Four factors inform effective strategy for document management tools

The structural view of effective use of document management tools reveals four factors of document imaging and management implementation success.

Many discussions of the critical success factors for document capture, imaging and management focus on an organization's ability to assess document management needs, gather and analyze metrics, and manage the related changes to the ways employees do their jobs. Yet establishing effective document and records management capabilities goes beyond adopting new processes and workflows.

Instead, it's valuable to take a more architectural approach to the deployment and use of document management tools. One way to evaluate that is by looking at the subject through the lenses of several issues now coming over the horizon.

At a foundational level, there is a whole lot more to document management than simply pushing pieces of paper through a scanner to enable electronic document capture, storage and reuse. Microfilm, electronic forms, text mining and voice extraction are just a few of the other available techniques. As a result, the key to a successful electronic document management implementation is accommodating each technique and process that relates to your organization -- with an eye toward needs down the road.

Multichannel capture in the mobile world

Consider, for instance, the pressure being exerted on content managers by employees who are using mobile devices as image capture tools. The cameras built into smartphones and other devices are being used to snap pictures of travel and expense documents such as restaurant receipts as well as signed fulfillment orders and bills of lading, which are then electronically routed to back-end systems.

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The fact that end users can complete the process so easily helps explain its appeal and is probably part of the reason that document imaging and capture is on your organization's records management radar. But if the back-end system implemented by IT today cannot accept or administer the JPEGs that come in tomorrow, you might find yourself either starting from scratch or bolting on an entirely new document management tool when your project's next phase comes around.

Delivery for and by mobile devices

The flip side of the document capture question is delivery. In essence, it involves getting information out of the system and delivering it to the people who need it. Just as document management systems need to be able to accept input from all manner of channels, they also need to be able to then produce information that can be disseminated to all manner of devices.

Here, too, mobility is having a dramatic effect, as the same user might be equipped with a laptop PC one day, a tablet device the next, a smartphone on the third day and nothing but a manila folder on the fourth. This means that the same information needs to be available in all of those different formats, and it has to be delivered in a way that is easily displayed and understandable.

Because of that, there is much more to the delivery process than simply resizing a webpage to fit a smaller screen or changing to a sans serif font to improve readability. It often includes dividing documents into logical components, labeling them with descriptive and consistent meta tags so they can be found with a simple search query, and installing an enterprise search engine that can operate in the context of the device being used and can encompass many different data types -- for example, text, image, voice.

SOA and the cloud as enabling architectures

In between the capturing and later viewing of documents, of course, comes processing, storing, securing, analyzing and maintaining them. In fact, many document management initiatives live or die on the efficiency and effectiveness of those functions. Historically, organizations have licensed or built the necessary pieces of software and run them internally on multiple systems. Now, other options have emerged, most notably those based on service-oriented architectures (SOA) and the cloud.

The idea behind those two approaches is similar -- namely, to install and access centrally managed services that facilitate the exchange of data rather than installing and maintaining applications on individual machines. Though the conventional wisdom might have you believe otherwise, neither option is right or wrong when it comes to records and information management initiatives. One or both might be well suited for your environment, as might the decision to stay with the status quo. The only blanket statement that makes any sense in this case is you must take the time to explore the alternatives and make a decision based on the intelligence you gather about labor costs, skill sets, scalability and the flexibility of your document management tools -- not the loudest consultants or most popular headlines.

Resource management -- systems and humans

Success in deploying document capture, imaging and management systems is especially dependent on labor costs and skills, even though there are opportunities to apply automation in those areas.

Let's take even the simplest task of scanning a file cabinet full of records. Here, one of the fundamental questions is who will be doing the work. Should it be the line-of-business user who might be most familiar with the contents of that file cabinet? Or should it be a lower-cost employee or even a temp who can remove staples, separate batches of documents, fill out the key indexing fields and feed documents into the scanner?

There are arguments to be made for both scenarios as well as for using an outside agency -- on either your premises or theirs -- to perform the task. As when choosing a system architecture or setting a plan for multichannel capture and delivery of documents and records, making an uninformed decision about resource management can be costly. In fact, it can set you back even more on expenses, time and efficiency than getting the other assessments wrong.

Steve Weissman is a consultant and best-practices instructor in process and information management. President of AIIM's New England Chapter and a Certified Information Professional, he is the principal analyst at Holly Group, where he works with clients on organizational strategy, requirements gathering, requests for proposal and user adoption initiatives with a goal of helping them to derive "maximum total value"from their IT investments. He can be reached at 617-383-4655 or sweissman@hollygroup.com.

This was first published in December 2012

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