The Essential Digital Records checklist

by Frank 10. February 2017 12:00

So, you have decided, or have been instructed, to digitize all your records. Now what?

Where do you start? When do you start? What do you need to get the job done?

Lists

Just as with all complex projects, you are best to start with a simple list.

List all the records that need to be digitized; by type, by volume, by current format and by location. Review this list with your peers first (double-check that you haven’t missed anything) and then with management. Ask questions of management like:

 “Do you want me to digitize all of these records regardless of how long it takes and how much it costs?”

“When do you want me to start?”

“What is the budget?”

“What extra resources can I call on?”

“When do you want this project to complete?”

 “What are the metrics that will determine if I am successful?”

These are the core questions, the ones you must ask. Your dialog with your manager will probably result in many more questions and answers depending upon the unique circumstances of your organization. However, as long as you ask these core questions and get answers you are well on the road to producing a project plan.

Management Approval and Ownership

Your project will fail unless you have a senior manager ‘owning’ and supporting it. You need a friend in high places covering your back and authorizing your actions if you are going to be successful.

IT Support

Ask your senior manager to select and appoint a senior IT resource to be your IT point man. You are going to need IT support throughout the project and you need to know before you accept the project that someone senior will be appointed as your IT liaison person. Without readily accessible and committed (to the project) IT support you will fail.

The Project Plan

All project plans begin with multiple lists, for example: a list of all the tasks to be completed, a list of all the people who will work on the project, etc. Most importantly, you need to sort the tasks in order of prerequisites – i.e., we have to complete Task A before we can begin Task B. You also need to have sub-lists for each project employee listing their relevant expertise or capabilities; not everyone is equal. Some people can complete a particular task, some can’t. Some will take a day to complete a task others may take 3 days to complete the same task. You need to be well aware of capabilities before you assign tasks to individuals.

You need a good tool to document and manage your project plan because project plans are complex and dynamic. Never in the history of the world has there been a static project plan. About the last thing you want to change however, is the agreed (with your boss) completion date. Your main objective should always be to complete on time and your second objective should be to complete on budget. If you don’t have a project management system, try Microsoft Project, it’s low cost and relatively easy to use and it can do the job.

Human Resources

If your boss expects you to be responsible for the new records digitization project as well as your normal job you have the beginning of a big problem. If the boss expects you to complete the project without having any assistance your problem is probably terminal. You will need help probably both from within your organization and outside your organization because it is unlikely that you will have all the expertise you need within your organization.

Make sure that your agreement with your boss includes the additional human resources you need to be successful.

Software

It is unlikely that you will already have the software tools you need to be successful.  Basically, the software tools you need are required to capture, digitize, store and retrieve your records. Because records come in multiple formats you will need to ensure that you have the necessary software tools for each format of record to be captured. Refer to the initial list you compiled of records to be digitized by type, by volume, by current format and by location. Make sure that you have a software tool for each type of record. For example, scanning and indexing software to capture paper records.

Most importantly, make sure that you have a secure, scalable image and data repository to store and manage all of your digital records. This will usually be a structured database based on systems such as Oracle or SQL Server.

There is little point in digitizing your records if they can’t be centrally accessed, managed, searched and retrieved.

Hardware

Software requires appropriate hardware. Make sure that you have permission and budget to acquire the prerequisite hardware such as servers, workstations, scanners, etc. You will probably need help from your IT department in defining exactly what is required.

Management

Your job is to manage not facilitate. As project manager, you accept responsibly for both success and failure. Your job is to make things happen. Your job is to continually review progress, to identify and remove roadblocks. Your job is to keep all project staff focussed and on mission. It is a lot of work and a lot of effort and sometimes, a lot of frustration. You have to be prepared to regularly consult with both project staff and users. You have to be prepared to make tough decisions. You have to be committed and focussed on success but not stubborn. Sometimes it is better to give a little to win a lot. Always focus on the end result, completing the digitization project on time and on budget.

