The other day I read a blog by Mark Shead called ‘Paperless – the wrong goal’. The opening part of the blog suggested that simply by going ‘Paperless’ would not automatically make you more efficient. The efficiency gains come from improved workflow.
Now I can embrace this point view. Efficiency gains, the real big gains, those that make a step change come from challenging the way we do things, finding a fresh approach to a mature process. In most cases the mature process is something last reviewed many years previously. Since that time technology and services have moved on. A review of the old process is able to offer a better result for a more economical input.
Now the blog also went on to say that many people pursue the ‘Paperless’ goal over the ‘Workflow’ goal because it is easier to understand, to visualise. People can grasp moving from pieces of paper to reading information on a computer screen. The workflow changes are harder to understand.
While there may be some truth in this I believe the ‘Paperless’ label has gained popularity from those who wish to promote the eco agenda. It has a mission, the reduction of paper to lighten the load on the environment. Conversely the ‘Workflow’ label was bourn out of the corporate world, where there exist a myriad of forms, paper processes, procedures and people. The ‘Workflow’ mission was to reduce bureaucracy and deliver cost savings. Ironically it is neither of these two areas that appears to have driven the adoption of ‘Document Management Systems’ but those of solicitors, accountants, insurance and other regulated industries.
At the end of the day those organisations that have embraced digital information systems such as ‘Document Management Systems’ have been those with regulatory or compliance requirements.
It would appear that the question is ‘What regulations do I have to adopt and what tools can help me?’
Believe you can, and you can. Belief is one of the most powerful of all problem dissolvers. When you believe that a difficulty can be overcome, you are more than halfway to victory over it already - Norman Vincent Peale, 1898 - 1993
John McNeil August 29th, 2011 21:54:39
The recent riots in London have once again highlighted that nothing in live is certain. No matter what has gone before and no matter what is predicted for the future there is always a chance something else will occur.
If you think about it that’s why we have insurance. Essentially we look at what we fear and we bet on that occurrence, no matter how unlikely the event is to occur. What we understand and know is that should it occur then it will cause us pain.
The flip side is if it doesn’t occur then we are happy. We are happy because what we feared has not come to pass. We are even happy to bear the cost to insure against the event. We know this because we do it year after year that is until a point is reached where we no longer fear the event to such an extent we are willing to pay the premiums.
Now you may well be asking yourself what this has to do with the recent riots in London apart from the tenuous link that riots in London are seldom seen.
The truth is the riots in London once again reminded me of incidents which have occurred where people’s worlds have been turned upside down. Time and again reports came in of destruction to local businesses. Interviews with business owners highlighted the extent of the damage and disruption to the business. In some cases businesses were able to clean up, restock and be up and running in a short period of time. For the others I believe the effort and pain may be considerable.
What would be interesting to know is out of all those businesses that suffered loss in the riots how many of them will still be solvent and trading in one years time?
You see it is not just the loss to business that is evident at the time, there are many other factors to consider. The one that prompted this blog was in sympathy for those business torched by looters and rioters.
How many hours will be spent by business owners after a long days trading sitting down and pulling together the paperwork necessary to form a view of the business?
How many contact details will be lost to the business, exactly those potential customers required to help the business to recover?
How many businesses out there will be ruing the decision not to go digital with their documentation and ensure the information that drives their business is in more than one location?
How much better it would be if they could say, as one business owner in Vancouver was able to after their office building was gutted by fire, ‘Even if there had been fire damage, the office is almost paperless and everything on computer is backed up remotely’ see article here.(0)
John McNeil August 15th, 2011 16:16:46
Taking on any new company wide software can be an mammoth task and this can certainly be the case with Document Management Systems (DMS). The task can be equally challenging for those with an established system who are looking to enhance their solution with additional features.
One of the most important areas to work on getting correct right from the off is your information retention policy. Every company be it small or large and no matter what industry they trade in, all have requirements to retain information for a period of time. Much of the requirements stem from legal, compliance or accounting controls but some are driven from a business need. Even in our own personal lives there is a need for information retention; simple things like a shopping receipt used as a guarantee.
Freedom Of Information (FOI)
The Freedom Of Information (FOI) act 2000, following on from the Data Protection Act 1998, focused much attention from local and central government on how long information should be held. Government funded bodies now all typically have retention policies to outline how long various types of information should be kept.
Setting up your Retention schedule
When setting up a Document Management System (DMS) a good place to start is to look at what you currently have in place and determine the retention schedule for each of those items. Going forward this gives a good platform for decisions such as the need to scan paper based documents based on the life expectancy of the information.
