Workflow Automation Software

Where isn’t that file?

Via Flickr by Tim GreenFirst, please take note that we used the word “file” and not “document” in this blog title.  It’s true that less orders, correspondence, contracts, etc. are being memorialized on paper or a “document”.  However, there is still a “file” being created that looks just like the paper document only its PDF or JPG.  That PDF receipt is a document and is the buyer’s proof of the transaction so they want it.

The receipt gets emailed to you (system #1) but then you forward it to an accounts payable system for processing (system #2).  Later, that same file is sent to a co-worker who had a question about it.  Maybe that was sent as an attachment in an instant messenger system like Slack (system #3).  Or that file was pushed out to Box as part of a special project (system #4).  You get the point, that file is everywhere now.  Where isn’t that file is more appropriate today.  But why should that be a concern? 

According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of a worker age 25-34 is only 2.8 years.  That means you will have a completely unfamiliar worker trying to find a contract or its supporting documents on a customer that has been in place for only three years.  On a five or ten-year old relationship you could have 3 or 4 different workers, or more if your turnover is higher, wasting time trying to find the right file. 

There is no simple solution to this problem but there are three places that you can get started.  First, have a designated document management system of record.  This is the organized and secure system where the final version gets stored.  Second, connect this system of record to as many of your line of business applications as possible so that the file is easily accessible by users from within the system they use every day.  Your key line of business applications will be your CRM or ERP, but it could also be an in-house portal like SharePoint.

Third, spend some time on user training to show users how they can send a link to the document from the system of record and not actually create another copy of it that resides in yet another silo. Train users how to make sure the final version goes into the system of record.  Here is where you also want to make sure that your system of record makes it as easy as possible to capture the final versions and ensure the final version is tagged properly for later retrieval.  That will be addressed in another blog post.

There are other reasons why you don’t want duplicate copies of files floating around your company such as privacy and litigation.  However, the most important reason that you want to have a system of record is so that decisions are made based on the right information.  Delayed or incorrect decisions will be more costly than the time wasted on searching.  Technology has made it easy to have many copies of a file floating around.  Spend some time to get that technology to work a little smarter.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  Contact us at info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com or (630_279-0577.

Optimism sends a good message

via Flickr, by Sergio AquirreWe recently sponsored and exhibited at two technology focused trade shows.  As most companies participating in these shows know, it’s a good way to see existing clients and to meet new prospects.  But its also a good way to stay informed about industry advancements and news, however optimistic.  There can be lots of very optimistic talk and presentations in the tech community.

Here’s the thing, however optimistic some people or companies might be, some of those plans and ideas probably make good sense and will someday become the standard.  Of the current crop of hot technology topics, such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, bots and robots, we are optimistic about…

Yes, we are optimistic about some of these technologies, namely AI and bots.  A bot is essentially a digital assistant.  You’ve probably come across one that pops up on a web site with a face or name and it’s asking to help you.  Bots are forms that have been automated and use some form of AI most likely.  Whereas you used to just fill in and submit the form.  Now the form is alive and asking you questions.

You can probably guess which two we think will become standards in the near term.  Yes, bots and AI.  Robots, a physical form of a bot, are already in use in factories.  We are still waiting to see a good office use for a robot.  We don’t see it in the near term for document management, but we know they exist and have seen some examples.  Maybe optimistic for an office robot to be the document scanning or copier assistant.

Blockchain has some promise and will have uses.   Like crypto currency, a use of blockchain, document management using blockchain for real estate transfers, for instance, requires significant investment and change management at the government level.  That will not be easy to accomplish on a local or national level in the near term.  Blockchain for lease documents – too optimistic.  Blockchain for certificates of insurance – maybe.

Optimistic people have a way of motivating others.  We’re optimistic about the use of artificial intelligence in workflow and document management.  AI is a tool that will help Millennia Group’s optimistic plan of simplifying document management.  Bots may also help simplify workflow and document management and if nothing else, make it a bit more interactive and less intimidating.  That’s not too optimistic or too much to ask.  We think it’s a good message.

