Workflow Automation Software

Too many to choose from

Via Flickr - Chris WinterDo you ever marvel at the number of choices available in the bottled water aisle at any grocery store or online market? There are dozens of options to choose from.  How about barbeque sauces, bourbon, pizza or crackers?  There are far too many choices and it gets frustrating and time consuming to make any kind of decision.

This has some similarities to the frustration many people experience when they are searching for a file at work.  They may find a copy of the file duplicated in multiple places.  Determining which copy is the final version is both time consuming and frustrating.  The process of de-duplicating is not an easy task, but reducing our choices has obvious benefits and it can be done.

In document management terms, de-duplicating is the process of eliminating redundant copies of files.  In this digital file dominated era, file copies can be in many places including cloud storage, network drives, local drives and even as email attachments – cc’d to many people.  Making sure that all employees are looking at, and making decisions on, the same file is very important.

The challenge is two pronged; 1) figuring out how to clean up the existing mess and 2) preventing it from happening in the first place.  Cleaning up the existing mess involves a combination of technology and labor.  The technology can be as simple as finding all files with the same filename and properties (date modified, file size, creator, number of words, etc.) to actually comparing the content of the files.  For full comparison, some files may need to be opened and reviewed, especially scanned documents.

After the duplicates are identified, the technology takes over to separate and re-file the known, record copies into a new, organized structure.  Preventing the duplicates from happening in the first place starts with a well organized and easily understood filing structure or taxonomy.  Eliminate rogue silos of files being kept by employees and merge the silos into a single document management system or as few storage locations as possible.

Then to really cut down on duplicates, institute cloud based file sharing or use a cloud based document management solution.  Actual files don’t need to be emailed around, just links back to the single, record copy.  Also look at using workflow to capture the creation, revisions, approval and ultimately the archival of the final version of the documents.  Don’t put your employees in a situation where the choices are a burden – start to de-duplicate.

Blockchain will heat up your document strategy

via Flickr - sicilianoWe recently attended and exhibited at a technology trade show for the commercial real estate industry. The technologies that were in the spotlight were wide ranging from remotely monitored and controlled water values to AI solutions for recurring administrative tasks. Less “hot” technologies were also represented like accounting, lease management and of course workflow and document management systems.

Blockchain is poised to spice up the future of the document management world. There is quite a way to go before transactions are conducted and documented with blockchain documents. However, the concept is promising and it is sure to have an impact on how documents are stored, created, shared and even alter the definition of a document.

First, some background. Blockchain is a word that is used to describe a method of storing information that makes it extremely difficult to alter. The information is encrypted and redundant copies are essentially kept in a de-centralized record system, blocks. Theoretically, if you open a document that is stored (or its code [aka hash] is stored) in the blockchain, you can instantly verify if it has been altered. All references to the document (hash) stored in the blocks will match, which validates the document.

Once a document has been signed by both parties and the final version is stored in the blockchain, both parties can feel comfortable they will be referencing the same, final document. The question is how do you do that? If your organization stores its legal documents on a network drive, how it is validated? Possibly, when the document is opened it will automatically use the internet to confirm the hash/code with the blockchain.

If your organization uses a document management system, it will need to allow some communication with the blockchains to verify documents. Notice the plural use of the word blockchains. There is no restriction on who can establish a blockchain so each industry might have one or some large company may create one. Therefore, your document management system must be capable of accessing all of them. In fact, that is how the current digital signature industry works, only each digital signature player acts as the blockchain (DocuSign, RightSignature, etc.).

Some documents, like the simple apartment lease or mobile phone service agreement, might actually be data files only and all data would be stored in the blockchain. Therefore, no document actually exists, but both parties can access the information about the unalterable terms via their contract application. Those are situations that are referred to as smart contracts since the data can include both banks account numbers and therefore, the blockchain can automatically request payment and make a payment. No real need for a document management system.

More complex transactions have more complex documents and would not likely be good candidates for smart contracts. And the blockchain doesn’t necessarily offer privacy, which also might deter use for complex transactions. Deeds and other property records, that are ultimately public record, might be good candidates for blockchain and might be cost effective compared to paper. The bottom line is that there is a lot to be worked out and some things may change and other things may radically change. There is no doubt, this will change how all organizations manage documents.  Stay tuned.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  Visit www.mgdocs.com for more information or send an email to info@mgdocs.com.

