Do you have a Heavy-Duty, Complex, Special or Unusual Records, Document or Information Management requirement?

by Frank 13. December 2019 10:10


Is your Heavy-Duty Records, Document or Information Management requirement out-of-the-ordinary and does it have special or unusual requirements for business process management, integrations with legacy systems or unusually high users counts or unusually large database sizes that ‘standard’ EDRM or ECM systems aren’t equipped to handle?

If so, we have the answer with the RecFind 6 Product Suite; the big brother to RF6Cloud (RF6-RM and RF6-EDRMS).

Whereas RF6-RM and RF6-EDRMS are based on RecFind 6 they have been designed for small to medium enterprises to make it as easy and as low cost as possible to roll out and manage a records and document management solution in the Cloud. As such they suit most ‘standard’ requirements.

The RecFind 6 Product Suite, by comparison, was designed to handle any RM or EDRMS or Information Management requirement regardless of the ‘difficulties’ entailed.

  1. RecFind 6 has no limit on the size of the database other than the maximum size of SQL Server, 524 Petabytes.
  2. RecFind 6 has no limit on the number of users.
  3. RecFind 6 has been optimized for the rapid upload and download of large electronic documents.
  4. RecFind 6 comes with a standard set of integration tools that makes it as easy as possible to import data from any data source and to integrate to any other system including legacy systems, even mainframe systems.
  5. RecFind 6 is ultimately configurable to the client’s exact requirements including the data model, Metadata and any business process.
  6. The RecFind 6 relational database is designed and optimised for flat search times and can capture, index and manage data of any type including any kind of digital asset.
  7. RecFind 6 comes with an optional standard SharePoint integration module.
  8. RecFind 6 comes with an optional API/SDK.
  9. RecFind 6 comes with an optional eDocArchiving module that makes it as easy as possible to move non-current electronic documents to second level storage but still have access to them from the standard client.
  10. RecFind 6 comes with an optional High-Speed Document Scanning module that automates the digitisation of paper for organizations with large amounts of paper documents to capture.
  11. RecFind 6 comes with optional fully automated electronic document and email management tools that totally automate the analysis, capture, indexing and classification processes.

In short, RecFind 6 is the perfect and complete solution for any large scale, complex records, document or information management requirement. It can be configured to your exact requirements and it can handle any task, no matter how complex.

We have existing customers that successfully utilize the RecFind 6 Product Suite to manage a range of ‘difficult’ and ‘unusual’ applications such as:

  • Mortgage Application processing in a large bank
  • Securities and Vault management in a large bank
  • Contract and Intellectual Property management in a large media organization
  • A Vaccination Register for a state health department
  • The capture, conversion and integration of a large number of disparate (e.g., Access, Excel) databases located in multiple states and countries to provide a single, secure and standardised point of reference system

If you would like us to analyse your ECM requirement and prepare a report, with no obligation, please complete our online Needs Analysis Survey or if you requirement is outside of the ECM sphere please contact us direct and explain what it is you need to be accomplished.

We look forward to being of service.

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.


Can you save money with document imaging?

by Frank 4. November 2012 06:00

I run a software company called Knowledgeone Corporation that produces an enterprise content management solution called RecFind 6 that includes extensive document imaging capabilities. We have thousands of customers around the world and as far as I can see most use RecFind 6 for document imaging of one kind or another.

This certainly wasn’t the case twenty years ago when document imaging tools were difficult to use and were expensive stand-alone ‘specialised’ products. Today however, almost every document management or records management product includes document imaging capabilities as a normal part of the expected functionality. That is, document imaging has gone from being an expensive specialised product to just a commodity, an expected feature in almost any information management product.

This means most customers have a readily available, easy-to-use and cost-effective document imaging tool at their fingertips. That being the case there should be no excuse for not utilizing it to save both time and money. However, I guarantee that I could visit any of my customers and quickly find unrealised opportunities for them to increase productivity and save money by using the document imaging capabilities of my product RecFind 6. They don’t even have to spend any money with me because the document imaging functions of RecFind 6 are integrated as ‘standard’ functionality and there is no additional charge for using them.

