What does it take to digitize your records?

by Frank 21. February 2018 06:00

A customer, with a very large physical records database, recently asked us for references for other sites that had digitized their records so he could copy what they did.

We explained that unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work because:

1.      The other customers aren’t interested in a long term ‘free’ consultancy exercise helping him to determine his requirements; and

2.      In our experience (over 34 years) every customer’s requirements and culture are different and each customer requires a unique and personalized solution.

Its back to that time-honoured common-sense approach that says,

“You can’t solve the problem until you first know what the problem is.”

There is no shortcut to doing the job properly, professionally and appropriately (to match the culture of the organization).

Our Approach          

First, we begin with a face to face meeting where our experienced consultant asks a lot of questions about the organization, its structure, its data, its objectives and its timeframes. Then our consultant comes back to our office and engages in a second discussion with our expert team, reviewing our findings and coming to a considered consensus about the best way forward. This is followed by a short report to the customer summarizing our findings, conclusions and recommendations. This is the initial working document that the customer can then review and discuss internally with all stakeholders.

So far, all this is at our cost and comes under the heading of pre-sales.

The customer then usually says something like, “We have discussed your report and are in agreement about the best way forward with a few changes. What is the next step?” We respond by proposing a more formal onsite consultancy, at the customer’s cost, where our consultant interviews the key stakeholders and gathers all the information available about the customer’s records, standards and business processes. Out of this exercise we are able to produce a detailed report and project plan for review by the key stakeholders.

It may take several iterations of review and edit before all parties are satisfied that the detailed plan is appropriate, cost effective and doable. We then produce a formal proposal that includes everything agreed and await the customer’s approval and go ahead.

What does the proposal include?

·        Ordering of any hardware required

·        Installation of any software required

·        Administrator training of key operational staff

·        Pre-implementation consultancy, finalizing how we handle all data and work processes

·        Capture and conversion of existing records from multiple sources, ‘mapping’ the data to our products

·        Implementation consultancy, making all the changes required to the data model and business processes in our products

·        Report production, modifying standard reports and creating new reports

·        Trial run of any conversions and data uploads

·        Review of configured products, data model, business processes, reports, converted data, etc.

·        Approval

·        Final configuration changes

·        End-user training

·        Live conversion and data uploads

·        Go-live

·        Post-implementation consultancy (usually 3 to 6 months later). Did we achieve our objectives?

How long does it take?

In our experience, from start to finish can take from 3 months to 24 months. The main cause of a longer time-frame is how long it takes the customer to make a decision on our proposal. Another lengthening factor can be any complicated integrations that need to be designed and tested.

The actual implementation usually takes from 2 weeks (a very small site) to 3 months (a very large site).

Is every customer implementation really that different?

In 34 years we have never seen two identical implementations. Every implementation has something unique and each implementation uses a different mix of software, tools, training and consultancy to meet its objectives.

There is no substitute for determining your unique requirements in detail and there is no other way to do this other than by speaking to all stakeholders and by involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process. As my ex-partner used to say, “it is just work!”

References:

Sample Project Plan

EDRMS options with RecFind 6

Rolling out a pain free, low cost records and document management solution

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

 

 

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.

Why the multiple ECM Repository/Silo model is not a good idea

by Frank 15. November 2016 06:00

“43 Reasons why Managing Records in-Place may not be good enough”

Enterprise Content Management is a moving target, constantly evolving with new challenges and new paradigms. For example, how do we filter out only relevant information from social media? How do we avoid capturing personal data and being culpable under privacy laws? How do we capture all emails containing sexism, racism and bullying without being guilty of an invasion of privacy of the individual? How do we meet all of our compliance obligations when our staff are spread across multiple states/counties/provinces and multiple countries with different legislation and compliance requirements? All weighty challenges for the modern Knowledge Manager or CIO.

Another interesting challenge for Knowledge Managers and CIOs is the newer document management paradigm of being asked to manage all content without a single central repository. That is, to be responsible for all content across a myriad of locations controlled by a myriad of applications and a myriad of departments/organizations and people. Back when I was an employee and not an employer, my tough (ex-military) manager in Blue Bell, PA would just bang his fist on his desk and say, “Goddam Frank, just do it!” That was always a signal for me to get creative.

However, try as I may, I am finding it nigh on impossible to get creative enough to work out how I could effectively and reliably manage all content across an enterprise without a single central repository.