Email is not dead, just mature

via Flickr - Quinn DobrowskiYour email solution used to be both your communication tool and document management solution.  Everyone was sending messages and documents to everyone else and then just creating a nice neat (sometimes) folder structure to save the emails for future reference.  For a while that was a tremendous improvement over phone calls, stacks of paper and filing cabinets.

Then came the demand for corporate wide information access and individual user email accounts were demoted and retention policies were implemented.  The next dagger was the lack of encryption on standard email such that corporate information was therefore at risk.  Possibly the final blow is that email became a spam fest.  But wait, email is not dead and there are good reasons why.

Really an email is a document, a record, a corporate asset that should be treated as such.  Email, as opposed to messaging, is used when there’s a desire on the sender’s part to memorialize the conversation or message.  What once was accomplished by writing a letter, is now frequently accomplished by sending a well written email.  These writings are now retained or should be retained in your document management system.

Messaging apps, by contrast, are used as casual conversation or quick thought tools.  It would take some clean up before you would generally want to archive a message thread in the corporate document management system.  A quick word of caution – messaging apps are subject to legal discovery, so be careful what you do say.  Messaging has probably replaced many phone calls and reduced the number of three-word email responses.  But messaging is not generally used to memorialize corporate actions, decisions or activity.

Standard email is still not encrypted and caution should be used when sending confidential information in the body or as attachments.  Secure email systems do exist and should be used to transmit confidential information and documents.  The email itself may be a document record and if so, should be added to your document management system.  Your document management system should make it easy to add email messages in and allow you to securely share documents externally via email.

Email has replaced letter writing.  The email itself has become a document.  Email is readily available on your desktop or your phone.  It is cost effective compared to delivery services.  There are also secure email methods available either within your document management system or with secure email applications.  Email is not dead, it’s use has finally matured to a point where it is both communication tool and recognized corporate record.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  For more information, visit our website at www.mgdocs.com or contact us via email at info@mgdocs.com.

Derby Day is coming, place your bets

via Flickr - Phil RoederIt’s completely acceptable and a lot of fun each year to take some risks and place some bets when the Kentucky Derby is run.  The riskiness of the horse you choose is usually based on a personal hunch, minimal research or discussions with a spouse, family or friends.  The amount of loss is known up front and may or may not have anything to do with the riskiness of the horse selected.

If only all risk assessment was so easy.  When you look at real life risk assessment as it relates to your company’s information assets, it’s a very complicated issue.  Here are some basic points that should be considered when trying to protect (aka mitigate risk to) your information assets like documents and data.  Avoiding a data breach is a bet that you really want to win.

Start with the basic process of understanding what data you have and what it’s value is to the organization.  The social security numbers of all of your employees or customers is high value data.  The parts numbers of all the products you carry is not very high in value, but the design drawings or intellectual property behind those parts might be.  Segregate your information into buckets of high, medium and low value.

Next look at the form of that data and where that data is stored.  Start with paper documents.  Relatively secure, especially if in a protected environment like locked file cabinets and with fire suppression protection.  Mainly secure because it’s too much work for data thieves to comb through documents. They would rather have a nice spreadsheet to steal.  Most data today is digital so find out if it is inside or outside your firewall?  It can be debated which is more secure, but start with understanding where the data is located.

Another key to risk analysis is understanding what the risks are.  Is the only risk theft from a dark web participant?  Could there be risk from internal theft?  How about the risk that information is accidently lost or shared or destroyed?  Is there a risk that some procedure was put into place to process information more efficiently, but the procedure actually increased the risk of data loss?

Design processes to be efficient, but always contemplate the risk impact.  Create procedures to mitigate risks, then follow up on those procedures to make sure they are being adhered to.  For instance, all databases containing social security numbers must have the data fields encrypted.  That is a good requirement to mitigate risk.  Now have a standard procedure to have someone test that on any new database implemented.  That is proper risk mitigation strategy.