So, why aren’t my customers and every other vendor’s customers making best use of the document imaging capabilities of their already purchased software?

In my experience there are many reasons but the main ones are:

Lack of knowledge

To the uninitiated document imaging may look simple but there is far more to it than first appears and unless your staff have hands-on experience there is unlikely to be an ‘expert’ in your organization. For this reason I wrote a couple of Blogs earlier this year for the benefit of my customers; Estimating the cost of your next imaging job and The importance of document imaging. This was my attempt to add to the knowledge base about document imaging.

Lack of ownership

The need for document imaging transects the whole enterprise but there is rarely any one person or department charged with ‘owning’ this need and with applying best-practice document imaging policies and procedures to ensure that the organization obtains maximum benefits across all departments and divisions. It tends to be left to the odd innovative employee to come up with solutions just for his or her area.

Lack of consultancy skills

We often say that before we can propose a solution we need to know what the problem is. The way to discover the true nature of a problem is to deploy an experienced consultant to review and analyse the supposed problem and then present an analysis, conclusions and recommendations that should always include a cost-benefit analysis. In our experience very few organizations have staff with this kind of expertise.

Negative impact of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2008

All over the world since 2008 our customers have been cutting staff and cutting costs and eliminating or postponing non-critical projects. Some of this cost cutting has been self-defeating and has produced negative results and reduced productivity. One common example is the cancelling or postponing of document imaging projects that could have significantly improved efficiency, productivity and competitiveness as well as reducing processing costs.  This is especially true if document imaging is combined with workflow to better automate business processes.  I also wrote a Blog back in July 2012 for the benefit our customers to better explain just what business process management is all about called Business Process Management, just what does it entail?

In answer to the original question I posed, yes you can save money utilizing simple document imaging functionality especially if you combine the results with new workflow processes to do things faster, more accurately and smarter. It is really a no-brainer and it should be the easiest cost justification you have ever written.

We have already seen how most information management solutions like RecFind 6 have embedded document imaging capabilities so most of you should have existing and paid-for document imaging functionality you can leverage off.

All you really need to do to save your organization money and improve your work processes is look for and then analyse any one of many document imaging opportunities within your organization.

A clue, wherever there is paper there is a document imaging opportunity.

Are you also confused by the term Enterprise Content Management?

by Frank 16. September 2012 06:00

I may be wrong but I think it was AIIM that first coined the phrase Enterprise Content Management to describe both our industry and our application solutions.

Whereas the term isn’t as nebulous as Knowledge Management it is nevertheless about as useful when trying to understand what organizations in this space actually do. At its simplest level it is a collective term for a number of related business applications like records management, document management, imaging, workflow, business process management, email management and archiving, digital asset management, web site content management, etc.

To simple people like me the more appropriate term or label would be Information Management but as I have already covered this in a previous Blog I won’t beleaguer the point in this one.

When trying to define what enterprise content management actually means or stands for we can discard the words ‘enterprise’ and ‘management’ as superfluous to our needs and just concentrate on the key word ‘content’. That is, we are talking about systems that in some way create and manage content.

So, what exactly is meant by the term ‘content’?

In the early days of content management discussions we classified content into two broad categories, structured and unstructured. Basically, structured content had named sections or labels and unstructured content did not. Generalising even further we can say that an email is an example of structured content because it has commonly named, standardised and accessible sections or labels like ‘Sender’, ‘Recipient’, ‘Subject’ etc., that we can interrogate and rely on to carry a particular class or type of information. The same general approach would regard a Word document as unstructured because the content of a Word document does not have commonly named and standardised sections or labels. Basically a Word document is an irregular collection of characters that you have to parse and examine to determine content.

