Workflow Automation Software

Open for Business

Via Flickr - Brian HawkinsAs a provider of a workflow and document management system we hear first-hand the number of applications that companies use to support their business.  There is always a discussion of how data and documents are being captured, created, shared and the flow within the organization.  We have never interacted with a customer or prospect that is on a single solution for all business functions.  Like Sasquatch, the killer app doesn’t really exist.

The reality is that many different applications are used throughout the organization.  Departments tend to fight hard to get the application most suited to their needs so they can carry out their mandates with effectiveness and efficiency.  That leaves the IT department scrambling to ensure that each department’s key solution can interact with all the others.  Every solution provider strives to be an open platform to accommodate this effort, but what does that mean?

Applications need to be built to handle data exchanges with other applications.  Usually this falls into one of two approaches.  There is the API or application programming interface, that gives an external source access to the internal functions to push or pull data.  Another approach is to have one application push data out to a text or csv file to a secure spot where another application can pick it up to process it.  This is generally just a scheduled data interchange approach known as EDI or electronic data interchange.  Very effective and reliable. 

Whichever method is used, the purpose is the same, common data exists that needs to be shared in order to arrive at the most effective and efficient process.  With document management, there is data exchange that needs to happen in order to create documents with pre-populated information like the customer name or account number.  Document management systems can also feed a list of documents to the ERP as supporting information for transactions, customers or vendors. 

A piece of this puzzle that can go unnoticed is the concept that the document or information about the document is in fact data.  It is that data association that allows the right document or set of documents to be accessed immediately when the customer or order number is referenced.  Without a document being stored and associated with the data, a document is just a static piece of information that is hidden away.  

Folder based systems can fall short in this area because sharing or accessing that data in a folder name or file name is impossible or very complex.  If the organization is going to be effective and efficient in its processes, then the document management system needs to be open for business and contain separate meta data that allows all systems to be tied together.

Since 1996 Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions that are based on meta data and an open architecture.  For more information contact us at info@mgdocs.com or www.mgdocs.com.

The Next Big Thing

Via Flickr - Christian SchnettelkerI participated in a webinar recently sponsored by Realcomm, an organization devoted to the advancement of technology for the commercial real estate industry.  It was about the future and hype verses reality.  My contribution was squarely on the reality side as I described how our real estate clients gain efficiency by using workflow to automate document oriented business processes. 

You might think, “do we still have documents?”  The answer in my world and the foreseeable world of our Fortune 5000 clients is, Yes.  Documents may not be in paper form any longer, but documents of some type (spreadsheet, PDF contract, etc.), are the support for data and todays decisions.  But to see the future, the next big thing, you need to believe in the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR).

There is no doubt that all of these big ideas are actually in use today and most likely touch our lives.  Buildings you work in might have elevators, chillers or pumps that are constantly communicating maintenance information that is reviewed and proactively managed.  Your phone can answer your questions via AI.  You may buy a house with only a virtual walk-through.  And doctors are receiving surgical training using VR.

What I found interesting about these big ideas was how they can and probably will transform our daily lives.  Artificial intelligence will lead us to roadways full of driverless cars.  Consequently, your local mall will have a spot for you to stop and exit your car, and then your car will drive itself to a parking lot a mile away until you are ready to have it come pick you up.  You will be able to virtually place a piece of furniture into your own virtual home to see how it fits before you purchase it. 

It is a benefit to all of us that there are people thinking far enough ahead on these issues.   Investment decisions, infrastructure projects and ideas that effect our daily lives need advanced planning and vetting.  Making todays reality more efficient also takes planning and vetting and the payoff period is probably long as big ideas always need big lead times.

Millennia Group, LLC provides workflow and document management solutions.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577

Make my day – delete those records

via Jay Gorman from FlickrRecords retention and records management are very important principles in dealing with corporate information.  Records management being the overall guide book for employees on to how to store and classify information.  It is also about proper management of that information including legal holds (don’t destroy if litigation is in process), access to information and records retention.

Records retention is basically an information destruction plan based on business or legal requirements.  A business doesn’t necessarily want the burden of securing confidential, but outdated information for ever – ie. former patient records.  Creating a records management policy and records retention schedule requires a lot of effort and yet the actual deletion of records is a very difficult step to take. Here are some thoughts on how to feel better about pulling the trigger.

First, you need to get comfortable that you can properly identify and segregate information.  For instance, you need to have confidence that you can tell the difference between a current customer and a former customer.  Once you have the list of former customers, you need to understand how many years it has been since the last activity with that customer.  Now that you know and feel good about the subset of information that qualifies for destruction, the actual destruction is much easier.