Once you understand the data that you have and you assign value to that information, you can start to understand the risks associated with it.  Then design processes and procedures to mitigate those risks.  It is not as fun as placing a bet and winning at your favorite Derby party, but lowering your data breach risk is a huge win.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions in a secure SaaS model. For more information – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Friday the 13th can happen any day

via Flickr - Stefano CobucciNormally we don’t do a blog post on a Friday, but since this is Friday the 13th it seems like a good time to remind everyone that document disasters can happen any day.  The cause of these disasters is usually us and we can screw up today or any day.  So be careful, be diligent and try to be organized.    

What are the typical disasters that can happen?  Accidental deletion of a document, a file dragged and dropped into the abyss, version nightmares ie. V1, V2, V998 and counting, files that are too large to email or upload or download, and on and on. 

Accidental deletion is a bad one.  The only advice here is to be extra extra careful if you know the file storage location doesn’t have backup or only has backup nightly.  If you create and delete a file in the same day, it may not be backed up because that process typically only runs at night.  Find out how your file server and backups are configured and act accordingly.

Searching for a lost document, whether your searching your email system, a file server or the cloud storage is a pain.  Hopefully there is a full text search option available to you and hopefully the file you are looking for has searchable text, like a Word document or a PDF with searchable text.  It does help to make sure you name files with some intelligible words and not some cryptic language.  See if you can get scanned documents converted to text searchable PDF.

Version control is a difficult one to stay on top of if you don’t use a content management or document management system AND use the built-in version control.  Yes, it may take a few more seconds to load a file and to file it away, but…  One tip here is to always save versions only in one folder.  Try not to save one version on your local drive and then save one on the file server and then another in the cloud.  Now you are really making it difficult to figure out which one is the most current.

Lastly, problems with file sizes. Some email systems and cloud based applications still limit the size of uploads.  As far as we can tell, much of this problem is related to scanning documents on digital copiers.  Check your copier to see if the default settings are to scan in color at 600 DPI.  That will take a 10 page document and turn it into a 30 meg file and incompatible with many systems.  Change the settings if you can to 200 DPI, black and white and only use color when you really need to.

We hope these little tips help you and keep the curse of the 13th away today and every day.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions to companies that want to get and stay organized. www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com

Has efficiency peaked with mobility?

Via Flickr - Giorgio MontersinoIt seems simple to envision the tools required by a mobile worker.  The basics quickly jump to mind including a phone, a laptop, chargers of course and a Starbucks or Panera card.  Then you need a location, which could include a home office, an office suites membership or the aforementioned coffee shop.

The real tools of the trade are more software oriented.  It’s critical to have a fully cloud based infrastructure or a VPN that provides access to your CRM, accounting system/ERP, messaging app, email and of course documents.  The emergence of technology and the disappearance of ledger books, the Rolodex and filing cabinets resulted in amazing efficiency gains.  Now that these tools are also available to mobile users, has efficiency peaked?

Even with all of the great new tools at our disposal, incorrect accounting entries still occur.  Important contacts are still missing from the CRM.  And always, on any given day, time is spent trying to find a lost digital document.  These tools have definitely allowed employees to have more flexibility, in fact total mobility.  Now it’s time to focus in on optimizing efficiency.

Enough information is available for users to work at an acceptable level of efficiency, mobile or not, based on the low hanging fruit of a cost benefit analysis.  To move beyond just acceptable and get closer to optimal, what is the cost?  What is the cost of implementing an accounting system that demands double blind data entry to avoid mistakes?  What is the cost of sniffing out every bit of new or updated contact information from employees?  What is the cost of emptying out the file cabinets or the off-site document storage?

Measuring the gains will be more difficult because they will likely be in soft benefits like less mistakes, improved customer service and possibly less employee turnover.  The costs can be justified in an ROI analysis, with a little effort.  Some level of probability could be assigned to losing a client due to poor customer service applied to the average dollar value of the customer.  The same computation could be used to value a missed opportunity.  Maybe a lack of information could result in opening up the company to litigation risk.    

Total those costs up and see how you can now justify some additional document scanning, a new workflow module with a mandatory review step or possibly a bonus pool tied to CRM updates per month.  These and other business changes will not only benefit mobile workers, they will also lead to optimal company efficiency.

Millennia Group provides cloud based workflow and document management solutions that help companies optimize operations.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 x122

Valentine’s day has past, but show your data some love

via Flickr - Open KnowledgeWe serve clients in many different industries; commercial real estate, manufacturing, insurance, telecommunications, non-profit, education, etc.  Each one of these industries has some critical information that drives the company or certainly a significant department within the company. 