Like Newtonian physics, the above generalisations do not apply to everything and can be argued until the cows come home. In truth, every document has an accessible structure of some kind. For example, a Word document has an author, a size, a date written, etc. It is just that it is far easier to find out who the recipient of an email was than the recipient of a Word document. This is because there is a common and standard ‘Tag’ that tells us who the recipient is of an email and there is no such common and standard tag for a Word document.

In our business we call ‘information about information’ (e.g., the recipient and date fields on an email) Metadata. If an object has recognizable Metadata then it is far easier to process than an object without recognizable Metadata. We may then say that adding Metadata to an object is the same as adding structure.

Adding structure is what we do when we create a Word document using a template or when we add tags to a Word document. We are normalizing the standard information we require in our business processes so the objects we deal with have the structure we require to easily and accurately identify and process them.

This is of course one of the long-standing problems in our industry, we spend far too much time and money trying to parse and interpret unstructured objects when we should be going back to the coal face and adding structure when the object is first created. This is of course relatively easy to do if we are creating the objects (e.g., a Word document) but not easy to achieve if we are receiving documents from foreign sources like our customers, our suppliers or the government. Unless you are the eight-hundred pound gorilla (like Walmart) it is very difficult to force your partners to add the structure you require to make processing as fast and as easy and as accurate as possible.

There have been attempts in the past to come up with common ‘standards’ that would have regulated document structure but none have been successful. The last one was when XML was the bright new kid on the block and the XML industry rushed headlong into defining XML standards for every conceivable industry to facilitate common structures and to make data transfer between different organizations as easy and as standard as possible. The various XML standardisation projects sucked up millions or even billions of dollars but did not produce the desired results; we are still spending billions of dollars each year parsing unstructured documents trying to determine content.

So, back to the original question, what exactly is Enterprise Content Management? The simple answer is that it is the business or process of extracting useful information from objects such as emails and PDFs and Word documents and then using that information in a business process. It is all about the process of capturing Metadata and content in the most accurate and expeditious manner possible so we can automate business processes as much as possible.

If done properly, it makes your job more pleasant and saves your organization money and it makes your customers and suppliers happier. As such it sounds a lot like motherhood (who is going to argue against it?) but it certainly isn’t like manna from heaven. There is always a cost and it is usually significant. As always, you reap what you sow and effort and cost produces rewards.

Is content management something you should consider? The answer is definitely yes with one proviso; please make sure that the benefits are greater than the cost.


Business Processes Management, BPM, BPO; just what does it entail?

by Frank 15. July 2012 06:00

Like me I am sure that you have been inundated with ads, articles, white papers and proposals for something called BPM or BPO, Business Process Management, Business Process Outsourcing and Business Process Optimisation.

Do you really understand what it all means?

BPM and BPO certainly aren’t new, there have been many companies offering innovative and often cutting-edge technology solutions for many years. The pioneering days were probably the early 1980’s. One early innovator I can recall (and admired) was Tower Technology because their office was just across from our old offices in Lane Cove.

In the early days BPM was all about imaging and workflow and forms. Vendors like Tower Technology used early version of workflow products like Staffware and a whole assortment of different imaging and forms products to solve customer processing problems. It involved a lot of inventing and a lot of creative genius to make all those disparate products work and actually do what the sales person promised. More often than not the final solution didn’t quite work as promised and it always seemed to cost a lot more than quoted.

Like all new technologies everyone had to go through a learning process and like most new technologies, for many years the promises were far ahead of what was actually delivered.

So, is it any different today? Is BPM a proven, reliable and feature-rich and mature technology?

The answer dear friends is yes and no; just as it was twenty-five or more years ago.

There is a wonderful Latin phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’ which means “Let the buyer beware”. Caveat Emptor applies just as much today as it did in the early days because despite the enormous technological progress we have all witnessed and experienced we are still pushing the envelope. We are still being asked to do things the current software and hardware can’t quite yet handle. The behind the scenes technicians are still trying to make the product do what the sales person promised in good faith (we hope) because he didn’t really understand his product set.