Also, think through the reality of older information.  It is quite possible that 10 years ago you may not have been tracking as much information about the customer and their activities.  For instance, you may not have been tracking the country of origin of the source materials in their products that you purchase.  The older the information is, the less relevance it has to how you run your business today.  Provided the legal requirements to maintain those records has passed, fire up the shredder.

In regards to destroying paper documents that you have in digital form, the same prior comments apply, AND you have a digital copy.  We definitely have witnessed a growing willingness to destroy the paper copy after a review of the scanned version.  Some executed legal documents like contracts and certainly deeds and bank notes are retained in hard copy even-though the documents were scanned.  That makes sense.  But if you have a scanned version and you have taken steps to ensure that it is not tampered with, you really don’t need a paper copy of most documents.  It is called the Best Evidence Rule and it applies in most if not all states and at the Federal level.  Confirm your particular requirements.

So, make sure you have a retention policy that provides clear guidelines on when information types or classifications can be destroyed for business and legal purposes.  Make sure you can clearly identify and segregate the information on that basis and remember that old information is really not that useful anyway, then pull the trigger.

Millennia Group has been providing document management solutions since 1996. www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com

Please, not another username and password!

Via Flickr by Jans CanonForm Follows Function.  This is a quote from famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.  Sullivan designed buildings to be functional first and then worked on building aesthetics.  For software implementation, you might say Function Follows Security. 

For any software, especially document management software, it is extremely important to understand the capabilities of the software’s security model before you begin to work out the configuration and hierarchy of your data.  That is unless you don’t mind having users who need multiple user names and passwords to create the access they need?

While going through the analysis phase of the implementation, list out the types of information that will be managed in the system.  Then list out all the different groups of users that will need access to the system and what parts of the information or levels of access these groups might need.  Also consider what type of access such as View, Contribute, Edit and even Delete rights.  This will help to create an access matrix that will be invaluable as you lay out the structure.

It would be relatively easy if each group of users each only accessed one set of information.  In that world, most any document management system would provide the security capabilities and it should be very functional.  For instance, only users in the accounting department will need to access or contribute documents to the Accounting folder.  Only users in the marketing department will need to access marketing information. 

However, no company that I am aware of is quite that simple.  Users in the legal department probably want access to review marketing information before it is released.  The finance department most surely wants to understand the recent accounting reports.  And as we have witnessed in our customers, some users should only see accounting information related to the subsidiary they work for – it gets granular.

Security is a very complex issue in document management and in most software applications.  Gone are the days where it was easy to prevent people in the Cleveland office from accessing file folders located in the Minneapolis office.  The physical separation was pretty secure.  The digital separation of information is controlled by security and requires due consideration and planning.

So before you choose a solution, get an understanding of what your security matrix looks like and then make sure you understand the solutions capability to meet the needs.  Also, remember that the advanced security setups that are available today should not be looked at solely as a pain to configure. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to share information in the most productive way possible – ie. Not via unsecure email.

Millennia Group provides cloud based workflow, imaging and document management solutions that help companies take advantage of technology. www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, 630-279-0577.

Vision Influences the Purchase Decision

Speaking strictly from the standpoint of workflow and document management, there are factors that support a purchase and issues that can lead to a “Don’t Need it” response. via Flickr, Jase Lam Ifyou can’t determine need, then cost, as a factor, is irrelevant.  If there is need, it is clear that cost impacts the decision and the expected return must outweigh the cost.  It is a fairly simple concept but establishing need is not so simple.

How can you uncover the factors that determine need and create opportunities in the buyer’s mind?  This is where the technology really must shine.  There has to be enough Wow factor to override the fear of change, the expected implementation effort or simple doubt.  But is it really Wow that makes someone think they need a solution or is it something subtle that sparks a vision of need?

The factors that might spark the vision could be minor features like auto alerts so that a sales order doesn’t fall through the cracks.  Maybe there was a situation like that recently so it resonates.  Workflow reports that show process times and identify bottlenecks could be important to someone who is struggling with managing a changing workforce. 

There are document management features that can demonstrate how quickly a customer service rep can respond with good information and solutions.  Happy customers are always a good thing.  Maybe it is as simple as having all of the relevant documents in one central repository.  Not having to hunt down information can relieve a lot of aggravation for employees.

No business runs all processes perfectly.  All businesses have a process that can use some improvement and most employees know exactly which process it is.  Seeing some examples of workflow and document management solutions can help someone envision the solution to their own problems. 