Most of the time that critical information is data that is pulled from or supported by documents.  Lease agreements and other contracts contain the terms and conditions that feed the accounting system.  Customer orders contain the all-important customer information that goes into the ERP.  Unorganized, mis-filed, inaccessible documents result in inaccurate data.

In a completely paperless environment like an online order, the typical data error is caused by the user mis-keying an address or ordering the wrong item.  The user interface is configured to prevent this by having an order confirmation page for the user to acknowledge.  Mistakes may still occur, but are minimized with a simple step.

With data derived from documents or supported by documents, the process was to send the information around in a folder from preparer to reviewer to data entry.  Maybe it even involved using overnight shipping from field office to the corporate office.  That progressed to sending the support via email or uploading documents to the network or the cloud.  That is a faster, less costly process, but still lacks visibility, tracking and a confirmation requirement. 

In order to ensure that you are getting good data in your business systems, use technology to develop a good collection, review and confirmation process.  A document management system can collect and route a complete package of information through a defined process – aka, workflow.  Build a workflow to send alerts, provide real-time tracking and to enforce validation and review of critical data. 

Show your data some love by building out a workflow to help manage the process.  Identify your critical data and documents.  Analyze how the information is received, accessed, stored, shared and even disposed of.  Determine an efficient way to get the information to the right people at the right time and build in checkpoints to increase accuracy.  Nobody has cornered the market on the confirmation page – you can have one too and you will get better data because of it.

Millennia Group provides SaaS model workflow and document management solutions to companies looking to become more efficient.  For more information go to www.mgdocs.com or send us an email at info@mgdocs.com

Training to Overcome Failure

via Andrea Arden on FlickrThere are many examples of human endeavors that would not have ended well without training.  Moon shots, marathon running, heart surgery and triple axles (not 100% sure what that is) are just a few that come to mind.  But don’t just think of training as necessary only to achieve super human feats. 

Training is one concrete way to maximize the value of your software investments, a more mundane but very worthwhile goal.  It doesn’t matter what type of software it is, if users don’t use it (out of fear) or use it incorrectly, the investment will not pay off – aka, Failure.  That failure can be avoided with well thought out training.

There is a possibility that software was purchased and there was no real need.  No amount of training will fix that.  But if there was a demonstrated need and the software has the functionality and passes all of the user testing, then training will be beneficial.  Here is where things get a little tricky.  What type of training do you need – Fearful Users, Busy Users or Silent Users?

Some users are not technology wizards and they have a fear that they will break the software or that they can’t do it.  These users need training that is patient, methodical and repetitive.  Reinforcement that nothing is going to break and a backup exists will help.  Involving their peers as trainers will be less stressful on Fearful Users.  Getting to some quick success will also help.

Busy Users are very busy and don’t stop to listen, they just click on anything that moves or frankly that doesn’t move.  Typical training gets sidetracked because the Busy User has gone into a rabbit hole and time is wasted trying to get out.  Methodical, phased training is the best solution for Busy Users.  Ideally, only showing the minimum number of options initially reduces the chances of going off the rails.  When concepts are grasped, add some additional functionality.

ForSilent Users or users that don’t explore the software or ask questions, the training needs to be on the value of the help file or the availability of the support desk.  Many times these users will develop their own work-around to a problem because they were not aware a feature existed that could help them.  These Silent Users just need to be trained to click Help or call support.  Call the software provider, they would love to hear from these users and get real world examples of problems the user is trying to solve.

These are simplified classifications of users and not intended to be a slam on any type of user.  All users learn differently and all need training to overcome some issue that will prevent them from achieving maximum success.  The onus is not on the users.  The onus is on the employers, trainers and software providers to recognize the types of users they have and to develop appropriate training.  It’s not likely that you will get someone from accounting to perform heart surgery with some training, but you might cut down on costly and embarrassing billing mistakes.

Here are a few articles that might be helpful and there are many more resources out there to help make your training pay off.

https://community.articulate.com/discussions/building-better-courses/what-s-the-best-way-to-teach-people-new-software

https://elearningindustry.com/6-important-techniques-to-training-success-before-it-even-begins

http://elearninguncovered.com/2015/09/three-tips-for-teaching-successful-software-training-classes/

Millennia Group is a workflow and document management solution provider founded in 1996.  For more information please visit our website at www.mgdocs.com or email us at info@mgdocs.com.