Millennia Group simplifies workflow and document management with our SaaS solution, FileStar.  Contact us at info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Don’t forget to lock the front door

via Flickr - Paul FlintInformation security continues to be an important topic even if there haven’t been any newsworthy breaches recently.  That could be due to the nature of proper security, which involves continual effort and therefore top of mind.  Annual penetration tests, monthly vulnerability scans, scheduled password resets and authentication of new devices are a few recommended policies to stay secure.

Security was much easier when the ability to share was more difficult and the potential for inadvertent release was much lower.  Back when paper documents ruled the world, locked file cabinets or a managed file room with in/out tracking satisfied the requirements.  With digital documents, your systems need to be hardened and so do your users.  Data can leak through the back door or the front door.

System hardening, as mentioned above, involves policies and procedures that help protect the information.  Additional best practices include encrypting the files at rest, which essentially means your document management system encrypts the files on the server on upload.  But meta data associated with the files also needs to be encrypted, such as names, addresses, account numbers and social security numbers.  These efforts help protect your data in case a bad actor gets in through the backdoor.

Don’t forget that systems have a front door too.  Security needs to be part of the user awareness as well because with digital documents, the ability to move volumes of information is much easier than moving a wall of file cabinets.  Users with the ability to share large volumes of documents need to have training on how to configure security properly and only certain users should have that “share” capability.  Users should also have limits on how many documents can be emailed out of the system at one time.

Admin users need to monitor data flows via the system logs.  They also need to manage new user setup logs to ensure only approved users gain access.  Security settings need to be easily reviewed across all users and groups to audit existing configurations on a periodic basis.  Appoint an Admin to have security responsibilities for the document management system with quarterly reporting of activity.

It’s easier now to move large volumes of digital documents, containing valuable corporation information, so it is important to make sure security is tight at both the system and user level.  Free, folder based file sharing sites are useful, but the ease of use factor can be counter to your security objectives.  A network drive is even more difficult to manage.  Find a system that has both application level and user centric security covered and your documents will be safer.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  For more information visit our website at www.mgdocs.com or send us a note at info@mgdocs.com.

Tag and push is not a playground game

via Flickr - Mineola MinnesotaCompanies, large and small, have procedures or rules that employees are supposed to follow to complete certain tasks.  Each company determines the most efficient methods or methods that meet regulatory or compliance requirements.  These rules can be written in a manual, part of a checklist or built into software applications.

Rules incorporated into the code of software applications are relatively easy to build and highly effective.  One of the most difficult procedures to successfully implement, however, is document archiving.  When is a document the final final version and where should it be archived?  Making this decision and process easy should be every companies goal, but where to begin?

The first step is to make sure you simplify and standardize the archive hierarchy.  Consolidate the silos of documents into one, organized repository.  This should be separate and distinct from your active working directories or silos.  For instance, users are going to keep active spreadsheets or Word files on their local drive, in the shared drive or out in a collaboration tool.  Let those silos be for now.  Get the archive repository set and organized.

Next, make sure that where possible, collaboration tools can push content directly into the archive.  This might require apps or using APIs to facilitate the transfer and to guide users to select the right archive location.   Ideally the app and machine learning can help with this task by using the current file location to give clues to the proper archive location.  If possible, the transfer of the file can start a workflow that accomplishes tasks and has the benefit of archiving any attached documents upon completion.

Active files stored on a shared network drive or in one of the cloud storage solutions is a bit more of a challenge.  The files most likely already exist in some file folder structure.  When the user is done, its just assumed the file is complete – job over.  But the reality is that users could use a gentle reminder every week or so that files have been untouched for say 60 days and therefore, might be final final.  That reminder should make it easy to migrate the document to the correct location. 

There is a lot of effort being spent on making the collaboration on work easy.  A similar level of effort should be spent on making the transition of the results of that collaboration into an archive system easy also.  Soon enough, tag and push will be as common place as drag and drop.

