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Controlling your documents: Consider the merits of starting out with straightforward document management as a way to socialize good document practices, providing a realizable path to electronic records management.

For many organizations, it is simply too ambitious to steamroll ahead with an enterprise-wide technology deployment for electronic records management (ERM) and hope to succeed. That is because most organizations have general information management, user behavior, and culture issues that will hamstring any new technology initiative, let alone a rigorous ERM program coupled with a technology rollout.

In many large, distributed organizations, for example, there is a general culture of decentralization and autonomy at the business unit or workgroup level, so trying to mandate new records management practices for electronic records may be an uphill battle. In environments like these, there are often significant issues with ERM at the departmental level, such as a lack of standards for managing electronic information, a lack of common tools, and little or no training around general document management.

In these situations, the best path to successful ERM may be to start by instilling some rigor and technology for electronic document management and control at the departmental level. For example, organizations can deploy workgroup-level document management technology solutions in the near term while simultaneously rolling out common information organization structures and educating users about proper practices.

A staged approach like this can deliver immediate business benefits to users, encouraging adoption while positioning the organization to succeed with broad-based ERM implementations in the future.

First Step: Weighing the Requirements

A good place to start is by looking at the organization's current state and business drivers for ERM. Business drivers typically are divided into two categories:

* Defensive: compliance, risk reduction, reducing the cost of information discovery for audits or litigation, and business continuity. These drivers are usually important to all companies but are of a higher priority for public companies or businesses in heavily regulated industries.

* Offensive: improving customer service, saving time, streamlining operations, and eliminating redundancies or unnecessary tasks

IT's mission is to deliver on the offensive and defensive business drivers in a cost-effective and efficient manner while leveraging existing technology investments and resources.

Certainly, defensive drivers are the catalysts for maW organizations to get serious about their technology strategies for records management. Organizations address the problem because they have to; they determine that the risks (be they regulatory, financial, legal, or customer perception) are too high not to have a highly regimented and structured approach to centralized ERM.

But that does not necessarily describe the situation for every company and certainly not with respect to all the electronic documents within all the business areas of a typical organization. A significant volume of electronic documents may be work files, supporting information, or other files that are not necessarily important to control from a regulatory or compliance perspective.

It is important to manage this content from a records management viewpoint. But if an organization is not currently enforcing ERM practices across the enterprise, it is fairly ambitious to try to roll out a comprehensive electronic records program along with a new technology implementation that represents even more change to the way people do their jobs. If the initiative is perceived as a mandate or an intrusion, or as overly complex for users, it is destined to fall short of expectations.

Focus on User Benefits and Adoption

Assuming that compliance or regulatory exposure is not a major issue, organizations should address their offensive business drivers instead. By concentrating on improving operational efficiency and making life easier for users, they will greatly increase their chances for success.

It is not uncommon for organizations to have little control over their electronic documents, as different business units or functional areas may set up shared drives or network folders to store documents with no consistency in document organization structure from group to group. In addition, many users resort to their e-mail in-boxes or PC hard drives as personal file stores.

The result is that it is difficult for users to locate the information they need to do their jobs and to take advantage of the content and intellectual property that may exist within the organization. It also means multiple copies of information stored in multiple locations and limited security or control over who can access that information.

Getting user buy-in and acceptance is one of the keys to adoption. Proper document management, like records management, requires changes to the ways in which users work. However, with document management it is easier to make the case to users that by doing things differently, they will actually make their own lives easier. Document management solutions provide many clear benefits to users as well as to the organization as a whole by addressing many of the document control issues that typical organizations face. For example, document management systems provide repositories that functional areas can use to organize and profile their electronic files. They provide intuitive user interfaces with full-text and fielded search capabilities that make it easier to find information. They also provide features including version control, revision history, document security, and audit trails.

Technology Solutions

What type of document management system makes sense, and what is the best approach for rolling it out?

The first step is to take an inventory of the various document and content management technologies that may already be in use in other areas of the organization. In many companies, it is common for discrete business units to have deployed stand-alone systems for a particular business purpose, such as document management in the legal department or document imaging in the customer service department. It may be possible to extend these systems for more general-purpose usage across additional departments.