Success or Failure

There are absolutely no good technical reasons for failure. The expertise, hardware and software required to digitize all of your records is readily available from a plethora of vendors. Furthermore, there are plenty of examples both good and bad in the market for you to learn from. There is no record that can’t be digitized. The only difference between success and failure is you and your initiative, creativity and commitment.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Totally Automatic, Rules-Driven Email Management & Archiving

by Frank 15. December 2015 06:00

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How GEM integrates with any other EDRMS

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

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

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

The absolute easiest & lowest cost way to meet all Electronic Document & Records Management (EDRMS) requirements?

by Frank 19. May 2015 06:00

Because we are a software vendor that builds and markets a range of Enterprise Content Management tools under the RecFind 6 banner I have often been asked, “What is the absolute easiest and lowest cost way to meet all compliance requirements?”

I usually respond with a well-considered and ‘traditional’ response that includes information about Business Classification Systems, UI design, Retention Schedules, etc., etc. The solution proposed would also require a significant degree of consulting so that we aware entirely conversant with the customer’s requirements and business practices and also involve a significant amount of end user training.

This is what the customer expects and it falls in line with the traditional, professional approach.

However, the final solution is rarely ‘easy’ or ‘low-cost’ primarily because it has followed the traditional approach. The more we ask questions and consult and the more people we speak to the more complex the solution becomes. This is normal because we end up trying to configure a solution to meet hundreds or thousands of variables.

There is an easier and lower cost way but I fear that very few of my customers would ever consider it because it requires them to disregard everything they have ever learned about rolling out an EDRMS. We have tried proposing it a few times but never with success. It usually gets shot down by the external consultant or the internal records management professional or both.

It doesn’t require a BCS or a Taxonomy and it doesn’t require a complex Retention Schedule and it doesn’t require significant consulting or significant end-user training. Records Management professionals will surely hate it as a ‘career-ending’ trend. It does require an open mind, the ability to think laterally and a willingness to redefine both the problem and the solution.

It only has three requirements:

  1. Know what electronic documents and emails you don’t want to capture;
  2. Provide a powerful but easy-to-use search that allows anyone to find anything instantly; and
  3. Employ a risk-management approach to retention and select a single retention date (e.g., 7 or 20 years).

Fundamental to the success of this non-conformist solution is the acceptance that computers and storage are dirt-cheap compared to human time. If your IT manager or CIO still agonizes and complains about how much disk space you use up for emails and electronic documents then this is definitely not the solution for you. Your IT hierarchy is still living in the long-gone past when computers and disk were expensive and people were cheap (by comparison).

However, if you have practical, sensible IT people then the approach is worth considering especially if your organization has a long history of failing to digitize its records and automate its processes. That is, you have tried at least once to roll out an organization-wide EDRMS and have failed and/or blown the budget. The word ‘pilot’ probably appears often in your company history usually prefixed by the adjective ‘failed’. Don’t feel too bad, most pilots are initiated because management lacks conviction. They are therefore destined to fail.

We have the tools required to implement such a solution but I won’t go into detail about them now. This is a concept paper, not a detailed instruction manual. If you are interested in the concept please contact me and I can then elaborate.

So, if you really do want to rollout a successful EDRMS and do it in the fastest and least disruptive and lowest cost way possible then please write to me and pose your questions.

For the doubters, this is the same way we manage our electronic documents and emails at Knowledgeone Corporation and we have done so for many years. We use our own software; apart from a couple of accounting packages we run our whole company with the RecFind 6 Product Suite and totally automate the capture of all electronic documents and emails. All my staff have to know is how to search and yes, they can find anything in seconds even after 31 years of operation and a very, very large database.

It is not difficult, it is not ‘expensive’, it does not require a huge amount of management or maintenance time and it runs largely in the background. As I said above, all your staff have to learn is how to search.