Caveat Emptor means it is up to the buyer to evaluate the offering and decide if it can do the job. Of course, if the vendor lies or makes blatant false claims then Caveat Emptor no longer applies and you can hit them with a lawsuit.  However, in reality it is rarely as black and white as that. The technology is complex and the proposals and explanations are full of proprietary terminology, ambiguities, acronyms and weaselly words.

Like most agreements in life you shouldn’t enter into a BPM contract unless you know exactly what you are getting into. This is especially true with BPM or BPO because you are talking about handing over part of your core business processes to someone else to ‘improve’. If you don’t understand what is being proposed then please hire someone who does; I guarantee it will be worth the investment. This is especially true if you are outsourcing customer or supplier facing processes like accounts payable and accounts receivable. Better to spend a little more up front than suffer cost overruns, failed processes and an inbox full of complaints.

My advice is to always begin with some form of a consultancy to ‘examine’ your processes and produce a report containing conclusions and recommendations. The vendor may (should) offer this as part of its sales process and it may be free or it may be chargeable.  Personally, I believe in the old adage that you get what you pay for so I would prefer to pay to have a qualified and experienced professional consultant do the study. The advantage of paying for the study is that you then ‘own’ the report and can then legally provide it to other vendors to obtain competitive quotes.

You should also have a pretty good idea of what the current processing is costing you in both direct and indirect costs (e.g., lost sales, dissatisfied customers, unhappy staff, etc.) before beginning the evaluation exercise. Otherwise, how are you going to be able to judge the added value of the vendor’s proposal?

In my experience the most common set of processes to be ‘outsourced’ are those to do with accounts payable processing. This is the automation of all processes beginning with your purchase order (and its line items), the delivery docket (proof of receipt), invoices (and line items) and statements. The automation should reconcile invoices to delivery dockets and purchase orders and should throw up any discrepancies such as items invoiced but not delivered, variations in price, etc. Vendors will usually propose what is commonly called an automatic matching engine; the software that reads all the documents and does its best to make sure you only pay for delivered goods that are exactly as ordered.

If the vendor’s proposal is to be attractive it must replace your manual processing with an automated model that is faster and more accurate. Ideally, it would also be more cost-effective but even if it is more costly than your manual direct cost estimate it should still solve most of your indirect cost problems like unhappy suppliers and late payment fees.

In essence, there is nothing magical about BPM and BPO; it is all about replacing inefficient manual processes with much more efficient automated ones using clever computer software. The magic, if that is the word to use, is about getting it right. You need to know what the current manual processing is costing you. You need to be absolutely sure that you fully understand the vendor’s proposal and you need to build in metrics so you can accurately evaluate the finished product and clearly determine if it is meeting its stated objectives.

Please don’t enter into negotiations thinking that if it doesn’t work you can just blame the vendor. That would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. Remember Caveat Emptor; success or failure really depends upon how well you do your job as the customer.

Project Management – just what does it entail?

by Frank 15. April 2012 06:00

In a previous career with mainframes I spent eight years as a large scale project manager and then a further two years as the international operations manager managing a number of project managers at troubled projects around the world. Those ten years taught me a great deal about what it takes to be a successful project manager and conversely, why some project managers fail.

Notice that I said why some project managers fail, not why some projects fail. It is cause and effect; projects only fail when the project manager fails to do the job required. This particular concept separates good project managers from bad project managers. Good project managers take full responsibility for the success or failure of their projects, bad project managers don’t.

Good project managers are ‘glass-half-full’ people, bad project managers are ‘glass-half-empty’ people. Good project managers are leaders, bad project managers are victims.

So the first piece of advice is to choose your project manager carefully. You want a strong willed, bright and energetic doer, not a facilitator or politician. You want a strong leader, not a careful and political follower; you want Jesus, not the disciples.

