I’ve been hearing a lot of angry outbursts from workers, frustrated with shared “group” level electronic content management (ECM) systems. Complaints include: It takes too long to index documents; each group indexes documents differently; and they can’t find needed documents. Records managers and general legal counsel weigh in with their own complaints, stating that these systems do not provide disposition/retention (i.e., electronic records management) and are out of sync with the organization’s records schedules, policies, procedures and governance. Magnify this situation by 2X to over 500X and you have the state of the union for many organizations, ranging in size from privately held to Fortune 100.

As the “process guy” in the area of paperless technologies, I have to ask, "Where did things go wrong with these systems?" The answer I most commonly hear is that since shared group-level ECM systems are considerably less expensive to purchase than enterprise or departmental ECM systems, the normal planning effort, which would have been required, did not happen. Instead, users were given access to the software, a manual, minimal training, permission to set up their own systems and a pat on the back.

As such, indexing, security, version control, workflow and retention/disposition inefficiencies found in shared network drives and email systems were carried forward to the group-level ECM systems. Since each group is deploying their own system, normalization/improvement of indexing and workflows between related groups did not occur.

In the process world, we call this paving the cow paths (automating inefficient, outdated processes).

Complicating the situation, I found organization’s records managers were not being asked to participate in the setup of these system, so of course, no one brought up a discussion of an electronic records management (ERM) module. Instead, users were left to make their own decisions regarding document retention and disposition—a recipe for disaster when it comes to audits, compliance and litigation.

So, what can an organization’s chief technology/information officer do to correct or prevent this situation?
  • Stop the bubble-up deployment of workgroup ECM systems.
  • Educate information technology (IT) staff on how to help users properly plan for paperless technology (capture, ECM, digital signature, workflow and ERM) modules.
  • Require all paperless technology planning teams to include cross-participation of executives, users, records managers, general legal counsel, process improvement specialists, internal audit, information governance and information technology staff.
  • Develop a well thought-out paperless technology enterprise-wide plan.
  • Require a conceptual application design be developed previous to internal or vendor deployment. If workflow is part of the deployment, make sure processes are baselined, cleaned up and improved previous to overlaying workflow on top of processes.
  • Conduct a hard and soft dollar return on investment (ROI) analysis.
  • Budget the proper amount of money to support the correct paperless technology software, integrator, planning assistance and ongoing internal support required by your organization.
  • Test vendor software ability against the paperless technology enterprise plan and project conceptual application design requirements.
  • Select the right integrator or internal staff to assist with deployment.
  • Require ongoing implementation quality assurance review during and after each project.
  • Track planning and deployment, successes and issues. Form a continuous improvement loop around paperless technology deployment.
It’s all about the process.

George Dunn is the founder and president of CRE8 Independent Consultants and is a worldwide recognized consultant, speaker, instructor, contributing editor and author on business process innovation and improvement, paperless technologies and complex computer system replacement planning. He has over 25 years of experience in the advanced technology and process improvement industry. Follow him on Twitter @CRE8consultants.

*As planning for paperless technologies must to be tailored to the specific needs of each organization, the information provided in this blog should be treated as an introduction only. Without a direct consultation of requirements, CRE8 Independent Consultants cannot assume responsibility for the use, implementation or results of information provided.

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