It does however, require an open mind and a desire to finally solve the problem in the most expeditious manner possible. But, please don’t tell me you want to run a pilot. Test my solution by all means and put it through the most vigorous change control procedures but don’t damn the end result by beginning with a “we are not really sure it will work so are not really committed and won’t allocate much of a budget but let’s try a pilot anyway because that limits our exposure and risk” approach.

I don’t want to waste your time or mine.

How to simplify electronic document and email management

by Frank 17. September 2014 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

White papers

Posts

How to clean up your shared drives, Frank’s approach

by Frank 22. August 2014 06:00

In my time in this business (enterprise content management, records management, document management, etc.) I have been asked to help with a ‘shared drive problem’ more times than I can remember. This particular issue is analogous with the paperless office problem. Thirty years ago when I started my company I naively thought that both problems would be long gone by now but they are not.

I still get requests for purely physical records management solutions and I still get requests to assist customers in sorting out their shared drives problems.

The tools and procedures to solve both problems have been around for a long time but for whatever reason (I suspect lack of management focus) the problems still persist and could be described as systemic across most industry segments.

Yes, I know that you can implement an electronic document and records management system (we have one called RecFind 6) and take away the need for shared drives and physical records management systems completely but most organizations don’t and most organizations still struggle with shared drives and physical records. This post addresses the reality.

Unfortunately, the most important ingredient in any solution is ‘ownership’ and that is as hard to find as it ever was. Someone with authority, or someone who is prepared to assume authority, needs to take ownership of the problem in a benevolent dictator way and just steam-roll a solution through the enterprise. It isn’t solvable by committees and it requires a committed, driven person to make it happen. These kind of people are in short supply so if you don’t have one, bring one in.

In a nutshell there are three basic problems apart from ownership of the problem.

1.     How to delete all redundant information;

2.     How to structure the ‘new’ shared drives; and

3.     How to make the new system work to most people’s satisfaction.

Deleting redundant Information

Rule number one is don’t ever ask staff to delete the information they regard as redundant. It will never happen. Instead, tell staff that you will delete all documents in your shared drives with a created or last updated date greater than a nominated date (say one-year into the past) unless they tell you specifically which ‘older’ documents they need to retain. Just saying “all of them” is not an acceptable response. Give staff advance notice of a month and then delete everything that has not been nominated as important enough to retain.  Of course, take a backup of everything before you delete, just in case. This is tough love, not stupidity.

Structuring the new shared drives

If your records manager insists on using your already overly complex, hierarchical corporate classification scheme or taxonomy as the model for the new shared drive structure politely ask them to look for another job. Do you want this to work or not?

Records managers and archivists and librarians (and scientists) understand and love complex classification systems. However, end users don’t understand them, don’t like them and won’t use them. End users have no wish to become part-time records managers, they have their own work to do thank you.

By all means make the new structure a subset of the classification system, major headings only and no more than two levels if possible. If it takes longer than a few seconds to decide where to save something or to find something then it is too complex. If three people save the same document in three different places then it is too complex. If a senior manager can’t find something instantly then it is too complex. The staff aren’t to blame, you are.

I have written about this issue previously and you can reference a white paper at this link, “Do you really need a Taxonomy?”

The shared drives aren’t where we classify documents, it is where we make it as easy and as fast as possible to save, retrieve and work on documents; no more, no less. Proper classification (if I can use that term) happens later when you use intelligent software to automatically capture, analyse and store documents in your document management system.

Please note, shared drives are not a document management system and a document management system should never just be a copy of your shared drives. They have different jobs to do.

Making the new system work

Let’s fall back on one of the oldest acronyms in business, KISS, “Keep It Simple Stupid!” Simple is good and elegant, complex is bad and unfathomable.