In multiple-repository systems we find multiple document stores; local files, network file shares, local data bases, multiple file servers, multiple copies of SharePoint and multiple Cloud repositories like Dropbox, Box, iCloud, Google Cloud Storage and other hosted document storage. The CIO may proudly claim to manage multiple information silos but what he or she really has is a laissez faire document management ecosystem that may well be centrally monitored (hopefully) but is most certainly not centrally managed.

In the multiple silo model the documents in our multiple locations are ‘managed’ by multiple people and multiple applications (e.g., SharePoint, Google Docs, etc.). We may have implemented another layer of software above all these diverse applications trying to keep up with what is happening but If I am just ‘watching’ then I don’t have an inviolate copy and I don’t have any control over what happens to the document. I am unable to enforce any standards. There is no ‘standard’ central control over versioning or retention and no control over the document life cycle or chain of evidence.

For example, you wouldn’t know if the document had since been moved to a different location that you are not monitoring. You wouldn’t know if it had been deleted. You wouldn’t know its relationship to other documents and processes in other silos. You wouldn’t know its context in your enterprise and therefore you wouldn’t know how relevant this document was. The important distinction is that under the multiple silo model you are ‘watching’ not managing; other software is managing the life-cycle and disposition of the document.

All you really know is that at a certain point in time a document existed and what its properties were at that time (e.g., historical ‘natural’ Metadata such as original filename, author, date created, etc.). However, you have no contextual Metadata, no transactional Metadata, no common indexing and no common Business Classification System. In this case, you don’t have a document management system, you have a laissez faire document management ecosystem, an assortment of independently ‘managed’ information silos. Most importantly, you are not able to link documents to business processes that transcend organizational structures and silos.

Sure, SharePoint and Cloud silos make collaboration easier but at what cost? What can’t we do with this multi-silo ecosystem? Why doesn’t this solution meet the best-practice objectives of a document management system? What are the major areas where it falls short? How does the proliferation of multiple silos and content repositories affect us? What are our risks? Here is my assessment of the major shortfalls of this paradigm.

 We are unable to:

1.    extract the critical insights that enterprise information should provide

2.    define all the relationships that link documents to enterprise business processes

3.    find the right information at the right time

4.    provide a single access point for all content

5.    Implement an effective, consistent enterprise-wide document security system

6.    effectively protect against natural or man-made disasters

7.    produce evidence-standard documents

8.    minimize document handling costs

9.    guarantee the integrity of a document

10.guarantee that a document is in fact the most recent version

11.guarantee that a document is not an older copy

12.minimize duplicate and redundant information

13.meet critical compliance targets like Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the HIPAA

14.create secure, searchable archives for digital content

15.effectively secure all documents against loss

16.implement common enterprise version control

17.facilitate enterprise collaboration

18.Improve timeliness

19.manage enterprise document security and control

20.manage smaller and more reliable backups

21.achieve the lowest possible document management and archiving costs

22.deliver the best possible knowledge management access and search

23.guarantee consistent content

24.optimize management and executive time

25.standardize the types of documents and other content can be created within an organization.

26.define common use template to use for each type of document.

27.standardize the Metadata required for each type of document.

28.standardize where to store a document at each stage of its life cycle.

29.control access to a document at each stage of its life cycle.

30.move documents within the organization as team members contribute to the documents' creation, review, approval, publication, and disposition.

31.implement a common set of policies that apply to documents so that document-related actions are audited, documents are retained or disposed of properly, and content that is important to the organization is protected.

32.manage when and if a document has to be converted from one format to another as it moves through the stages of its life cycle.

33.guarantee that all documents are treated as corporate records, that common retention policies are applied determining which documents must be retained according to legal requirements and corporate guidelines.

34.guarantee enterprise-wide Regulatory compliance

35.produce an enterprise-wide audit trail

36.share information across departmental and/or silo boundaries

37.centrally manage the security access to documents/information across different areas of the organization.

38.consistently classify documents as each repository may be used by a different department and be classified differently.  

39.identify duplicates based on document name.

40.easily find things based on metadata, as it wouldn’t be common across repositories.

41.control access via AD single sign on

42.access all enterprise documents using a single license.

          43.centrally audit access and changes to metadata.

What are your risks?  Your risks are huge!

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

Using barcodes to raise productivity and lower costs in Records Management processes

by Frank 6. August 2014 06:00

Did you know that in the spring of 1969 the first true bar code systems were installed? One went into a General Motors plant in Pontiac, Michigan, where it was used to monitor the production and distribution of automobile axle units. The other went into a distribution facility run by General Trading Company in Carlsbad, New Jersey, to help direct shipments to the proper loading-bay doors.

