Information Management in New Business Models.
Off-site records storage companies, newspaper publishers, reprographic services firms, and architectural and engineering organizations have all been paper-based in the past, as they shipped, stored, and consumed vast quantities of paper. Inexpensive box storage has always been the specialty of the off-site records storage industry, as it provides environmentally controlled warehouses for storing and retrieving inactive paper documents. Newspaper publishers' fortunes rise and fall with the price of relatively inexpensive newsprint paper. Reprographic services bureaus and organizations that create large-format technical drawings both require expensive, high quality print media to produce their document-based products and services. However, when considering total range of documents created in organizations, the need for creating, distributing, and storing paper-based documents has gradually decreased. Digital files have largely become the document format of choice for conducting business. Digital data can be less expensive to ship, store, and retrieve than paper-based documents.
The move to digital files has also initiated strategy changes for paper-based industries and the businesses that serve them. Off-site records storage vendors now seek to store customers' computer media and consider teaming with document-imaging vendors to convert large collections of paper documents, which they already store, into digital document images. Newspaper publishers have created Internet-accessible Web sites to offer news articles. Reprographics firms offer digital-asset management services to clients who want their electronic print files retained long term for future printing and document distribution. Architectural and engineering firms have reduced drafts and final drawing sets produced as they obtain software to create, transmit and store computer-aided design (CAD) files instead of large-format paper, sepia, or vellum documents. Business process re-engineering, workflow analysis, and new software products further reduce the volume of paper-based documents.
Many service organizations do not understand that they are transforming mission-critical documents into digital formats and electronic repositories that are largely untouched by traditional information management policies and procedures. When documents remain as digital files for business purposes, do records management policies explicitly apply to them? How can procedures for a paper-based business process be implemented in a modified computer-based document environment? How should information management practices change? What are the resulting liabilities when organizations retain electronic documents for other organizations? Information management professionals increasingly will be called upon to answer these questions as organizations explore new information management services and create new electronic document products.
Business Partners Need Documented Expectations
Service organizations seeking new business ventures are considering activities that seem similar to the services they currently offer. For example, offsite records storage vendors have weighed the risks and opportunities of electronic vaulting. Why not just buy some computer equipment and begin to store and retrieve electronic files remotely from customer sites? Companies that have entered this arena have slowly realized that managing electronic files and data is drastically different than managing paper documents. The equipment is different, the skills are different, and, most importantly, the expectations are different.
Warehouses are neither complex nor individualized systems. The challenges of managing space, receiving containers, tracking items with bar codes, and invoicing customers for retrievals are common throughout the warehousing industry. Many contractual and service models exist, whether one is storing boxes of purchasing records or items of unused office furniture. In contrast, computer systems set up to accept and store electronically transmitted data can be complex to support and maintain. Computer maintenance personnel require specialized training, are in high demand, and are therefore professionally mobile. Customers often need electronic files within one to two hours rather than the one-day turnaround common for paper documents in off-site records centers. For these and many other reasons, only a few off-site records storage vendors have successfully entered the realm of electronic vaulting services.
Successful vendors have taken steps to meet new customer expectations for data management and security by writing policies, procedures, and contracts that reflect the additional responsibilities entailed. There is greater interest in ensuring that business computer records are protected from theft or compromise than with paper-based documents. Companies offering data management services can expect to face stringent security requirements and consequently need employees who have passed security exams and background checks. Computer rooms need to exhibit both physical security, such as locks and alarms, and computer security, such as system passwords and network fire-walls. Potential customers may want to review the firm's data archiving policies and procedures before signing service contracts.
Another common situation is for document service organizations to implement computer technology to serve their own internal business needs, then later offer these same capabilities to customers. As an example, some companies in the reprographics industry create digital files when producing colorful prints or large-size drawings. These digital files result from pre-reproduction document-scanning operations or exist as temporary print files used by certain sophisticated printing equipment. The trend is to retain these files for clients to speed up the production of documents later and to serve as a "document archive." Although this activity can reduce document-preparation time and give the reprographic firm a market for managing digital assets, many hidden dangers exist. What are the responsibilities of the reprographic firm to protect and maintain this digital information for their clients? Are they documented? Probably not.