Solutions that you didn’t think were possible or affordable might be out there.  Take a look.  Envision a different way.  You may find some very good solutions that will make your day run a lot smoother and the company a lot more money.  And these solutions might take some effort to get off the ground, but the effort will be short lived and the benefits will last a long time.

Millennia Group provides imaging, workflow and document management solutions.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577

Convention News (File Naming Convention that is)

The tie in between the current media focus on the political conventions and several recent projects involving file naming conventions, was too good to pass up.  The political conventions are all about delivering a consistent, patterned message.  Naming conventions are all about consistent, patterned file names. 

Political conventions are noisy and full of bluster, but focused on getting a large group of people to back a single platform.  Naming conventions, while preferably not noisy or blustery, must be developed on a platform that will be understood by a large group of people.  But as we all know, one solution may not fit everyone’s needs.

In the document management world, file naming conventions are utilized in maybe 33% of the systems we see.  In our experience, most of these companies use a folder based document management system or just store files on a network drive in folders.  There are good reasons to use a naming convention in these situations.  Let me explain.

Having a structured file name is generally intended to make finding documents easier.  If you scan a contract and store that PDF on your network drive or store it in a folder in the cloud, you probably name the file with a pattern like this – “CustomerName-Contract-072816.pdf”.  When a user sees this file on a drive or in a folder, it is pretty clear what it is.

A user could do a search for the customer name and find the document or possibly search for the date to locate the file.  However, if the customer name is spelled wrong, it may be more difficult to locate.  And when the actual document name (not file name) gets to be a bit long, like “Assignment and Assumption Agreement”, abbreviations come into play and that can make searching more difficult too.

If you are going to use a naming convention, it should include at least two unique pieces of information that will ensure you can find the document.  For instance, in addition to the customer name, include the customer number ie. “88888-CustomerName-Contract-072816.pdf”.  We also suggest that the structured approach only be used in scenarios where abbreviations are minimal and universally understood. 

Lastly, we suggest that a structured naming convention only be used where the need is basic search and retrieval.  If your business regularly needs more advanced search capabilities, such as finding and gathering all invoices for utility vendors between January 1, 2016 and June 30, 2016, you will need a different method – a meta data based system.

If your company needs more advanced search and retrieval methods for users, look for a meta data or database driven document management system.  Even in a meta data driven system, you can still employ structured naming via a standard list of document names concatenated with other fields of data you chose.  This convention can be the best of both worlds.

For more information on Millennia Group and our meta data drive document management and workflow solutions, please visit www.mgdocs.com or email us at info@mgdocs.com.

Want better software ROI? Hug a risk taker.

Image via Doniree Walker at FlickrWhen it comes to software, it is important to have the right features, but you also need good functionality and some risk takers to get the most out of the investment.  Features are the capabilities of the software.  Functionality is all about how easy it is to use those features and apply them to real world tasks.

Most if not all users will discover the basic features and will become functional once they are trained.  Only super users will play around with the application enough to figure out all the features.  But how quickly will they translate the discovered features into functional solutions?  That depends on how many risk takers there are in the company. 

I heard someone say the other day that they would try the new application – “why not, I can’t break it”.  That attitude is critical to the adoption and use of features in software.  But how do you instill that attitude across all employees or as many as possible?  These types of users are critical to getting the full return on the investment.

Take document management software as an example.  There are likely features in your document management software that support digital signatures and version control.  The key is to get users to be comfortable using those features on a daily basis – taking the risk to try out sending out a document that requires the receiver to sign it digitally or using the version control feature instead of creating a new file.v2.

We are all wired differently so there is not likely a single method to successfully get that message across.  But the response from the help desk and management should be consistent – non-disparaging, supportive and encouraging at all costs.  The software has to work too, that is a given.

If the software has the right features with good functionality, that is a good start.  Users without fear will learn, adopt and excel at using technology and taking it to its full potential.  That means that your organization will reap the benefits of that technology in better efficiency and productivity.  Hug a risk taker today.

When Is Automated Workflow Justified?

There are dozens of processes that every employee must participate in during the typical work week. Review the budget, create the report, enterVia Flickr by Ian Carroll the new contract. When does it make sense to automate that process?

If the process happens every day all day, yes, automate it. If the process is complicated and prone to errors, yes automate that. What if the process only happens once a week or once a month? Let’s look at a few other key reasons to automate.

