Document management – riding the tsunami

The course of document management never did run smooth. But pain in the present can lead to gain in the future.

Riding the document tsunami

Riding the document tsunami

Who said document management wasn’t sexy?

You would be hard pressed to pick the most infamous case in our times of information management gone wrong — Watergate, 9/11, Lehman Brothers, Big Tobacco?

Missing: Two computer discs holding the name, address, date of birth, national insurance number and bank details of 25 million people in the UK

Documents are the lifeblood of many organisations and of most governments. Each transaction or contact culminates in a document, file, or record of some description — an email, tweet, blog, video, fax, form, photograph or report that chronicles an everyday conversation, weekly bulletin, quarterly statement or annual announcement.

But no matter what the content is or how you manage it, failure is not an option. CIOs know that in a world that demands records be maintained for seven years, it is possible to live with some information disarray, but not information chaos. And given the high cost of paper storage, electronic solutions are now essential.

Unlocking the power of documents

Former head of wealth management IT for HSBC, Peter Dugdale, says that with the growth in electronic communications, people who need to access historic records are comfortable using computerised solutions to locate and analyse linked data elements. There is a natural desire to use these same methods to access information formerly held on paper.

Professionals spend up to 15 per cent of their time reading information, but up to 50 per cent looking for it

“It could be argued that without converting your paper records to electronic equivalents, it is impossible to extract the full value of the information and, most importantly, to relate one piece of information with another,” Dugdale says.

“So although document management processes add up-front effort in the document capture stage, the storage cost is much lower than physical paper storage, and the information value of the document is unlocked, allowing the contents to be searched, aggregated, filtered and analysed in a way that is simply not possible with paper records.”

But what about the world’s impending storage crunch? Analysts at research firm IDC say that between now and 2020 the amount of digital information created and replicated in the world will grow to almost 35 trillion gigabytes. IDC chief research officer, John F Gantz, says the influx of consumer technologies into the workplace at the same time will create stresses on organisations that must manage, store, protect, and dispose of all this electronic content.

“If you have ever suffered from information overload or been bombarded with emails, texts, instant messages, documents, pictures, videos and social network invitations, get ready — this is just the beginning.”

Infinite retention, infinite waste

As a provider of security, storage and systems management, Symantec is only too happy to report how parlous information management has become. The firm’s 2010 Information Management Health Check Survey found that a majority of enterprises do not follow their own advice when it comes to information management.

Large organisations lose a document every 12 seconds
(Cuadra Associates)

For example, 87 per cent of survey respondents believe in the value of a formal information retention plan, but only 46 per cent have one. Symantec says too many enterprises save information indefinitely instead of implementing policies that allow them to confidently delete unimportant data. This leads to rampant storage growth, unsustainable backup windows, increased litigation risk and expensive and inefficient discovery processes.

“Infinite retention results in infinite waste,” says Symantec vice-president of product management for its information management group, Brian Dye.

Users send and receive an average of 133 email messages per day
(Radicati Group)

“Enterprises see the value of a solid information management plan, but too many still follow the outdated practice of keeping everything forever. The sheer volume of data is growing exponentially, so trying to keep everything consumes large amounts of storage space and demands too much of IT’s resources. As a result, businesses spend far more time and money on the negative consequences of poor information management and discovery practices than they would by working to change them.”

Xtralis CIO, Simarjit Chhabra, says the very words ‘document management’ run like a chill down the spine of many IT executives. But he believes this is an attitude that ignores its rich benefits.

“Some of us shy away because we believe document management is a waste of time or a waste of resources,” says Chhabra. “But if deployed correctly, it can give your organisation a strategic advantage over competitors. If only your sales manager could find the details of that competitive bid you won four years ago. If only you could find that multi-year contract you inherited from your predecessor to cajole a vendor who isn’t performing. If only… ...

Large organisations lose a document every 12 seconds
(Cuadra Associates)

“Document management helps to plan not only your present but also your future. We all know that information is power. When you are given such a project, the organisation is trusting you with its greatest asset. For those who consider document management a necessary evil, here is a wakeup call: It’s also a source of power. Grab it before someone else does.”