Another area of concern exists when companies use CD-ROM recorders to create "document archives" on CD-ROM disks for clients. Architectural, engineering, and construction (A/E/C) firms find themselves creating documents and drawings for customers; the A/E/C firms subsequently retain the documents and drawings, knowing that those customers will ask for additional copies later. How long should the A/E/C firm retain these documents? Should this be determined by the records retention schedules that are in place at the A/E/C firm or should the clients' records retention schedules be the determining factor? Who makes the determination?
A similar situation occurs when organizations begin to offer "digital archives online" through Internet-accessible Web sites. Many software companies offer Web-enabled document management software products or services that promote workgroup sharing of documents, drawings, pictures, specifications, or other electronic documents. The intention is to facilitate data sharing and document preparation, so the delays inherent in transmitting physical documents can be eliminated. Document versions can be distinguished, including drafts and final copies. However, often no official policy exists regarding the long-term retention of these electronic files on a given Web server. A/E/C companies that post requirements and specifications documents on Web sites often use these software and computer networking systems. Potential contractors and subcontractors may respond by transmitting electronic bid documents to these sites. There should be firmly established records management policies and procedures for the retention of Web-based electronic documents as publicly accessible records.
A final example of records challenges related to new business models occurs when off-site storage vendors and document conversion vendors team to create digital documents from the paper files of records storage clients. After conversion, paper records can be discarded; their digital images can be retrieved from remote records centers more cost effectively than can paper documents. Off-site document storage vendors usually have a captive audience in that they already have an existing customer base of clients whose records they retain. Document conversion vendors supply the required experience and equipment to perform the document scanning and conversion to digital images.
Once again, the location of the electronic business records to be maintained and the length of time for which they should be retained must be firmly understood by all parties. It is tempting to simply store all records on large-capacity disk drives for long periods due to the apparent low cost of storage. Customers of combined document storage/conversion services need to review the venture's documented policies and procedures to ensure that retention periods for digitized records are applied as expected.
Coordinated Information Management
Digital computer files that are authoritative business records must be properly managed. They must be protected and preserved in accordance with their value by all parties for which the documents have value. As companies enter outsourcing contracts, teaming relationships, and business partnerships, they need to agree on how digital assets will be managed. This includes specifying the hardware, software, computer media, and file formats used to store and retrieve the documents. It should also include the policies and procedures used to manage those documents. Cooperative planning and a mutual understanding of the business risks and liabilities are necessary. All partners in a business relationship need to understand which documents to retain and for how long.
File plans and document indexing methods need to be cooperatively developed and implemented to ensure that documents can be retrieved. Hardware and software acquisitions need to be cooperatively planned to ensure that documents can be exchanged among partners and archived. Partners must agree on the data formats for document repositories to ensure that documents can be reproduced over time. Software standards need to be in place to ensure that documents can be produced in the future from electronic document repositories. The long-term storage of electronic records will require data migration plans that protect documents from both hardware and software obsolescence. All of this requires extensive coordination and planning between business partners and customers.
New business models mean new roles and opportunities for information managers with technology expertise and knowledge. Most information managers are already aware of electronic business records issues and can assist in planning how to address them. Information managers in organizations facing new business challenges should offer their assistance, knowledge, and support.
Because of the trend toward retaining information in electronic format, an advanced understanding of how computer systems are used to create and store electronic documents will be necessary. Individuals possessing these skills will be in demand and in a good position to assist organizations struggling to implement new business models based on electronic documents. As technology becomes a major tool for managing a variety of information resources, changing business models will converge. The need for continuing education for information managers cannot be overstated.
John T. Phillips, CRM, is the owner of Information Technology Decisions, a management consulting firm. He has more than 20 years' experience in information resources management, specializing in automated records management systems and other technology-related areas. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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|Author:||PHILLIPS, JOHN T.|
|Publication:||Information Management Journal|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1999|
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