In other cases, departmental systems may have been highly customized and are too specialized or expensive to rationalize rolling them out for general, horizontal document management at the workgroup level, instead, solutions designed for general use, such as Xerox DocuShare, Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, or IMR Alchemy (recently acquired by Captaris), might make better sense, depending on an organization's functional requirements. *

These product types are designed to be intuitive for users, offer robust functionality, and are generally much less expensive than other enterprise content management (ECM) alternatives. In general, look for a system that will be minimally invasive to users and that can integrate with tools and technologies already in use.

There are several benefits to starting at the workgroup level rather than at the enterprise level. Most document management systems offer multiple options for user interfaces, including Web browser-based interfaces as well as integration with common desktop tools such as Microsoft Office products and Windows Explorer. This allows users to continue using tools with which they are already familiar. They can profile documents and check them into the repository, which provides features such as version control, document security, revision history, full-text and fielded searching, and audit trail logging--providing immediate user benefits as well as organizational control benefits.

In addition, document management systems provide repositories that can be organized around taxonomies or document properties that can be defined at either the organizational or workgroup level. This provides the flexibility of giving authorized users some level of control over the environment while also enabling the organization to maintain centralized control over aspects such as security levels.

Moving Forward

In order to successfully deploy a document management program and use it as an effective bridge to ERM, keep the following considerations in mind:

* Get user input at the beginning. To foster buy-in and user adoption, it is critical to involve them from the beginning of the process. Conduct a detailed requirements-gathering exercise that involves participation from multiple business units and in which document management concepts are explained. Not only does this increase awareness about the initiative, but it also provides a forum for users to offer input and perspective that will help improve the eventual implementation. In addition, it provides a way to defuse users' perceptions that the initiative is only being done so that "Big Brother" can watch them. Each functional area's ideas, practices, and fears must be fully heard and carefully thought through. When change is implemented, those ideas, practices, and fears must be addressed in such a way as to demonstrate that they were heard.

* Develop a general organization structure for documents. If the organization can agree on a high-level taxonomy or classification approach for content, there is a much better chance that documents will be managed in a similar fashion across functional areas, introducing consistency and control to file management. It will also introduce the type of rigor that can be leveraged when the organization rolls out ERM programs or technology initiatives in which information classification is a critical component.

* Create baseline expectations for document management practices. Just as with a records management program, a good document management program requires consistency in user behavior and alignment with accepted practices. Thus, it is important to develop guidelines in areas such as how users should use the system, profile documents, and manage versions.

* Do not short-change management support and communication of user benefits. User acceptance and adoption are critical to success, so it is important to communicate the benefits of document management to the user base. Because the initiative will represent changes to the way users do their jobs, it must be communicated that document management and ERM are not just organizational priorities with top-down management support but that they will make life easier for the users as well. Examples of forums that can be used for communication include management presentations, steering committee meetings with liaisons from functional areas, breakout sessions with functional areas, and intranet sites on which information is published.

* Start expanding the organization's strategic focus beyond electronic documents. Even as the user base is growing comfortable with basic electronic document management, it is important to begin formulating a strategy for moving beyond this point. For example, plan for how the organization will incorporate e-mail into the equation. Strategize around how it will move to a true ERM approach, which should be designed to leverage its document management and ECM investments, including previous investments and repositories across the organization. And consider the organization's storage management approach, ensuring that it optimizes its storage and backup environment and policies to accommodate projected volumes of electronic content.

By addressing these considerations, an organization can use a more limited, less risky document management deployment as the critical first step, which will put it in a much stronger position to succeed with an ERM implementation in the future.

* Product mention does not constitute endorsement or advertisement by The Information Management Journal or ARMA International

Richard Medina and Joe Fenner are analysts with Doculabs, an independent consulting and research firm that helps organizations develop technology strategies for enterprise content management and business process management. They may be contacted at
COPYRIGHT 2005 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2005, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Analyst View
Author:Fenner, Joe
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2005
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