Testing is a good example of where the KISS principle must be applied. Asking all staff to participate in the testing process may be diplomatic but it is also suicidal. You need to select your testers. You need to pick a small number of smart people from all levels of your organization. Don’t ask for volunteers, you will get the wrong people applying. Do you want participants who are committed to the system working, or those who are committed to it failing? Do you want this to succeed or not?

If I am pressed for time I use what I call the straight-line-method. Imagine all staff in a straight line from the most junior to the most senior. Select from both ends, the most junior and the most senior. Chances are that if the system works for this subset that it will also work for all the staff in between.

Make it clear to all that the shared drives are not your document management system. The shared drives are there for ease of access and to work on documents. The document management system has business rules to ensure that you have inviolate copies of important documents plus all relevant contextual information. The document management system is where you apply business rules and workflow. The document management system is all about business process management and compliance. The shared drives and the document management system are related and integrated but they have different jobs to do.

We have shared drives so staff don’t work on documents on ‘private’ drives, inaccessible and invisible to others. We provide a shared drive resource so staff can collaborate and share information and easily work on documents. We have shared drives so that when someone leaves we still have all their documents and work-in-process.

Please do all the complex processes required in your document management system using intelligent software, automate as much as possible. Productivity gains come about when you take work off staff, not when you load them up with more work. Give your staff as much time as possible so they can use their expertise to do the core job they were hired for.

If you don’t force extra work on your staff and if you make it as easy and as fast as possible to use the shared drives then your system will work. Do the opposite and I guarantee it will not work.

Document Imaging, Forms Processing & Workflow – A Guide

by Frank 28. July 2014 06:00

Document imaging (scanning) has been a part of most business processing since the early 1980s. We for example, produced our first document imaging enabled version of RecFind in 1987. So it isn’t new technology and it is now low risk, tried and proven technology.

Even in this age of electronic documents most of us still receive and have to read, analyse and process mountains of paper.

I don’t know of any organization that doesn’t use some form of document imaging to help process paper documents. Conversely, I know of very few organizations that take full advantage of document imaging to gain maximum value from document imaging.

For example, just scanning a document as a TIFF file and then storing it on a hard drive somewhere is almost a waste of time. Sure, you can then get rid of the original paper (but most don’t) but you have added very little value to your business.

Similarly, capturing a paper document without contextual information (Metadata) is not smart because you have the document but none of the important transactional information. Even converting a TIFF document to a PDF isn’t smart unless you first OCR (Optical Character Recognition) it to release the important text ‘hidden’ in the TIFF file.

I would go even further and say that if you are not taking the opportunity to ‘read’ and ‘capture’ key information from the scanned document during the scanning process (Forms Processing) then you aren’t adding anywhere near as much value as you could.

And finally, if you aren’t automatically initiating workflow as the document is stored in your database then you are criminally missing an opportunity to automate and speed up your internal business processes.

To give it a rating scale, just scanning and storing TIFF files is a 2 out of 10. If this is your score you should be ashamed to be taking a pay packet. If you are scanning, capturing contextual data, OCRing, Forms Processing, storing as a text-searchable PDF and initiating workflow then you get a 10 out of 10 and you should be asking your boss for a substantial raise and a promotion.

How do you rate on a scale of 0 to 10? How satisfied is your boss with your work? Are you in line for a raise and a promotion?

Back in the 1980s the technology was high-risk, expensive and proprietary and few organizations could afford the substantial investment required to scan and process information with workflow.

Today the technology is low cost and ubiquitous. There is no excuse for not taking full advantage of document imaging functionality.

So, where do you start?

As always, you should begin with a paper-flow analysis. Someone needs to do an inventory of all the paper you receive and produce and then document the business processes it becomes part of.

For every piece of paper you produce you should be asking “why?” Why are you producing paper when you could be producing an electronic document or an electronic form?

In addition, why are you producing multiple copies? Why are you filing multiple copies? What do your staff actually do with the paper? What happens to the paper when it has been processed? Why is it sitting in boxes in expensive off-site storage? Why are you paying to rent space for that paper month after month after month? Is there anything stored there that could cause you pain in any future legal action?

