend functionality, the industrial-strength and scalable relational database and the Web Services API plus expertise in Android development using Eclipse and Java. Now all I have to do to produce my innovative new mobile app is find the most appropriate software and development platforms and then get creative.

It is the getting creative bit that is the real challenge. Wish me luck and watch this space.

 

Have we really thought about disaster recovery?

by Frank 29. July 2012 06:00

The greatest knowledge-loss disaster I can think of was the destruction of the great library of Alexandria by fire around 642 AD. This was the world’s largest and most complete store of knowledge at the time and it was almost totally destroyed. It would take over a thousand years for mankind to rediscover and regain the knowledge that went up in smoke and to this day we still don’t think we have recovered or re-discovered a lot of what was lost. It was an unmitigated disaster for mankind because nearly all of Alexandria’s records were flammable and most were irreplaceable.

By contrast, we still have far older records from ancient peoples like the Egyptians of five-thousand years ago because they carved their records in stone, a far more durable material.

How durable and protected are your vital records?

I mentioned vital records because disaster recovery is really all about protecting your vital records.  If you are a business a vital record is any record without which your business could not run. For the rest of us a vital record is irreplaceable knowledge or memories. I bet the first thing you grab when fire or flood threatens your home is the family photo album or, in this day and age, the home computer or iPad or backup drive.

In 1996 I presented a paper to the records management society titled “Using technology as a surrogate for managing and capturing vital paper based records.” The technology references are now both quaint and out-of-date but the message is still valid. You need to use the most appropriate technology and processes to protect your vital records.

Interestingly, the challenges today are far greater than they were in 1996 because of the ubiquitous ‘Cloud’.  If you are using Google Docs or Office 365 or even Apple iCloud who do you think is protecting your vital records? Have you heard the term ‘outage’? Would you leave your children with a stranger, especially a stranger who doesn’t even tell you the physical location of your children? A stranger who is liable to say, “Sorry, it appears that your children are missing but under our agreement I accept no liability.” Have you ever read the standard terms and conditions of your Cloud provider? What are your rights if your vital records just disappear? Where are your children right now?

Some challenges are surprisingly no different because we are still producing a large proportion of our vital records in paper. Apart from its major flaws of being highly flammable and subject to water damage paper is in fact an excellent medium for the long term preservation of vital records because we don’t need technology to read it; we may say paper is technology agnostic.

By contrast, all forms of electronic or optical storage are strictly technology dependent. What good is that ten year old DAT tape if you no longer have the Pentium compute, SCSI card, cable and Windows 95 drivers to read it? Have you moved your vital records to new technology lately?

And now to the old bugbear (a persistent problem or source of annoyance), a backup is not disaster recovery. If your IT manager tells you that you are OK because he takes backups you should smack him with your heaviest notebook, (not the iPad, the iPad is too light and definitely not with the Samsung tablet, it is too fragile).

I have written about what disaster recovery really involves and described our disaster recovery services so I won’t repeat it here, I have just provided the link so you can read at your leisure.

Suffice to say, the objective of any disaster recovery process is to ensure that you can keep running your business or life with only a minimal disruption regardless of the type or scale of the disaster.

I am willing to bet that ninety-percent of homes and businesses are unprepared and cannot in any way guarantee that they could continue to run their business or home after a major disaster.

We don’t need to look as far back as 642 AD and the Alexandria Library fire for pertinent examples. How about the tsunami in Japan in 2011? Over 200,000 homes totally destroyed and countless business premises wiped from the face of the earth. Tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, fire and wars are all very real dangers no matter where you live.

However, it isn’t just natural disasters you need to be wary of. A recent study published by EMC Corporation offers a look at how companies in Japan and Asia Pacific deal with disaster recovery. According to the study, the top three causes of data loss and downtime are hardware failure (60%), data corruption (47%), and loss of power (44%).

The study also goes on to analyse how companies are managing backups and concludes, “For all the differences inherent to how countries in the Asia Pacific region deal with their data, there is at least one similarity with the rest of the world: Companies are faced with an increasing amount of data to move within the same backup windows. Many businesses in the region, though, still rely on tape backup systems (38%) or CD-ROMs (38%). On this front, the study found that many businesses (53%) have plans to migrate from tape to a faster medium in order to improve the efficiencies of their data backup and recovery.”

It concludes by estimating where backups are actually stored, “The predominant response is to store offsite data at another company-owned location within the same country (58%), which is followed by at a “third-party site” within the same country.”

I certainly wouldn’t be relying on tape as my only recovery medium and neither would I be relying on data and systems stored at the same site or at an employee’s house. Duplication and separation are the two key principles together with proven and regularly tested processes.

I recently spoke to an IT manager who wasn’t sure what his backup (we didn’t get to disaster recovery) processes were. That was bad enough but when he found out it seemed that they took a full backup once a month and then incremental backups every day and he had not tested the recovery process in years. I sincerely hope that he has somewhere to run and hide when and if his company ever suffers a disaster.

In a nutshell, disaster recovery is all about being able to get up and running again in as short a time as possible even if your building burns to the ground. That in fact is the acid test of any disaster recovery plan. That is, ask your IT manager, “If this building burns down Thursday explain to me how we will be up and operating again on Friday morning.”

If his answer doesn’t fill you with confidence then you do not have a disaster recovery plan.

 

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