Paperless Document Management Systems – Alfresco ECM
THE PAPERLESS OFFICE – DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS FOR DATA CAPTURE, STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL
In one of our previous blogs titled Alfresco Document Management – going paperless we presented the business case for moving towards a paperless office by adopting the many benefits of an efficient document management system.
Please note, by going paperless we are not proposing that you should throw away all paper documentation as there will always be some documents such as contracts and lease agreements that may need to be kept, for legal reasons (which we would expect to be the exception, and not the rule).
In most instances, you will find that government authorities will accept electronic copies of documents and these are admissible in court if the chain of custody can be provided.
Whether you are specifically seeking to create a paperless office or not, the need to scan documents and effectively capture data, to enable quick and easy search and sharing functionality, is critical to any organization’s success. Let’s take a look at some simple considerations to get you started on this journey.
An effective paperless strategy will take into account a few considerations: Paper Capture, Classification & Indexing, Business Process, and Short to Long Term Storage.
DOCUMENT SCANNER – PAPER CAPTURE
Selecting a document scanner to capture the content of your physical paperwork will depend on how many documents you need to scan, as well as how often you need to scan, on a daily basis. Most document scanners will allow you to scan pages to image format (JPG or PNG), or directly as PDF. In addition, they allow you to scan to an external storage device, either attached to the scanner or through the network.
Some scanners will even convert the image scanned into recognizable text, by a process called OCR – Optical Character Recognition.
Generally, the process of scanning multitudes of sheets of paper can be lengthy, and quite mind-numbing. The tricky part is that the scanner will automatically allocate its own internal name to the file (for example: BRW008092D48782_000361.pdf) leaving it up to you to manually make sense of it, by renaming it appropriately.
Faxes used to be printed by the fax machine, but increasingly, they are routed to email or to a folder on a shared drive, including, of course, any unsolicited advertising. The whole process requires someone to examine each email and physically open each attachment, to identify it and classify it.
Again, until faxes are completely phased out, this will remain a tedious and time-consuming manual process.
Like many SME organizations nowadays, here at Parashift, we no longer receive paper invoices as they all come through as PDF files by email, which, in itself, offers a new challenge.
Emails will typically be accessed from your email client, however, what if some of these files need to be captured and stored to be processed?
While the email system is great for sending messages and documents, it is not a very good document management solution: you will be forever searching through your emails for attachments, and never quite knowing whether the document you are looking at is the latest one or not. Not to mention the difficulties that occur when employees leave the organization and their email accounts are subsequently archived.
With emails, you may find yourself manually saving documents from emails onto your desktop and processing them separately. This entails additional steps to your routine, and takes its toll in efficiency.
CLASSIFICATION & INDEXING
Whether it’s in paper or in digital format, the challenge of actioning mail quickly and efficiently still exists.
The benefit of digitally scanned documents, faxes and emails is their classification can be automated, effectively rendering the traditional mailroom a thing of the past.
Through intelligent Optical Character Recognition (OCR) we can actually read data inside documents and then use this data for action.
For example, in the case of an invoice: through rules, we can define that if a value happens to match a specific pattern, like being a dollar amount occurring to the immediate right of the word “total amount”, then we can actually infer its meaning in the document, and set the document’s metadata appropriately. Any aspect of the document can then be extracted, such as the supplier, the amount due, the tax component, the due date, etc. (in the case of invoices)
WORKFLOW – BUSINESS PROCESS
What does that mean for you and your team?
Organizations who have adopted digital document management systems, benefits include automation, efficiency, cost savings, as well as the ability to improve document sharing.
Any document scanned, received as a fax, or as an attachment in an email, can be automatically classified and its fields captured, removing the majority of manually handling these documents. That’s where time and effort are saved, and efficiency increases, but over and above that, it is where documents become much easier to find and share with others in the organization.
And finally, once captured and stored, you can put your data to work…
For example, you may want invoices above a certain amount to be sent for approval by the finance director before each pay run, automatically. You may then want to have those invoices that were approved sent to the Accounts Payable Officer for payment, and the ones that were not approved sent back to the person responsible for following up. In addition to this, your CFO could be made aware of upcoming invoices well ahead of when they are become payable, providing them with more transparency and allowing them to manage their cash flow position better. This is particularly relevant in the case of large invoices.
SELECTING A STORAGE SOLUTION
Once documents are scanned and classified, they need to be stored, so they can be retrieved.
Any storage facility will work, from shared drives all the way to a full-blown enterprise content management (ECM) system such as provided by Alfresco ECM.
Having said this however, in an earlier blog regarding common issues facing shared drives, we outlined some of the common pros and cons of shared drives and concluded that it from a business management perspective it makes more sense to lean towards the use of an ECM to manage your documents.
A storage solution with ECM or document management capabilities makes version control possible, as well findability through an index of both full text and metadata.
