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Where Does a Document Strategy Fit in the Corporate Picture

15 Dec, 2003 By: Kevin Craine imageSource

Where Does a Document Strategy Fit in the Corporate Picture

Documents play a
significant role in nearly every business strategy or initiative. Therefore,
documents should be given the same attention in strategic planning as other
important aspects of business such as marketing, finance, human resources and
information technology. A document-centric focus that is sensibly linked to
organizational objectives can mean the difference between the success and
failure of other important business plans. It is no longer enough for
organizations to plan and implement strategies in isolation from the document.
The challenge, as Peter Senge puts it, is to "think systemically and act
holistically". Organizations must adopt a more inclusive view of documents
by recognizing them as a vehicle to bring alignment and success to their entire
agenda of business strategies and objectives. Otherwise, the lack of this type
of strategic alignment will give rise to problems that will affect the overall
profitability of the firm.

Let's consider three
major strategies within an organization. Corporate, information technology (IT)
and document strategies are highly interdependent and important in the overall
success of any enterprise. Their misalignment can result in increased costs,
decreased profits and unsatisfied customers.

Corporate Strategy
Since before the Industrial Age, the bottom-line corporate objective has been to
make a profit. But making a profit is no longer the only aspect of doing
business that is important. Today, organizations must also take into account
additional factors of how they do business. As a result of the Total Quality
Management movement, many organizations now regard the satisfaction of their
customers as the measure of success that will ultimately determine their
profitability. Others have learned the importance of efficient and effective
workflow, and that efficiency is not always guaranteed by the purchase of the
latest technology. Forward-looking firms also recognize that information is a
vital asset and key to finding real return from investments in technology,
facilities and people.

While profit will
remain paramount, these additional aspects of corporate strategy play a crucial
role in determining the proper alignment between information technology and
document strategies.

IT Strategy In the
1970s and 1980s, information technology (IT) strategies were single minded. They
focused on simply gathering, processing and outputting data. With the advent of
high-speed laser printers, however, data processing professionals unwittingly
entered the world of document processing - a world hitherto inhabited only by
typesetters, graphic artists and pressmen. A gap developed between the
advancement of information technology and the cosmetic appearance of corporate
documents. Even today, countless documents continue to be issued that look
scarcely different than if they had been typed on a typewriter.

How could this
happen in light of the tremendous advancements in printer technology? The answer
lies in the misalignment between corporate, IT, and document strategies. Until
only recently, IT objectives could be summed simply: produce the right data at
the right time. The effectiveness of the documents produced was not a concern.
Does this mean that data processing professionals were insensitive to the needs
of the organization? No. Effective documents simply were not part of the
paradigm of the computer department. This is perfectly reasonable given the
traditional IT perspective, but who is looking at things from a document

Document Strategy
What single aspect of business is critical to profitability yet
"owned" by no one? The answer is: the Document. After all, most
organizations have an IT director, but how many have a "document
director"? The result is a proliferation of documents that do not
effectively foster corporate objectives. How often do you receive a statement
that doesn't make sense, a bill that is inaccurate or misleading, or a letter
that is confusing? How often do you find yourself searching for information in
multiple places, using duplicate forms or sifting through obsolete files? When
you open your mail, are you made to feel that your patronage is important or the
products that you buy are of good quality? The trouble is that no one has
responsibility for what these documents look like or how effectively they

To see the
consequences of this situation, imagine an overall corporate strategy that
includes these three basic elements: · Increase Revenue · Decrease Costs ·
Increase Customer Satisfaction

If documents going
to external customers are daunting or confusing, and communication is unclear,
what will be the effect on these basic corporate objectives? One result is that
customers may either be late with their payments or not pay at all. The result:
revenue will decrease. Instead of paying, customers may call the company for
clarification. The result: costs will increase. Eventually, customers may become
frustrated and angry about the way the company does business. The result:
satisfaction will decrease. What will be seen in the end is a total reversal of
the fundamental corporate objectives.

Consider the
consequences when looking at internal processes. In this case, corporate
strategy may be: · Decrease Effort · Increase Productivity · Reduce Labor

If internal
documents are misleading, hard to find, outdated or inaccurate, what will be the
effect on work processes? Workers will make mistakes, waste time looking for
needed information and require additional supervision. The result: more effort
will be required. Instead of being more productive, employees will be
continually re-working their tasks. The result: productivity will decrease.
Eventually, additional staff will be needed to maintain the business. The
result: headcount will increase. This is, again, a total reversal of corporate

In most
organizations today the IT department continues to focus solely on processing
data and delivering output. Even trendy business-to-business and Web-based
initiatives tend to focus more on technology than on communication. When viewed
from a document perspective, however, the negative consequences to a corporation
can be clearly seen. Most corporate strategies, however, have traditionally
overlooked documents as a factor that drives daily business. As a result, vital
documents may perform exactly opposite from their intended purpose. What is
needed is a document strategy to properly align corporate and IT strategies
around the key objectives of the firm.

Alignment of
Strategies The essential questions are: What is your corporate strategy and how
can your document strategy support it? What are the IT strategies needed to
enable both?

Like any fundamental
business strategy, a document strategy must be addressed at several levels. As
far as customers are concerned, the factors that determine satisfaction and
perceived quality are most apparent through external documents. As far as
workers are concerned, routine interdepartmental documents enable efficient
workflow and provide "corporate knowledge". Both of these aspects are
of fundamental importance to corporate profitability.

How we manage
documents has a great deal to do with how we manage business. A document
strategy can help make documents part of the success of a business rather than
one of the problems. Yet, only 25 percent of companies have a document strategy.
"Designing a Document Strategy" describes a much-needed method for
putting one into place.

article was provided by Kevin Craine. Kevin is the publisher of a book called
Designing A Document Strategy. To learn more about this topic, you can contact
him at Kevin@document-strategy.com.

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