The other day, while with a group of friends, someone told us he lived in the penthouse of a building. Most people stopped talking and looked at him. Nobody asked where the building was, the address or even the town, but the fact he lived in the penthouse was definitely worth becoming green about. Interestingly enough, a lot of people, even without knowing what his penthouse looked like, stated the usual sentences: “Oh, when I grow up, I want to live in one too,” and, “You are a lucky guy” or, “How come I live in a flat in the suburb and you live in a penthouse?”

People are not fascinated with the penthouse in the literal sense but with their own subjective concept of what a penthouse should look like: top floor of a top-notch building, located in the downtown of a major city, boasting sunset views over the town, along with its own private lift and, naturally, with its own pool.
By now, readers will look up and make sure they are on the correct site about document management strategy, because this text does look a bit odd. Yes, you are, and I will do my best to justify this introduction.

If there is no space to park the car, no lifts and no electricity or if the building risked collapsing with a 20-knot wind, then owning or visiting that penthouse would not be that sexy after all, would it?

In information management, we are a lot of times facing similar issues. Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is sexy! Customer relationship management (CRM) is sexy, but electronic document management (EDM) is definitely not sexy. Why is that? I live in Portugal and am writing an EDM book with a friend in Singapore, and we both recognized the same problem. We have different cultures, and there is half a world between us. Nevertheless, we both have the same question: Why isn’t EDM a sexy solution?

In trainings I provide at universities for corporate high-ranking managers, I usually ask, “Why is a manager paid?” Managers are paid only to make decisions—as simple as that. If the job does not require making decisions, then you would not need a manager, though in a profitable company, most jobs, today, will require a higher or lesser degree of some kind of management. Ok, managers are paid to make decisions, so what? Well, in order to make (good) decisions, managers will need to have access to the relevant knowledge. Where is the knowledge coming from? Knowledge is obtained from processed information, and where is the information coming from? Ah, this is "The Prestige" step of the whole magic trick—information sits and travels on documents. This is why managing documents is so very important.

So, if the penthouse is our ERP, the foundations are our EDM. Clearly talking about foundations is not too sexy, but the fact is that without them, the penthouse would lose all its glamour. So, let’s get real. ERP is sexy but not at the expense of an efficient project and implementation of foundations, which is EDM. I have come across a lot of people complaining about their ERP: They are expensive; they take time to implement; they are not user-friendly—the works. This means that the organization did not pay enough time looking into their information management policies. ERP should be great, like the penthouse, but the rest of the building, starting at the foundations, must also be great.

In fact, there is a lot of information that does not need to come out of documents, and into other applications, in order to have the business move forward. Invoices to be approved may stay in the EDM system and follow an approval flow, at the end of which some data is sent to the ERP. Emails received by one person with strategic information to the organization should be placed in the EDM system so that all authorized people know that that particular document exists. EDM solutions do solve the three basic information problems in any kind of organization:

1. Knowing that the document exists.

2. Knowing where the document is located.

3. Having the document (automatically) circulating among the relevant users.

If, on top of this, one chooses the appropriate metadata fields, one can take a lot of processed information out of documents and have a lot of knowledge available for the important decisions. Here, managers should be very happy.

At the end of the day, who needs to go up to the penthouse? The foundations are colorful, have plenty of functionality and allow for a lot of things. Foundations are sexy!

Joao Penha-Lopes specializes in document management since 1998. He holds two postgraduate degrees in document management from the University Lusofona (Lisbon) and a PhD from Universidad de Alcala de Henares (Madrid) in 2013, with a thesis studying the economic benefits of electronic document management (EDM). He is an ARMA collaborator for publications and professionally acts as an advisor on critical information flows mostly for private corporations. Follow him on Twitter @JoaoPL1000.


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