Did you also know that the very first product to be sold with a barcode and scanner was a single packet of chewing gum at a Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio on June 26, 1974?

Both these interesting facts came from an excellent article on the history of barcodes by Tony Seideman. Please see this link.

The overall advantages and benefits of barcodes are well known; speed, accuracy, ease of implementation and cost-effectiveness.

In a nutshell, barcodes are cheap to produce, easy to implement and easy to read. They are infinitely better than a human keying in information. Barcodes are reliable and they just work.

Modern supermarkets simply couldn’t function without barcodes on products and barcode readers at checkouts.

Most well-run records management facilities also use barcodes to great advantage to track file-folders and boxes, run audits and speed up the entering of information. Most offsite records storage facilities use barcodes to track boxes on shelves. It is what we call a “no brainer.”

However, despite the obvious benefits, especially the cost benefits, many organizations today still manage physical assets bereft of barcodes. You may well ask “why?” and so do I. Given the low cost of both barcodes and barcode readers and the well-proven technology, I honestly can’t think of any reason for not using barcoding technology to manage physical assets like file-folders and archive boxes. It just doesn’t make any sense whatever to me. It is analogous to running ten miles to deliver a message rather than just phoning or texting. How many messages a day can you deliver by running and how many can you deliver a day by phoning or texting?

Why ask staff to write down file-folder numbers or enter them on a keyboard when you can ‘wand’ or 'scan' them much more accurately and infinitely faster using a barcode reader? Why put up with processing 20 file movements a day by hand when you can easily process 200 a day using a barcode reader?

If you have 30 file-folders on your desk that you have to process why would you do it manually by keying in each file number (and making mistakes) over 30 minutes when you could process the same number of file-folders in 30 seconds using a fixed barcode reader (and not making any keying mistakes)?

When you have 500 file-folders to add to archive boxes provided by your offsite storage provider why would you take hours to do it laboriously with lists and the keyboard when you could do it in minutes using a barcode reader? Simply use your portable barcode reader to read the box barcode then read each file-folder barcode number as you add it to the box and then read the box number again when finished to complete the transaction. What could be faster or simpler?

So, what do you need to convert your slow and error-prone manual-entry records management processes to fast and accurate barcode-enabled processes?

1.       A records management software package that supports barcodes (I don’t know of any modern RM system that doesn’t)

2.       *A supply of pre-printed barcodes (or you can print them out of your records management software package)

3.       Some fixed or wedge barcode readers (expect to pay $150 to $250 each)

4.       One or more portable barcode readers (expect to pay $1,000 to $2,000 including cables, battery chargers, etc.)

*A word on barcode labels. It pays to make them as durable as possible. This usually means laminating them as un-laminated barcodes produced on a laser printer tend to have a short life expectancy. The easiest way to obtain high quality, laminated barcode labels is to order them from a specialist print house. This way you can specify exactly what you need in terms of format and size and be assured of a long life and reliability. Nothing frustrates more than a worn barcode that doesn’t read properly.

Of course someone has to stick the barcode label on the file-folders and then tell the computer system (i.e., file-folder number AB/2003/00067 is now barcode number 1000049). You have a choice of how to do this. If you don’t have too many file-folders you can bite the bullet and add them all as a special project. Or, you can decide just to add them to every new file-folder created and to add barcodes to existing file-folders when they cross your desk. It is your decision based on volume and resources. However, you need to invest the effort to reap the benefits.

Then if you really want to benefit you will assign a different class of barcode to ‘locations’. That is, offices, shelves, rooms, etc., and even people. This is so you can do an audit on a regular basis using your portable barcode reader. Wouldn’t it be nice to know where everything is and even, where some things aren’t?

Finally, assign yet another set of barcodes to your archive boxes so it is as easy and as fast as possible to move file-folders into and out of archive boxes.

The above describes just the simplest application of barcodes but even so, the benefits and cost savings are significant. The more creative of you will comes up with many more ways to make barcodes pay big dividends. We have one customer for example, that automatically allocates barcodes to emails in Outlook to make them easier to monitor and track both electronically and physically. See this link:

Barcodes are simple to use, low cost and well-proven, ‘risk-free’ technology. The effective use of barcodes and barcode readers can remove drudgery, lower costs and massively improve productivity.

If you aren’t using barcodes your boss should be asking you “why not?”

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.

 

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