Millennia Group has simplified document management through FileStar, a robust yet easy to use SaaS model workflow and document management system.  For more information, www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Should power users drive the bus?

via Flickr - Ian DickWithout a doubt you have come across business or personal applications that are not easy to use.  Business applications in particular can be less intuitive because of the complexity of the tasks required.  But that complexity may be due to over-engineering.  We have all heard of the less is more concept.  But in software, less isn’t really less, its just essential. 

There are always situations where one user wants another function or feature.  The trick is to identify the essential functions and help power users understand approaches to solving unique tasks.  When the tasks are performed frequently but by a few users or less frequently but by many users, the solution should support those tasks very well.  Here are some things to think about to select a solution that nails the essential functions and supports the power user.

The most important aspect of choosing a solution is defining exactly what problems or tasks the solution is needed for.  If the requirement is ensuring that users have a trusted source of customer contracts or employee documentation, then the solution needs to have features and functions that achieve that result.  A trusted source of critical documents doesn’t really need a feature to track the popularity trends of a document.  It really needs a feature to ensure the document is properly cataloged and stored. 

Determine the frequency of the tasks being performed.  The 10% rule should apply here.  If one person in the company has a specific task that they need the application to help them accomplish, don’t select the winner based on that.  Look at other ways to accomplish that task – there will be other ways.  Really hone in on the tasks that get done day in and day out and how well the application satisfies those tasks.

Understand your own company culture and language.  There are likely some applications that have navigation based on words commonplace to your industry or company.  If applications can tailor the toolbar descriptions or navigation to use familiar terminology, that will make the application easy for your users.  If the application can’t do that, look for applications that already service other companies in your industry, they have probably already tackled that issue.

There is a need to ensure flexibility in an application to support the power users.  But that does not mean there needs to be a built-in feature for every eventuality.  Make sure the application has easy to use data exporting.  At the very least, if your power users can export the data, they will find a way to customize that data and connect with other data to accomplish their task.  If the data is locked up in the application, that restricts use and flexibility. 

Power users are inherently creative and industrious and will be able to efficient pull a little from here and take a little from there and get the result they need.  If that need starts to be a daily need or weekly across many users and the demand for a more efficient way is justified, communicate that with the solution provider and see what can be accomplished.  Let the daily users drive the bus.

Millennia Group has been providing an easy to use, focused workflow and document management solution since 1996.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com.

I admit, machines are smarter than me

Image via www.vpnsrus.comMachines are smarter than me, at least after some smart people have told it what to think and since it is continually trained to get smarter.  Maybe that computer really isn’t smarter than me, but it certainly has a better memory.  In the context of our current lives, that translates into not forgetting passwords and never forgetting where I saved that file on the network.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are all the rage in most industries, including the document management industry.  There is a convergence of systems offering auto-classification and indexing of your files.  Tagging the file with information that someone can use to find it later and dropping the file in some deep folder structure and forgetting where that was might go away.  That seems like a smart approach and deserves some investigation.

There are a variety of ways to look at the auto-classification of files but the ultimate goals would be to make saving a file simple and finding a file reliable.  There is no doubt that eliminating the need to tag or add meta data to a file before saving it is a time saver.  Its also a time saver if the file, like an inbound invoice, could be identified as an invoice, auto start a workflow and automatically fill in the invoice number, date, vendor and amount.  That’s very smart.

Clearly if users don’t need to remember where files are stored to reliably find them later, that is a time saver too.  Think of all the times that you have spent clicking through endless folders to find some file or doing a keyword search, again and again.  If the classification rules and machines are smart enough, you will never need to worry how cohorts are saving files.  You will always find the information you need.

There are a few things to consider before adopting this type of solution.  First, it will not work as well with documents that are being added to the repository via scanning.  The OCR engines are still not 100% accurate and it can cause some hiccups.  Second, cost may become an issue for some companies.  Until this is a common feature across the industry, it will be costly to implement.  Third, the technology works best if used on consistent data sets.  For instance, the AI engine knows that all inbound documents are invoices and therefore can be highly tuned.