No pain no gain

This is what Paul Tedder has done. The CIO at Shine Lawyers and his IT team have recently endured the pain of a document management refresh and they are now basking in its gain.

Shine Lawyers has built a business — from three to 22 offices in the past five years — on a trio of core values: Standing up for the little guy, daring to be different, and staying ahead of the pack. Tedder says being able to keep all the documentation the firm produces and make it available to 350 staff across its offices has played a role in this rapid growth.

“We use our document management system as a way to be innovative,” says Tedder. “It has managed our internally-produced documents for about 14 years, and in the last couple of years we have used it for incoming documents as well.”

Companies spend $20 in labour to file a document, $120 in labour to find a misfiled document, and $220 in labour to reproduce a lost document

Shine uses a solution from Australian-owned workflow management software company, LawMaster. The document management system (DMS) covers each of Shine’s 22 offices, which vary in size from four to 80 staff. With a local DMS people get fast responses. They can save everything they need locally and if they are in another office they have easy access to documents, without having to know where everything is. This accessibility, and being able to know who has done what with a document, and when, has been very beneficial for the firm.

Shine worked with LawMaster for two years to develop eFile — a project that centred on gaining acceptance among staff and fitting the firm’s culture. There were false starts, some tweaks, and it took time to get internal processes right. LawMaster had to revise some of its work with Shine’s business heads to establish the system.

Following a pilot in one of Shine’s offices, and further enhancements with LawMaster, Shine flicked the switch on its revamped DMS in May this year.

“There were some energetic discussions with LawMaster along the way, to ensure they had a solution that worked for us and others,” says Tedder. “By sharing IP we were able to reach a common objective.

“Our internal goal was to get a senior manager to say he would not go back to using physical files, and we’ve achieved that. He’s now an advocate. The new goal is to have every office using the DMS for incoming correspondence as well as for internal documents. We now have the technology and the processes in place to do that. We believe we can get to a stage where our lawyers attend court with only their laptop, which will contain all the documentation they require.”

Tedder says Shine Lawyers has its own knowledge management function within SharePoint and the firm plans to improve its integration with the workflow in LawMaster to make it easier for its lawyers to reach conclusions based on case history and tort decisions.

“We are also investing heavily in our business intelligence,” says Tedder. “We have had limited BI to date, but we are looking to use some SharePoint functionality to get data out of LawMaster and access the wealth of content in our documents. We have seven to 10 years worth of documents out there which contain some fantastic information. We want to be able to use it. We want our newest employee to have the same benefit of knowledge as someone who has been at the firm for years.”

Achtung baby

Finally, a word of caution...

The Real Story Group (formerly CMS Watch) is an analyst firm that serves as a buyer’s advocate, claiming to tell ‘the real story’ about content technologies. Its sharp minds are backed by sharp tongues.

“We often do not recommend to our research subscribers that they invest in more technology; rather that they understand better what tools and platforms they own already, and make best use of them,” says Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal analyst and director at The Real Story Group.

“Likewise, we have no problem advising our customers to think twice before diving headfirst into projects that are based on the belief that automation in itself equals improved business. For IT professionals, it is taken as a matter of faith that automation improves efficiency; that making paper-based documents and processes electronic is, in and of itself, a default benefit. But experience in the real world paints a more mixed and problematic picture.”

Pelz-Sharpe cites the troublesome transition of electronic patient care records by Britain’s National Health Service — four years late and £10 billion over budget — as a classic example of what can go wrong in electronic content management (ECM). “And, as for the rather cynical attempt of the ECM industry to push the benefits of green IT, digital data is often no more green than paper. Sometimes it’s worse.

“Whether you buy a full ECM suite from the likes of EMC or IBM; document and records management solutions from HP, Objective, or Laserfiche; or even opt for the SharePoint route, you will fix precisely nothing with the technology itself. Change comes from understanding and adroitly changing your underlying business requirements and structures, along with both your current and future business processes.”

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Tags Shine LawyersXtralisSimarjit ChaabraPeter DugdaleHSBCPaul Tedderdocument mangaement

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