Digital Initials vs Digital Signatures

via Flickr by Kurtis GuftonAt some point in our working careers most of us have planted our initials on some form or memo to signify our approval.  Yes, I agree that purchasing this $1mm piece of equipment is a good idea – MC.  It’s not a legal issue such as when a contract requires a full signature, but it does indicate that we take responsibility for or acknowledge the contents of a document.  There is a justified need for the initials.

The legitimacy of digital signatures for legal documents has been debated in the Supreme Court and every major country in the world.  Software solutions exist and thrive providing secure digital signatures that comply with the law.  This is all positive for our economy as it makes business processes more efficient.  Here is a little hint – there’s a lot of bang for the buck replacing ink on internal forms with digital initials.

Truth be told, it may not cost anything to get the benefit of digital initials.  Digital initials isn’t some type of software solution, it’s a result of a trackable action.  Send an email around to three people asking for them to bless a decision and save the final email with all three responses – digital initials.  Have all three people open the Word file and type their initials and the current date while tracking changes – digital initials.

There are many examples of simple and free solutions that have the same basic purpose as taking out your pen and scribbling on a page.  The need for the initials can be a compliance issue or simply that the boss wants to make sure everyone has used their special knowledge to collectively make a good decision.  Whatever the reason for requiring the acknowledgement, it’s easy and provides some level of comfort.

However, some businesses or business processes may require more stringent proof than an email chain or logging in a Word file.  In those situations, a document management solution with workflow or an online form type workflow might be needed.  These solutions will have built-in tracking of user actions down to each computers IP address.  In essence, the solutions provide digital fingerprints.  These solutions also provide alerts, attached supporting documentation for easy review, mobility and productivity tracking as added benefits.

The bottom line is that business processes really don’t need a paper document routing around for internal signatures.  There are plenty of options that can provide an easier and much more efficient process.  Depending on the process, the use of workflow may have a significant ROI.  You may have just invested in a nice new fountain pen and perfected your John Hancock, but take a look around your company and see how some simple changes might have a big impact.

Millennia Group provides SaaS model workflow and document management solutions to companies looking to become more efficient.  For more information go to www.mgdocs.com or send us an email at info@mgdocs.com.

Don’t be Frightened, Be Practical

via Flickr, Allen WatkinsThere is no denying that many businesses absolutely need automation in order to get to that next level of efficiency.  Unfortunately, large companies with large budgets drove the development of most automation solutions and therefore, those solutions are very complex.

This legacy complexity creates an actual and perceived barrier to implementation.  Small to medium businesses (“SMB”) don’t have the training and support resources, nor the cash runway to implement and achieve the promised benefits from automation.  But SMBs, don’t be deterred, there are automation solutions that will fit your budget, workforce and customer needs.

The poster child of complex solutions for efficiency gains is an enterprise resource planning system or ERP.  Software solutions have a tendency to be built to do everything, but as we all know, that can lead to an application that does nothing well.  Many ERP’s have a module for virtually every function of the business, but this breadth of business coverage is what makes these solutions so complex and potentially less effective than planned.

The ERP should be used for the functionality where it excels and provides value that is measurable and difficult to replicate with multiple separate applications.  Its ok to only use the modules that meet the test and to use other, separate applications for other functionality.  In other words, take a practical approach instead of an idealistic approach.  Find some solutions that will cleanly and easily get the job done.

Several benefits may come from this such as, lower cost, the opportunity for a phased approach, faster employee adoption and ultimately, faster return on investment.  The biggest benefit of looking at the situation in this way is that you should not be overwhelmed or deterred. It is doable.  It may take some small steps first and a solid plan, but the whole point is to get started down the automation path.  Doing nothing is exactly that, doing nothing.

If you don’t get started, the opportunities for efficiency gains, cost savings and happy customers can slip away.  So look at taking on a document management system to help get the customer and job files into accessible digital format.  Think about implementing a CRM to stay connected with your customers and prospects.  Maybe a collaboration site to improve adhoc project results.  These are not necessarily large outlays but will provide the needed automation and company advancement.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  For more information and additional blog posts, please visit our website, www.mgdocs.com.