This is a very exciting solution for the document management industry.  Over time it will become common place.  In the meantime, it could work very well in certain circumstances and should be explored.  Of course, thorough testing is needed on your specific data and use case.  In the meantime, continue to look for efficiencies in your current approach, including workflows, smart tagging and user training.  These are also very smart, and in most cases affordable solutions.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  For more information visit www.mgdocs.com or send an email to info@mgdocs.com.

Support your local decision maker

via Flickr, Andy FoggHard as we all try, we are human and we make mistakes.  When these mistakes take the form of data entry errors, it can range from being an annoyance all the way to a full-fledged disaster.  Products get shipped to the wrong address, billing errors occur, critical dates are missed and so on.

Data entry into a “system”; an accounting system, CRM, ERP or any type of database or spreadsheet, feeds information to many users.  Therefore, it is important to do whatever it takes to ensure accurate information is captured and the wrong information is not magnified across many decision makers.  Here are some simple methods to support those decision makers and help them avoid costly mistakes. 

Where possible, you can require double entry of key information and the entries must match to confirm.  This is typical for data such as social security numbers, phone numbers and order numbers.  You can use workflow to force a review step of the data.  A second set of eyes can help prevent errors.  Forcing users to select only from an approved list or having some data validated against outside information can also help. There are many methods to try to avoid mistakes as data enters the system, but none are perfect.

It is common to find a document as the source of the data for many transactions.  You can support your local decision maker by enhancing their system with a link from the system directly to the source document.  Even with all the preventative options available, providing a link to the source document(s) so the user can quickly confirm the information, is a valuable tool to prevent mistakes. 

If the user is preparing to ship the order, they should be able to quickly confirm by viewing the Delivery Information Form provided by the customer.  If the user is billing a new tenant for the first time, they should open the actual lease document to double check.  If the user wants to avoid missing the renewal date, they should view the actual contract to confirm the true effective date. 

Image enabling a system, as that document link is called, can be achieved in almost any situation.  It does help if the system software is current.  It also helps if that system software is cloud based.  If you aren’t currently scanning your critical documents, this a great reason to start.  If you are and can get your document management system to be the source of the link, your decision makers will Thank You.

Millennia Group built and hosts FileStar, a workflow and document management system.  For more information you can contact us at www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

And the answer is…

via Flickr Terry JohnstonHere’s a situation that is probably familiar to many.  The company you work for has a database or some type of online application that contains information on your customers; CRM, accounting system, ERP, etc.  The customer calls and has a question.  It appears that some information was entered into the “system” but from experience, you know to double check.

The double check usually involves pulling up the original documentation. This lack of trust is not entirely unfounded nor irrational.  There are many unintentional mistakes made when doing data input or possibly mis-interpretation of terms.  What is the best way to ensure your employees always find out what the real answer is?

The beauty of having information in a database rather than in a document format is research for sales, marketing, compliance or reporting purposes.  How many contracts do we have that expire in the next 90 days or how many contracts do we have where the customer is NAICS code 99999?  That is impossible to do if all you had was a filing cabinet or even with a powerful document management system.  A database is needed.

Processes are being developed to incorporate the terms of a transaction that are captured in a CRM during contract negotiation, for instance, and then directly into a final version of a template document.  That might help cut down on some input mistakes, but what if changes were made on the execution copy of the document? That issue alone may forever instill mistrust in the “system” and prolong the need for the double check.

Smart contracts based on blockchain hold some promise in that there really isn’t a document.  The transaction is memorialized by data and information captured in a database – a blockchain structured database.  The whole idea behind blockchain is that the distributed and replicated nature of the data renders the data unchangeable and therefore a form of contract.  However, that also means everyone knows there was a transaction, which has its own downside.

