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Three questions bring focus to document imaging, management planning

Asking three questions about organizational needs helps map out an effective document management and imaging process, says IT consultant Steve Weissman.

Congratulations! You've been tasked with figuring out how best to approach the process of capturing, imaging and managing your organization's documents. And if you've spent any time at all looking into it, then you already know just how many moving parts there are to keep track of and how many seemingly workable alternatives there are for you to choose from.

Establish a firm benchmark against which to objectively measure all the available options among document management and imaging tools.

The good news is that by asking -- and answering -- some fundamental questions about the organization's essential needs and aims, it's possible to map out a document imaging and management strategy that is tailored to fit those needs and designed to work effectively.

While there are many opinions on the matter, over the years I have found that focused research begins with three crucial questions. The answers to those queries will help identify the core elements of a practical document management program and lay a solid foundation for the entire initiative.

Question 1: What business problem needs a fix?

If there is one issue to latch onto and never let go of, it's properly articulating the nature of the business problem the organization is working to solve -- everything else, as the T-shirts say, is just details.

My phone rings regularly with calls from people who have Googled phrases such as "document management," "document capture," "document imaging" and "document scanning." The callers usually have compiled bewilderingly long lists of products and vendors that all seem suitable and are looking for advice on which way they should go.

I encourage those ready to purchase technology to look carefully at the business reasons why they are researching document management products and vendors in the first place. Once they know that, they can match the features, functions and other attributes of the various alternatives to those reasons. That will help narrow the technology choices to those that provide the best fit.

Such an approach establishes a firm benchmark against which to objectively measure all the available options among document management and imaging tools, and it keeps the responsibility for understanding your situation where it belongs: on your shoulders, not a vendor's.

Question 2: What is the scope of the program under consideration?

Next up is project scope, which, like the weather, is one of those topics everyone talks about but no one does anything about. That is unfortunate because getting the scope wrong can cause a lot more problems than forgetting to take your umbrella to work.

Think of the scope as the size of the shadow the program will cast over your organization, and you'll get an idea of how big an issue it can be. What makes scope tricky to define in this case is the fact that it needs to be viewed from multiple directions in the context of a document imaging and management program.

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The most obvious among them is geographic coverage. Will your new procedures be implemented solely at the local level or will they need to be used regionally, nationally or even internationally? The answer to that question has a lot riding on it in terms of performance, technology and compliance requirements, so be sure to get it right.

Assessing the types of documents you plan to target represents another aspect of scoping a program, since they involve different technical capabilities and certainly different economics. The document management products on the market today readily accommodate text, images, email, cases or projects and social media posts, but without knowing which types of documents will require the bulk of your attention, it's difficult to choose the best process and technology for the situation.

The functionality you require also must be considered in defining the scope of a program; it puts boundaries on the kinds of capabilities that need to be acquired. If the business purpose is centered on, say, invoice processing, a list of key functions might include capture, imaging and workflow capabilities, with no reason for collaboration or archiving. That helps eliminate some vendors with particular strengths in the latter areas rather than the ones you really need.

Question 3: What's your measure of success?

The last of my Big Three questions is one that many people do not include as a critical element of planning document management programs, but instead address it along the way. Identifying how the organization will measure success is fundamental because if you do not know what your goal is -- in measurable terms -- it becomes difficult to know when you have reached it.

But articulating the goals of a document imaging program in measurable terms can be challenging. Some of them might not be immediately quantifiable (e.g., improved customer service), while others might be evaluated in different contexts (e.g., scanning boxes of old records to make their content more accessible versus freeing up the office space they occupy). Make a list of goals, prioritize them and make sure the entire team is aware of them and the metrics that will be used to track progress.

By answering these three questions, you develop a thorough understanding of what your organization is trying to accomplish, and for whom. That will unlock the door to crafting the right strategy, choosing the most effective document imaging and management software package, and maximizing the total business value gained from the program over time.

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 to derive "maximum total value" from their IT investments. He can be reached at 617-383-4655 or

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