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Alpha to Omega

15 Oct, 2008 By: Laurel B Sanders imageSource

Alpha to Omega

Every customer you work with has documents that illustrate that client’s
routine business transactions. From the creation of each document through its
useful life and eventual destruction, each must be managed effectively. On
paper, it’s challenging.  Poorly conceived electronic storage does little to
improve the situation. Documents are typically copied, distributed for
processing, and stored. Some are archived in electronic silos that limit their
usefulness. They may be stored in multiple places, complicating retrieval and
audits. Ultimately, when no longer needed, they are destroyed according to
regulations. Misfiled, lost, or duplicated files and premature destruction all
pose difficulties, especially when audits occur. 

What can a reseller do to help clients manage critical documents from their
genesis through the end of their useful life? Plenty. Understanding the document
lifecycle and the technologies that enable seamless information exchange are
vital to providing smart solutions. Resellers can help clients find end-to-end
solutions that will take their documents smoothly from the cradle to the grave.
Effective integration makes it easier to manage the multiple paths that
documents take. It also enables easy migration to alternative storage media when
files become inactive, and ensures timely destruction.  

Creating documents that can be managed

Managing content effectively is challenging due to multiple file formats as
well as the management issues involved in document tracking. Documents that are
related to specific business processes may not communicate with pertinent
software applications, resulting in re-keying, redundancy, and errors. Critical
data exists in paper, online forms, word processing applications, spreadsheets,
line-of-business applications, emails, faxes, image repositories, and more.
Communication between diverse applications is vital in maximizing information
usefulness. Integrated document storage, retrieval, document management, process
management, and records management are essential to ensuring a single
information continuum.

Most documents are subject to multiple actions, views, changes, and decisions
during their active life. Take, for example, an employee contract.  It is
created, revised, finalized, approved, and signed. Information within it has to
make its way securely to the payroll department. Benefits must be managed by HR.
Performance reviews have to be scheduled. Healthcare options may change from
contractual terms initially specified.  Upon retirement, files may be moved
offsite and then retrieved to address severance- or retirement-related
questions. Ultimately, in accordance with record retention requirements, they
are destroyed.

Revising and collaborating on content

Most documents are subject to revision after creation.  A popular tool for
managing changing content is Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS). Familiar
and easy to use, especially for those who already know Microsoft products, MOSS
provides helpful collaboration tools during the creation and revision phases. 
Unless one upgrades to the enterprise version, however, true document and
business process management capabilities are very limited. Likewise, the basic
version is not designed for storing and managing large volumes of data,
high-volume auditing, records management, retention, or data destruction. Yet
these elements are critical for managing information efficiently. The tools
provided in the enterprise version of MOSS, some of which can involve extensive
custom programming, can be costly to implement. 

Whether documents are created in isolated applications such as MS Word,
Excel, line-of-business applications, or MOSS, the next stage in the lifecycle
is to prepare the content for immediate retrieval when it is needed, and also
for use in active business processes. This is best handled by a robust
enterprise content management (ECM) or electronic document management (EDM)

Storing the document for future retrieval

Since data today is stored in diverse media—paper, PDAs, multi-function
printing devices, email applications, voice files, videos, and more—having one
centrally searchable digital repository that can store and read all information
is critical for efficiency. A Web-based EDM/ECM solution greatly facilitates
capture, indexing, storage, and retrieval. Complementing the basic indexing
features inherent in devices such as desktop scanners and multi-function
printers, EDM enables encyclopedic-quality categorization. This results in
easier and more productive searches, reflecting employees’ diverse needs and
working styles. 

Centralized storage of all of a company’s information enables end users to
access detailed, accurate, and updated data for better decision making.
Customizable security features facilitate compliance with internal policies and
regulations. Paperless storage helps your clients to control access
company-wide. It replaces ominous security breaches and time consuming manual
searches through paper and digital media with secure, centralized, and efficient
desktop delivery. 

Enabling quicker processing upon return

Since some materials must be sent on paper to comply with regulations, going
100% paperless is not realistic for most businesses. However, adding bar codes
with encrypted data in situations with a high output of routine documents draws
businesses one step closer, while eliminating inherent redundancies. Take, for
example, outgoing forms customers must update to change existing policies or
records.  Bar codes might include encrypted document IDs, customer numbers,
names, and other information. When the completed form is returned, the data
stored in the barcodes is scanned immediately with the changes on the form. This
ensures that the original document integrity is not violated by inaccurate
keying. It also guards against file duplication and eliminates delays in
acquiring up-to-date information that naturally occur from manual processing.

Migrating to long-term storage and preparing for destruction

After documents have completed their usefulness in the business lifecycle,
they generally become inactive. Some may be archived on accessible media as long
as the customer or employee continues to interact with your client’s company.
Others will become useless relics of the past. Knowing which information needs
to be purged and migrated to long-term storage and which can be completely
destroyed is the responsibility of your client.  Understanding how the process
can be made easier and more secure with tools such as tiered storage and
hierarchical storage management software provides you with an opportunity for
value-added business.

In both paper and electronic environments, managers need to store, move, back
up, and delete records in accordance with regulations and internal policies.
Automating this process, and mechanizing verification messages that records are
about to be deleted, helps ensure that record handling complies with
administrator-defined criteria. It also demands consistency.  Furthermore,
digital recordkeeping, migration, backup, and a well-conceived disaster recovery
plan ensure your client can continue business if an unforeseen catastrophe occurs.

Laurel Sanders is the Director of Public Relations & Communications for
Optical Image Technology, Inc., developers of the DocFinity suite of imaging,
document management & workflow products (www.docfinity.com)

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