Once the documents are stored in your ECM, chances that they go missing are dramatically reduced. Of course, this speaks to improved governance, through easy access to the evidence that underpins your decisions, and this has an immediate effect on reducing your risk exposure. Information can be kept for periods of time relevant to the matter. For example, contracts could be kept for seven years in line with the statute of limitation.
True story: by automating their mailroom, one of our clients has truly become paperless in all aspects of their operations. All forms of documents, including legal agreements, forms, letters, invoices, reports, emails etc., are stored and maintained in their ECM. They have improved their efficiency by reducing multiple handling of paper documents, eliminating errors introduced by manual data entry, streamlining requests through online forms, speeding up approvals, and obtaining up-to-date reports on critical aspects of their business, so that they can make better decisions.
WHAT TO KEEP AND WHAT TO DITCH
The more staff you have and the longer you have been operating, the more documents you will have been accumulating, and the more you will need to consider an ECM.
This is because as documents grow in numbers, they bring with them exponentially growing levels of complexity: the different types of content, the duplicated and redundant files that arise as a result of a lack of versioning, the access permissions, and the security considerations for key documents all combine to make the management of data a real challenge.
This is the purview of taxonomy – the art and science of organizing your content in a way that makes not only the storage of documents intuitive, but the retrieval of these documents less painful for your staff.
Within the scope of taxonomy are often included naming conventions, retention schedules, and of course access permissions.
Naming conventions for your files and folders will make searching for content provide results that are more meaningful: if all your invoice files are called “Invoice”, you may be able to find them all, but not the specific one you were looking for. A naming scheme, well understood across the organization, will help prevent this.
Retention schedules will ensure that records are retained and disposed according to a documented plan. The idea is there is no need for keeping documents that are out-of-date or not required by legislation. The plan of course needs to be understood by anyone who has a stake in how long records are kept.
Finally, categorizing content will provide the opportunity to examine permissions, and articulate an approach to protect your critical content, and to manage the remainder of your documents.
So how do you decide which documents to keep?
It goes without saying that documents that are still current must be kept – they include such documents as contracts, and documents that, for legal purposes, cannot be disposed of. Those that have some form of genuine historical value must of course be maintained as well.
You will find that the remainder of your documents – those that are not legally binding and have little historical value – tend to lose value gradually throughout the years: new documents are created with new projects, completed projects are archived, and the likelihood of needing to access older documents diminishes gradually as time passes.
A recent study by IGI (http://iginitiative.com/download-newest-comprehensive-case-study-les-schwab-4/) found that “43% of the data had not been touched in five years. At any organization this is a strong indication that this information has little value to anyone.”
This is similar to when a colleague leaves the organization and returns his/her laptop to the IT department: how often do you think that the documents stored on the laptop get reviewed?
MANAGING THE PROCESS
This brings us to the three main strategies for migrating your documents:
1. Big Bang is a moment in time when all operations are pushed over to the new system. From one day to the next, the old system is switched off and the new one is commissioned.
In preparation, the content will have been migrated and sync’d just prior to the cutover. A fairly complex exercise in organizational change management will have been conducted: staff will have been notified, and if the organization of the documents has changed, staff will have been trained in the new structure, reasonably soon before the cutover, so the information is fresh in their minds.
The biggest advantage here is that you do not need to run two systems in parallel, as is the case with the next strategy.
But because this approach is very risky and makes an incredible number of assumptions about the readiness of the organization and its ability to absorb change, it is becoming increasingly rare.
2. The Parallel Operation advocates the commissioning of the new system, while running the old one. Content is accessed through the new system, with logic in place to fetch that content from the old system and migrate it to the new, if it is not present in the new system already.
The advantage of this approach is that is it gradual, and helps to clean your unwanted files: those documents that are not accessed will never get migrated to the new system.
The main issue with this approach is cost: you are running two systems in parallel. Also, at some point, you will need to make a decision on when to disconnect the old system, and what to do with the old content: a good move is to archive it.
3. Line in the sand is a technique whereby a date is set for all new documents to be created and managed by the ECM, because on that date, the old system is set to be read-only.
Staff can still access the old documents, just as they used to, but any changes to those documents must be saved to the ECM.
So in some ways this is similar to the Parallel Operation, but where the Parallel Operation requires some back end logic to migrate documents, the Line in the Sand relies on your staff to perform the migration.
This approach defers the decision of which documents should be moved across, and only those have any real value will migrate to the new system.
MOVING TOWARDS A PAPERLESS DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
At Parashift, we have first-hand experience in assisting organizations in their transition into the digital realm by adopting document management systems appropriate to their size, need and growth potential. We have assisted clients both in government and the private sector here in Australia as well as internationally, using open source technologies such as Alfresco and Ephesoft.
By taking a personal, hands on approach in creating custom solutions for our clients we are able to present and avoid the traditional traps that catch new players unaware and ensure that their systems are not only effective for today but have the potential for ongoing expansion and scalability for the future.
If you are ready to take your document management to the next level, it starts with a conversation about what can be done. Call us – that’s what we are here for.