And most importantly, what paper can you dispose of?

For the paper you receive you need to work out what is essential and what can be discarded. You should also talk to your customers, partners and suppliers and investigate if paper can be replaced by electronic documents or electronic forms. Weed out the non-essential and replace whatever you can with electronic documents and electronic forms. For example, provide your customers, partners and suppliers with Adobe electronic forms to complete, sign and return or provide electronic forms on your website for them to complete and submit.

Paper is the enemy, don’t let it win!

Once you have culled all the paper you can, you then need to work out how to process the remaining paper in the most efficient and effective manner possible and that always ends up as a Business Process Management (BPM) exercise. The objectives are speed, accuracy, productivity and automation.

Don’t do anything manually if you can possibly automate it. This isn’t 30 years ago when staff were relatively cheap and computers were very expensive. This is now when staff are very expensive and computers are very cheap (or should I say low-cost?).

If you have to process paper the only time it should be handled is when it is taken from the envelope and fed into a document scanner. After that, everything should be automated and electronic. Yes, your records management department will dutifully want to file paper in file folders and archive boxes but even that may not be necessary.  Don’t accept the mystical term ‘compliance’ as a reason for storing paper until you really do understand the compliance legislation that applies to your business. In most cases, electronic copies, given certain safeguards, are acceptable.

I am willing to bet that your records manager will be operating off a retention schedule that is old, out-of-date, modified from another schedule, copied, modified again and ‘made-to-fit’ your needs. It won’t be his/her fault because I can probably guarantee that no budget was allocated to update the retention schedule on an ongoing basis. I am also willing to bet that no one has a copy of all of the current compliance rules that apply to your business.

In my experience, ninety-percent plus of the retention schedules in use are old, out-of-date and inappropriate for the business processes they are being applied to. Most are also way too complicated and crying out for simplification. Bad retention schedules (and bad retention practices – are you really destroying everything as soon as you are allowed?) are the main reason you are wasting thousands or millions of dollars a year on redundant offsite storage.

Do your research and save a fortune! Yes, records are very important and do deserve your attention because if they don’t get your attention you will waste a lot of money and sooner or later you will be penalised for holding information you could have legally destroyed a long time ago. A good records practice is an essential part of any corporate risk management regime. Ignore this advice at your peril.

Obviously, processing records efficiently requires software. You need a software package that can:

  1. Scan, OCR and Forms Process paper documents.
  2. Capture and store scanned images and associated Metadata plus any other kind of electronic document.
  3. Define and execute workflow.
  4. Provide search and inquiry capabilities
  5. Provide reporting capabilities.
  6. Audit all transactions.

The above is obviously a ‘short-list’ of the functionality required but you get the idea. There must be at least several hundred proven software packages in the world that have the functionality required. Look under the categories of:

  1. Enterprise Content Management (ECM, ECMS)
  2. Records Management (RM, RMS)
  3. Records and Document Management
  4. Document Management (DM, DMS)
  5. Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRMS)
  6. Business Process Management (BPM)

You need to define your business processing requirements beginning with the paper flow analysis mentioned earlier. Then convert your business processing requirements into workflows in your software package. Design any electronic forms required and where possible, re-design input paper forms to facilitate forms processing. Draw up procedures, train your staff and then test and go live.

The above paragraph is obviously a little short on detail but I am not writing a “how-to” textbook, just a simple guide. If you don’t have the necessary expertise then hire a suitably qualified and experienced consultant (someone who has done it before many times) and get productive.

Or, you can just put it off again and hope that you don’t get caught.

 

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

by Frank 18. July 2014 06:00

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer Name

     Correspondence

     Contracts

     Quotes & Proposals.

     Orders

     Incidents

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

Now how does this simple system work?

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

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

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

WARNING

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

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

Good luck.

 

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