January 07, 2010, 6:48 PM — Have you ever planned a lengthy trip to an unfamiliar place? Even if you choose an ideal location, you’ll probably be disappointed unless you define your expectations. Typically, this involves doing thorough research, gathering and organizing the information you need, and creating a detailed itinerary that reflects your expectations. If your trip requires a significant investment, you’ll most likely work hard to ensure that expectations are fulfilled.
Likewise, to get superior results from an electronic document management (EDM) system, smart vendor choice must be matched with detailed planning and intelligent system design. Whether you tackle the challenge alone or hire your vendor’s services team to help, you should start by analyzing, streamlining, and organizing the structured forms that drive your daily business processes. Insurance claims, invoices, applications, and other standardized documents all have unique properties. Each must be understood thoroughly. By asking the right questions about each document initially, you’ll eliminate costly mistakes. You’ll also increase the likelihood your EDM solution will deliver the information everyone needs – swiftly, accurately, and consistently.
EDM brings all of your core business information – unstructured documents (such as email or voice messages) as well as structured documents (such as your core business documents) – into one place where content can be searched, viewed, and managed. To ensure quick and appropriate access, you must know when, where, and by whom the content will be needed. Each document must be:
Stored in a useful format
Capture, index, access – it’s actually pretty straightforward – but only if you ask the right questions.
If you’re capturing core business documents digitally, you need a structured methodology. Choosing the best method for capture – scanning, online forms, bar codes, etc. – ensures your solution will be well-matched to the type of information you need to store, but it’s just the beginning (see Jim Thumma’s article, The Many Faces of Capture, at www.tawpi.org). A smart system design – the set of parameters you establish to ensure the capture process is governed by clear and logical business rules – is equally important to your success. A thorough document inventory and analysis, coupled with an appropriate scanning fi le for each document type, will ensure consistency and accuracy as each document type is scanned for digital storage and use.
1. Conduct a document inventory
Understanding your documents starts with a thorough inventory and analysis of the documents you use in your business. Ask yourself:
What forms and other structured document types do we use routinely?
Are there structured documents with similar functions that can be combined?
What are the logical categories into which each document types should be placed (departments or broad categories such as invoices or legal documents)?
Collect a sample of each document type and analyze it carefully. Determine which content must be discoverable in response to employee needs, regulatory requirements, or third-party demands. Whatever information is critical for locating your core documents – customer name, zip code, document type, account number, amount of sale, balance due, etc. – must be indexed for quick and successful document retrieval. Consider which content needs to be locked down for restricted viewing to satisfy regulations or internal policies. Determine which groups should be authorized to view, edit, or delete specific content (such as social security numbers, medical information, or account balances) so you can assign rights accordingly.
2. Determine appropriate scanning profiles
To ensure consistent, correct, and complete scanning of the document types that are processed routinely by your business, you need to establish scanning profiles for each. This ensures the person scanning the documents will automatically have the right setup for scanning when a document type is selected. Study each document type, asking yourself if each is:
One-sided or two-sided
Single or multi-page
Black and white or color
Scanned as a single document or in batches
In which format should each document be stored (PDF, TIFF, etc.)?
What security needs to be applied to each document type, i.e., which user groups will be permitted to access the document?
Configuring the right scanning profiles for each document type simplifies the scanning process for employees and significantly reduces the incidence of errors.
Establish required metadata
In order for documents to be found by everyone who is authorized to access them, each document must be classified thoroughly using key words, phrases, and document codes that identify the type and content of each file. A robust EDM system allows detailed indexing that goes far beyond the simple sorting most hardware allows. If you follow best practices for indexing and consult the staff who need access to the documents for their work during the information gathering process, there is no reason any document should become irretrievable…ever. Make sure you:
Assign metadata to important data (for example, “zip code” would be the metadata that describes the data “17406” and “city” would be the metadata for “Dayton”)
Determine the format for data in each metadata category (i.e., zip codes must be numeric, names must be alpha, customer ID numbers must be alphanumeric with 3 alpha plus 5 numeric, etc.)
Decide which information on each document is important to ensure thorough indexing – not just to you, but to others within your organization
Evaluate whether documents that have similar metadata categories (such as ‘ship date’ and ‘shipping date’) can be combined as one metadata object or must be kept separate
1. Decide who needs access
Security concerns have increasingly taken the spotlight in recent years. All the regulation in the world can’t guarantee honesty or obedience. EDM, however, can – and will – if you choose a robust system and configure it properly. Ask yourself:
How can our business divide its workers into logical groups and subgroups – e.g., directors, marketing team, HR team, accounting?
Which users should belong to each group?
Which document types does each group or subgroup need to access?
What are the routine business processes for which each document type is used, or the specific processes that should be initiated upon receipt (digital capture) of a specific document type?
How does each group need to interact with each document type? What user rights does each group require, e.g., viewing, editing, deleting, indexing, re-indexing, annotating, forwarding via email, etc.
What additional metadata filters need to be put in place to permit appropriate group rights (such as allowing accounting staff to view information about amounts due, vs. blocking the data from view by marketing and HR employees)?
2. Define search parameters
Take advantage of a flexible EDM system by configuring searches that are appropriate for each group’s needs. That way, you’ll make searches more consistent, efficient, and fruitful. How does each group of users need to search for business content in your organization?
Do your users need to:
Search for information by department (accounting files, HR, etc.)?
Query by document type (invoices, purchase requests, resumes, expense reports, etc.)?
Locate specific content within documents? (If so, make sure that content is indexed for optimal results.)
By defining the parameters and categories for search, you’ll ensure that your staff’s searches are guided and efficient, and will supply the information workers need to carry out tasks and make appropriate decisions. If you decided carefully during the indexing planning process which information each user type needs to find on each document and created searches to retrieve it, authorized persons should be able to consistently find your documents 100% of the time.
Onward and upward
Capture, index, access. It sounds easy, and with proper planning, it is. After you have a system design in place that delivers your documents any time and place you need them, you can let your imagination run wild. Capture and storage are just starting points for effective automation of your business, but it’s critical to get it right. Invest time in careful system design so you can turn your first steps of digital efficiency into a groundswell of success.