Having a flexible solution might help grow the company by attracting new business or expanding in a current area of focus. For instance, if a process requires a special skill set but those employees are difficult to hire, having a cloud based workflow might allow you to offer a work from home option.

Some processes have a very high value and might have a strict compliance requirement. For instance, FDA approval for a drug is a very costly process and requires strict security and compliance. Therefore, having a workflow process is important to ensure all steps were taken, reviewed and approved, even if only one drug a year is submitted.

Look at all of your processes and create a matrix of Frequency, Value, Risk, Compliance and Flexibility and weight each process from High to Low in each of these categories. You should be able to quickly spot the low hanging fruit and focus in on processes that deserve a full evaluation. At the end of the day, you will be able to justify some automation.

Compliance, risk, value and flexibility are all good reasons and may have little to do with tangible costs. The intangible cost of litigation or penalty for non-compliance might be very high. Of course, there always needs to be a cost benefit study, including an analysis of the current process and an estimate of the cost of any technology solution. Do some homework, it will pay off.

Millennia Group, LLC, www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 x122, www.collectdocs.com

Active vs Final Documents – Co-habitation?

Via Flickr - Stuart BassilA technology issue that companies deal with on a regular basis is using one application for managing active or working documents and a separate application for the archived or final documents. Active being defined as documents in the creation or working stage and final being final or executed.

This situation exists because of how and why these documents are created, accessed and shared. Certain employees are document Creators and others are document Users and their needs are very different. The Holy Grail is one application to manage both. The reality is you need two applications. Let us explain why that is not a bad thing.

Speed and flexibility is demanded by the document Creators. The Creators just want to get their job done and get it done quickly. But that is inconsistent with the rules imposed by a document management and retention system. The document Users need the documents to support the sales, accounting or customer service functions and they need the information to be exactly where they expect to find it – it’s all about rules, control and process.

For Creators and active documents, the most common “applications” for managing the files are a network drive and folder system or a file sharing application. These applications make it very easy to create and store the files and share them via email or upload. The lack of rules allows each Creator to do their own thing in the way they work best. Employees don’t want to spend time filling in 6 description fields for each document, checking it in and checking it out. This is especially difficult when outside parties are involved, like contractors or lawyers.

For Users of final documents, companies have realized that a document management system is the only way to ensure that employees are accessing the right documents to make critical business decisions. Without a document management system, files are lost due to a lack of naming consistency or the documents are hard to find due to the share volume of folders to click through. A document management system helps force minimum descriptions and controls access to the documents.

The solution to the issue is to have a process and training to ensure that the final document goes into the document management system and follows all the rules in the transition. This can be handled via a workflow process or by establishing formal procedures. All relevant information needs to be captured and all required documents should be accounted for. There is even the possibility of migrating all working files into the final archive so that the entire history is available, but not cluttering up the Users view.

It is very difficult to build one application that is both flexible and open and yet have the control and security needed. It is more efficient to build a process that connects the two applications while letting each divergent set of user’s work how they work.

If you have questions about document management and workflow, please contact us, we would love to hear from you.

www.mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 x122 or info@mgdocs.com.

Do we really need a Secretary of the Future?

Via Flickr by Maurizio PesceThere are plenty of references in our daily lives to the future and yet, somehow, we don’t always spend time to really consider the future. Songs refer to the future, books refer to the future, so do TV shows and movies, the news and much more. Even the Government is now talking about a Secretary of the Future.

In fact, it may be very useful for all of us to spend a little time each week to consider the future. Not the dreamy type future, but the realistic future that is occurring right before our eyes. For instance, will you need a pen ten years from now or will every contract be signed digitally? Amazing how a simple thought like that can set a process of critical thinking in motion.

Try this to start focusing your critical business thinking in the right direction. Don’t ask yourself what the future will bring. Instead, try asking yourself what will be missing. Steering wheels? Laptops? File cabinets? Email? That’s right, if we only want to communicate with people in our network because email creates too much noise, we can use a Chat tool or LinkedIn.

Start thinking about the future and quickly all the possibilities and how they could benefit you and your organization get clearer. We see this future based thinking already in our client base. As our clients grow or move they make decisions about the physical space requirements and already they are eliminating the need for file cabinets. A little forward thinking is saving dollars today and well into the future.

So make sure you carve out some time on a regular basis to look at what is happening around you and what it may look like 5 or ten years from now. It really can be quite fun and produce tangible benefits at the same time.

For information on Millennia Group’s document imaging, workflow and management solutions please visit www.mgdocs.com or contact us at info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577 x122.