The next piece of advice is that you should set quantitative criteria for project success. No ambiguity or motherhood or weaselly words, as the Dragnet cop used to say, “Just the facts Mam.” In my day it was easy, we had to install the new hardware and software, convert from the old system, design and program the new applications and then take the whole system through a 30 day acceptance test with 99% uptime. There was always a contract and the conditions of acceptance were always clearly laid out and assiduously referred to by the customer. We knew what we had to achieve and there was no ambiguity.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with a lot of projects is that the conditions for acceptance and success are not clearly articulated or documented. But, a good project manager will always make sure that the scope and objectives and expected outcomes are clearly defined regardless before accepting the challenge. The bad project manager on the other hand is always happy that there isn’t a clear definition of success because the bad project manager wants to make judging his or her performance as difficult as possible.

I once fired a project manager who told me in three meetings in a row that he had not completed the requested project plan because the project was too complex. Obviously the more complex the project the more its needs a comprehensive project plan otherwise it will be impossible to manage. My failed project manager didn’t want to document the project plan because he didn’t want deadlines and he didn’t want to be judged on how well he was meeting deadlines.

It sounds like an over-simplification but if you want a successful project then choose a successful project manager, one who accepts full responsibility for all outcomes and one who is committed to success.

As part of the interview process, ask them what their philosophy of responsibility is. As an example, here is one I always used.

“Everything that happens is due to me because everything that happens is either due to something I did or something I didn’t do.”

I have never found a good project manager who had a problem with this credo. Bad project managers on the other hand, see it as anathema to their survival strategies. Good project managers accept full responsibility for success or failure, bad project managers do not.

Good project managers also don’t spend all day in an office playing with Excel and Microsoft Project. Nor do they spend all day in meetings or on conference calls. Good project managers integrate themselves into the very bowels of the project and ‘walk-and-talk’ on a daily basis.

Walk and talk refers to the practice of meeting with real workers at all levels of the project, especially end users. Good project managers make the time to talk to end users every day and because of this they know more about what is happening than any senior manager. They are ‘in-touch’ with the project and are constantly aware of changes, problems and successes. Good project managers who practice the walk and talk technique are never surprised in project or management meetings because they always know more than anyone else at the meeting and they always have the very latest information. This is probably why they are such good project managers. If you aren’t prepared to invest at least one hour of your time every day walking and talking to real users then you shouldn’t be a project manager.

Good project managers also always know how to select and manage their team. Because they are natural leaders, management is a natural and comfortable process for them. There is never any doubt in a good project manager’s team about who the leader is and who will make the final decisions and then take responsibility for them. There is no disseminated responsibility. The opposite is always true in a bad project manager’s team with disseminated responsibility and no clear record of who made what decision.

The calibre of the bad project manager’s team is always significantly lower than that of the good project manager’s team. This is because mediocre people always hire mediocre people and a bad project manager is afraid of strong capable staff because he or she finds them threatening. A good project manager on the other hands loves working with strong capable people and revels in the ongoing challenge of managing them. A good project manager is never threatened by strong capable staff, au contraire; he seeks them out because they make it easier for him (or her) to be successful.

There is no magical formula that will ensure a successful project, completed on time and on budget and with all contracted deliverables accepted and signed off. It also doesn’t matter what project management tool you use as long as you do use a project management tool. I don’t particularly like the latest version of Microsoft Project (and that is an understatement) but if required I could use it to manage any project no matter how big and how complex. It isn’t the tool; it is the person that counts.

This is simple advice like my favourite about how to do well on the stock market, “buy low and sell high.” If you want a successful project, always start with a successful project manager. He or she will take care of everything else.

Workflow – What does it really entail?

by Frank 8. April 2012 06:00

Workflow has been defined as “the glue that binds business processes together.” Depending upon your background and experience that particular definition may or may not be as clear as mud. Despite having been a key factor in business application processing for a very long time workflow is still very poorly understood by many in business and is more often than not too narrowly defined.