One of the main drivers of value for any good document management system is in providing anytime/anywhere access to documents so employees can quickly pull up the original document and confirm the answer.  This is a vast improvement over paper files which are slower to retrieve and restrict multi-location growth.  The other value driver for a good document management system is in providing trusted access to the documents via input validation.  Make sure in-bound documents go through some review or require matching to your “system”.  That is where the real value is and where the best answers come from. 

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  Contact us at info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com or (630) 279-057

Does Sears have a good idea?

Via Flickr - Mikeg44311According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2016 and 2026 about 90% of job growth will be in service producing industries.  Sears is embarking on what might be a crazy idea that they can revive their retail model by making the stores smaller and what looks like increasing the level of service or service offerings related to what they sell.  Is this where the new jobs will come from, purchasers getting more service?

The U.S. BOL stats indicate that the number two jobs creator will be in Professional and Business Services and number 12 will be Information, including data processing and hosting.  Business software providers must fit into one of those two categories.  However, software providers, like Retailers, can suffer from a purchase decision based primarily on cost and functionality.  Should software firms follow Sears formula and not only provide technology but provide service?

There are software solutions in abundance for virtually all business needs.  After price and functionality comparisons there will still be many viable solutions available.  Will service become a more important contributor to the decision? It’s important to evaluate and value the service that’s needed to ensure your software meets company needs for a given time period.  But service is not an easy component of the purchase decision to put a value on.    

Service value may be a function of the several factors.  How critical is the up time for a particular software to the functioning of the company and its daily operations?  Does the software have many users or is it a middleware? Does the software rely on data input from users or data feeds from other applications?  What should be the expectation for ongoing service given your company’s situation, ie. growth mode, changing industry, in-house IT or outsourced? 

The type of software will certainly help frame the computation of service value.  Software providers and their business partners absolutely should focus on providing good, friendly tech support.  That is a no brainer.  Companies should look beyond just help desk and technical service though.  Is there a closely correlated service that is ancillary that can benefit the company.  For instance, a document management software provider also providing data migration or data capture services.

Software providers need to work with their customers to find solutions to business problems.  Those solutions may be functional tweaks to the software, but they can also be value added services that directly compliment the product.  Sears may have a good idea.  It does seem to make sense that the refrigerator eventually is going to need a repair or new video doorbell might need installation.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions and services since 1996.  For more information – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577.

The Ideal plan may not seem ideal

The prospect of getting a company to change a long established process is difficult, especially when that process touches multiple departments.  That should not discourage technology solution providers and businesses from having the confidence to make well thought-out ideas happen, even if seemingly idealistic. 

Despite excellent planning, some hurdles will take a long time to clear.  One or two parts of the plan may need to slip into a later phase.  Creating a plan that needs to deviate from the ideal solution in the short term may be disappointing, but could it be the ideal plan in the end?

Using a phased approach is common when implementing big corporate wide applications.  ERP implementations come to mind where the initial phase might include rolling out the accounting module then subsequent phases add the CRM module, then the inventory module and so on.  With workflow, there might be phased inclusion of departments in the digital process based on integration hurdles.

Think about a new customer onboarding workflow.  The workflow may start in the Sales department with the receipt of a signed contract.  Then that workflow may travel through the credit department, the accounting department, the compliance department and maybe even the IT department.  Throughout the process these departments are contributing to or consuming information from the workflow.  Those touch points or interactions become the hurdles.

Are all contributors of information inside the company where adoption of the solution is mandatory?  Are all users able to consume information in the same format that they are currently used to?  The goal will be to setup the workflow with the anticipation that integrations will be completed and the ideal solution accomplished.  However, some aspects may initially need to be more practical then sleek.

Create a scenario where the end result will produce tangible, significant benefits but also have a high degree of probability that it will get implemented.  Find ways to make the process achievable today while flexible to convert to the preferred process in a later phase.  Make sure the ideal solution is not too idealistic and you will get measurable positive results sooner.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  For more information visit www.mgdocs.com or contact us at info@mgdocs.com.