A good starting point is to commission a Records and Information Management retention schedule. This can be by making use of staff available within the organisation or bring in someone to audit the documents you have in hand and determine how long it should or needs to be stored. Retention periods can then be assigned based on legal, financial, administrative, trade body requirements or simply based on an arbitrary business justification.
Simply deciding to keep everything forever is not a sound business decision; it is a self defeating position to take. Over time the process of locating useful information will degrade as the mountains of obsolete information grow.
There are other reasons why a well tailored retention schedule is advisable: if you should be unfortunate to find yourself engaged in a dispute over the presence or absence of some information a court of law (and jury for that matter) will look for a company to demonstrate that they destroy documents based on a documented schedule, not just those documents that could be considered harmful. For those organisations covered by FOI, which could be any company with a government contract, retaining all information could be a costly decision as requests under FOI could sap many working hours that otherwise would be dedicated to the business.
Living with your Retention Schedule
Once you have a schedule then you have to learn to live with it on a day to day basis. As information is a far reaching company asset a retention policy and its accompanying schedule is something that is communicated throughout the organisation, understood and embraced for it falls to the individuals within the organisation to support the process and make it work. On the plus side a computer based solution can yield rewards, a Document Management System can be configured to remove information after a set period of time based on the document type.
John McNeil August 8th, 2011 21:10:47
When looking at options for Document Management Systems there are a number of online solutions on offer. The online providers offer some specific advantages over internally hosted solutions. Equally there are a number of concerns using external service providers around security and confidentiality.
There is perhaps another consideration that makes the decision more complex. Focus the business to business information web site had an interesting question posted the other day. The question got me thinking about the decisions we make going into things and the questions we ask ourselves when exiting.
Now for those of us who consider using cloud based services to hold and access our documents, this question is very relevant. The question has far reaching implications way beyond the obvious of what happens to the data.
Imagine, one day you come in to the office to discover that your service provider has ceased operations. This is the service provider that holds all of your documents, the means by which you service your customers. What is it that goes through your mind once the initial panic is over and inquiry begins?
Well to avoid such a situation there are some areas you might want think about.
Now some people might suggest that you have an off site backup of the data that you can access.
Well I would view it an advantage that the service provider handles the backup, so in this scenario they would also have the backup. You might decide otherwise.
When setting up the service you might have opted for a replicated solution across multiple sites.
The chances are that the multiple sites are all owned or control by the same company. If you could get a solution that replicates across different suppliers then this would help.
It may be that the service provider offered or is willing to offer an export.
Many providers are focused on making it easy to add content as this is where the benefit of their service comes from, seldom does focus go to withdrawing from the service offering. Pick a provider that has thought about this and you will better placed to withdraw from the service.
You were well switched on when selecting the provider and they can export your data.
What format will this be in? For a document management system will this be a series of documents on a disk, an FTP folder on a site with hundreds or thousands of documents to download or will it be in pages and pages of XML?
It’s OK the service provider offered an excellent exit strategy and provide the data and applications require to run it in house and will ship it next day delivery on DVDs with full installation instructions.
Who will install this software and load the data and on what machines will they load it onto? How long will this all take?
Let’s assume you and the service provider worked through the export of data and what you receive is well structured and understood by you. How would you load this into another suppliers service?
These thoughts all stemmed from a question about a service provider going off line, however it need not be so serious, what if you simply wanted to move your service? How would you manage that?
I apologise if this all seems a bit doom and gloom, that is not my intention. My aim is to highlight that our thoughts in adopting a solution need to be not just about what the service can provide on a day to day basis but also what options we have as we grow and evolve over time.
I always go into an agreement hoping for the best but ensuring I understand the flip side.(0)
John McNeil July 18th, 2011 09:54:53
I was reading an article on the AIIM web site Why ECM costs spiral out of control where they were discussing why the costs of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) tend to spiral out of control and once that starts it is hard to control. I was struck by the discussion around this point; the key thrust of the point was that the client made a poor requirements statement which dictated that any response to the tender process was always going to be inaccurate.
Now the part that got me thinking was a reference to the Return On Investment (ROI). Either way you look at it the cost of the ECM should be covered by the returns provided by said ECM. Even if the project costs over run, which no well run project wants to entertain, the costs to implement should still be covered by the cost benefits of implementing the solution.
What do you think is more important; the cost to implement something or the benefit to be gained from implementing the change?(0)
John McNeil July 11th, 2011 09:27:52