For example, you do not need to pay big bucks for a heavy-duty workflow package and all the services associated with it to implement workflow in your organization. Workflow is really about automating some business process using whatever tool is appropriate. You can automate a business process with Word or Excel or Outlook for that matter and the most common starting point is to first capture a paper document as a digital document using simple tools like a document scanner. You don’t even need a computer (apart from the human brain, the world’s best computer) to implement workflow.

Designing and implementing workflow is more about the thought processes, about evaluating what you are doing and why you are doing it and then trying to figure out a better and more efficient way to do it. It is about documenting and analysing a current business process and then redesigning it to make it more appropriate and more efficient. It is by making it more efficient that you make productivity gains; ideally, you end up doing more with less and adding more value.

You shouldn’t undertake any investigation of new workflows without first having defined objectives and metrics. You should also always begin with some basic questions of your staff or end-users:

  1. What are you doing now that you think could be done better?
  2. What aren’t you doing now that you think you should be doing?
  3. What are you doing now that you don’t think is necessary?

I call these the three golden questions and they have served me well throughout my consulting career. They are simple enough and specific enough that most end-users can relate to them and produce answers. These three simple questions provide the foundation for any business process re-engineering to come. They are also the catalyst to kick off the required thought processes in your end-users. Out of these three simple questions should come many more questions and answers and the information you need to solve the problem.

In every case in the past I have been able to add value well before using tools and creating workflows just by suggesting changes to current manual business processes. As I said earlier, workflow is really about thought processes, “How can I do this in a better and more efficient way?”

Adding value always begins by saving time and money and usually also entails providing better access to information. Real value in my experience is about ensuring that workers have access to the precise information they need (not more and not less) at the precise time they need it (not earlier and not later).  It sound simple but it is the root of all successful business processes, that is, “please just give me what I need when I need it and then I can get the job done.” Modern ‘just-in-time’ automated production lines only work if this practice is in place; it is fundamental to the low cost, efficient and high quality production of any product or service.

When something ‘just works’ very few of us notice it but when something doesn’t work well it frustrates us and we all notice it. Frustrated workers are not happy or productive workers. If we do our job well we take away the sources of frustration by improving work processes to the point where they ‘just work’ and are entirely appropriate and efficient and allow us to work smoothly and uninterrupted without frustration and delays. This should be our objective when designing new workflows.

Metrics are important and should always be part of the project. You begin by taking measurements at the beginning and then after careful analysis, predict what the measurements will be after the project. You must have a way of measuring, using criteria agreed beforehand with your end-users, whether or not you have been successful and to what degree. It is a very bad trades person who leaves without testing his work. We have all had experiences with bad trades people who want to be paid and away before you test the repaired appliance, roof or door. Please do not be a bad trades person.

Metrics are the way we test our theory. For example, “If we re-engineer this series of processes the way I have recommended you will save two hours of time per staff member per day and will be able to complete the contract review and sign off within two days instead of seven days.” The idea is to have something finite to measure against. We are talking quantitative as opposed to qualitative measurement. An example of a qualitative measurement would be, “If we re-engineer this series of processes the way I have recommended everyone will be happier.” Metrics are a quantitative way to measure results.

In summary, implementing workflow should always be about improving a business process; about making it better, more appropriate and more efficient. Any workflow project should begin with the three golden questions and must include defined objectives and quantitative metrics. The most important tool is the human brain and the thought processes that you will use to analyse current processes and design improved processes. Every new workflow should add value; if it doesn’t you should not be doing it.

Critically, workflow must be about improving the lot of your staff or end users. It is about making a process easier, more natural, less frustrating and even, more enjoyable. The staff or end users are the only real judges because no matter how clever you think your solution is if they don’t like it, it will never work.

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