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Avoid Common Assessment Mistakes

30 Mar, 2009 By: Laurel B Sanders imageSource

Avoid Common Assessment Mistakes

Sifting through a company’s files to determine what to keep – and how to organize it - is challenging.  Have no fear - March
‘spring cleaning’ is here.  There’s no better time to help clients spring into action and take steps toward efficiency with electronic document management (EDM).  The first step: a thorough document assessment. Like spring cleaning, responsible document assessment doesn’t mean
discarding everything you don’t need personally and organizing the rest.  It requires discovering who else needs (or benefits from) the information you have; storing it logically for easy retrieval; leveraging the data for maximum benefit; and considering future purposes for the
information, even if it’s not needed now.

Mistakes are common as organizations navigate seas of documents and prepare for digital storage and automation.  Awareness of common, avoidable mistakes can help you advise clients properly and point them toward success.  Less is more, and more is less, but only when a company
assesses document relevance from all points of view.  Sound tricky?  It is.  Here are five common mistakes and ways you can help your clients avoid them.

#1. Unclear goals.

A poor understanding of assessment goals usually results in lukewarm success.  Companies are guarding expenditures closely, and it’s in your mutual interest to ensure goals are clear.  By clarifying them, you improve your chance of delivering measurable returns on the
corporate yardstick.

Before assessment begins, analyze the issues that are driving your client to action.  Are files in multiple locations?  Is critical data buried in paper documents, emails, faxes, or audiovisual files that are costly to search?  Do mission-critical business processes rely on
hard-to-find documents?  Are time-consuming audits and subpoenas for information burdening the business? 

The answers may determine whether your clients will be satisfied long-term with electronic file retrieval, or whether they would benefit from enterprise-wide process automation and system integration.

#2: Lack of assessment experience. 

A good document assessment requires a thorough understanding of the files a company uses and their interrelationship to each business area and its processes.  Unless it’s a one-person company, it’s likely that no one can claim knowledge of every file type and business need
until the assessment is complete. 

If a company is considering process automation, actionable data should be captured at the beginning of the business process to minimize human interaction with files and maximize data integrity.  It’s critical to understand the use of files and the data contained within each,
or poor indexing will result and time will be wasted later on re-indexing.

Comprehensive document assessment and the indexing that follows are tedious and time consuming.  They are also crucial in a company’s move toward electronic efficiency.

Create a clear document matrix showing document types, and indicate whether files are historical or current.  Note any staff access that’s required to complete tasks, and determine where and when files enter into various business processes.  Make sure all document types are
considered:  handwritten correspondence, faxes, audiovisual files, images, emails, and online forms. 

Engage all department managers (encouraging them to involve their staffs) to ensure you thoroughly understand how each document relates to business processes, fits into the document lifecycle, and its retention requirements.

#3:  Unrealistic expectations of staff.

It’s tempting to add document assessment to a staffer’s workload, but it’s usually a mistake.  The burden of scanning and indexing historical and current files can be overwhelming.  Employees who would otherwise focus on managing existing workloads (i.e., bringing the company
forward) suddenly are torn between current business needs and helping the company move forward. 

Evaluate what percent of the workforce will be off task during the assessment if it’s conducted internally.  New business, progress, and customer service may suffer from staff overload, and the damages may be irreversible. How to address this for a successful outcome needs to
be addressed.

Create a realistic document assessment timeline. Encourage your client to stay focused on business priorities. Minimize burdens by offering your services during the assessment period so their staff can concentrate on business-critical tasks.

Learn about typical document types for their business so you can ask intelligent questions and provide pertinent information.  Ask about services your EDM solution provider can supply if the customer insists on internal assessment and later discovers a lack of time or

#4:  Failure to analyze company-wide needs.

Most document assessments and EDM projects begin with a single department that is taxed with inefficiency.  Yet failure to examine enterprise implications may mean lost opportunities for company-wide improvement. 

Let’s assume Department A decides to scan invoices that are older than three months. The staff indexes them using terms that will help Department A’s staff to find the files efficiently.  If department A’s manager doesn’t communicate with business unit B’s manager, he may fail
to include additional indexing data that would help B’s staff locate information they need from the same documents. 

If department C automates a process and the documents previously imaged by department A contain some relevant but non-indexed information, some searches for data will be fruitless.  This can result in having to recreate indexing structures, or, far worse — futile searches for
irretrievable information.

If your client takes a departmental assessment approach, consult with all department managers and their staffs about the relevance of that department’s documents to other business areas and processes. It’s easiest to organize, capture, and index information properly the first
time.  Retrieving paper files, or re-indexing documents to include information thought previously to be unimportant, is a costly time waster.

#5: Not recognizing employees’ job insecurity fears.

Perception is reality.  So is the need for effective change management.  Employee fears can sabotage a planned document assessment and automation project, especially if people believe their jobs are threatened. 

Communicate your project goals with everyone on staff.  Involve end users, since they interact most closely with the files.  Explain the benefits they will receive from future automation, and how their skills will be redirected toward more meaningful and satisfying work. 

Help the team embrace the idea of spring cleaning. Everyone will benefit from the thoroughness of their work and the company will shine.

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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