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Millennia Group Blog

ECM, EDMS, Imaging System, Cloud Storage – Which One?

ECM, EDMS, Imaging System, Cloud Storage - Which One?

Where you store your documents and electronic files is as much a function of what the file is as how that file is used. And like everything else in this world of abundance, there are many choices. There are electronic content management systems (“ECM”), electronic document management systems (“EDMS”), Imaging Systems and vast Cloud storage. In addition to these purpose built applications, most line of business applications also support document attachments. So which one is the best one to use?

Maybe the best place to start is to look at what the file is and how it is used and then look at the options for storing it. And by “it” we mean electronic files like spreadsheets, documents, photos, logos, images, etc.

Spreadsheets and word processor files are generally what are called active files because they are in the creation or manipulation stage. This applies to CAD and other drawing type files also. These files need to be actively tracked and version control is the most important aspect because there may be multiple contributors and many edits. The storage system has to efficiently and effectively manage those aspects so that the correct version is used. A slight variation of this is when access to the files is through an automated connection to another system.

When that spreadsheet becomes final or that document is printed and executed or the digital signature is put in place, then these documents become archival. An archival document needs to be organized well with security that permits approved access and the end user has to know that it is a document that can be relied on as Final. Fast access is important and so is the confidence that all relevant information was found when searching. Therefore, powerful search capabilities are important as is the ability to share those documents internally and externally.

As for the application type, here is a brief summary of the common focus of each one. The ECM has a particular focus on supporting web sites and organizing web content so that the appropriate and current information is posted. Think of the thousands of image files and descriptions used to host an online store catalog. Constant updates and additions being pushed to another application. That is the function of an ECM. ECM systems can be limited in their imaging capabilities and workflow functionality.

An EDMS tends to focus on active, in process documents like the creation of contracts, spreadsheets, drawings and many of the files that you might find on your local hard drive. These active documents require that users are aware and using the most current version as they make edits or want to pull the execution copy. There are controls over inputs that require users to specify the version and lock or unlock access to a document for other users. EDMS has a tendency to be feature rich which results in user confusion and frustration.

An imaging system of course focuses on storing the executed version of a document or the historical copy. Invoices are still primarily generated as paper copies and need to be scanned to enter a workflow or for building an accessible archive. An imaging system needs to focus on ease of capture and ease of access with powerful search and retrieval functions. An imaging system can become a silo of critical documents disconnected from related documents and information.

Cloud based storage is easily accessible, easily configurable online storage for files. The beauty of Cloud storage is generally that it is inexpensive and easy to get information in. In those respects it is not much different from locally hosted shared drive storage. The downside is that “easy in” generally means that it can quickly become unorganized and difficult to find information and security can be difficult to implement.

The ideal solution would be a system that does it all and does it well. We may get there some day, but as with anything that attempts to be all things to all people, it ends up being marginal at everything. The best solution is to find the application that best serves the most critical need. Other needs might function adequately within that application. An outside application can be used and integrated so you get the best of both worlds. EDMS and Imaging systems function extremely well together. One side of the house is usually producing all of the active documents while another side is focused on using the archive to manage the business. In my opinion, find the best applications for the needs and ensure that they work together to get the best result.

If your company struggles with figuring out what type of system is needed or where the optimal place to keep your electronic records, please contact us, we can help.

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A Perfect Union Leads to More Sales and More Profit

A Perfect Union Leads to More Sales and More Profit

We are not talking about peanut butter and chocolate, marriage or the United States, but the union of document imaging and workflow. These two technologies are great partners and together can lead to more sales and profit. Imaging is a good input source for a workflow engine. Workflow takes a piece of paper and turns it into a decision or action with predictability and tracking. They can each survive on their own, but together, they are very powerful.

How can that union result in more sales, more profit, less employee turnover and less customer turnover? Easily – get started!

This perfect union can help any company achieve those lofty goals and here are some examples of how.

  1. More Sales
    The easier your sales process is on the customer, from ordering to delivery, the happier the customer is. Happy customers refer new customers and sales grow. Workflow can help make the customer onboarding process more streamlined and help make sure the customer gets exactly what they bargained for. That makes a happy customer. Workflow can assist with returns or contract changes, thus making that process less of a burden on the customer. That makes a happy customer and generates more sales.
  2. More Profit
    This one is easy. If the process is streamlined, the cost per transaction or task is less and therefore, profits rise. Of course, profit will rise as sales rise, which is the point of #1. Every company can find an internal process that is less than optimal and may still involve moving paper around. Look at those processes and transform them into an efficient workflow and start reaping the benefits.
  3. Less Employee Turnover
    This one could actually be part of #2 because employee turnover is expensive. With efficient and measurable processes, companies can better match employee skill sets to the tasks at hand. When an employee is appropriately matched to their skill level, they will excel. When they excel, they are happy. Workflow also helps to balance workload, which means employees are not over stressed at peak activity times. More stress means less happy employees.
  4. Less Customer Turnover
    Here is another one that could be part of #1 above. It is very expensive to continually have to go find new customers. Every business owner knows that it is far less expensive and more profitable to sell to existing customers. If your internal processes are efficient and customers experience fast response times for support or they speak with knowledgeable representatives on the phone, they will be happier customers. Why are response times fast? Because the processes are part of a workflow and data is captured in an organized fashion and stored electronically which means it is readily available to the customer service representative. Why are representatives so knowledgeable? Because they have fast access to all of this well organized information.

Too often imaging and workflow are looked at as technologies to help lower costs. The reality is that these technologies are front line sales and profit tools. Take advantage of the union between these tools to grow your sales and increase your profits.

If your company has a less then optimal process or a paper based process, please contact us. We have helped many companies get the benefits of a perfect union.

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Ready for Digital Signatures?

Ready for Digital Signatures?

It has been five years since we first added digital signatures to one of our customer’s workflows. It is a bit surprising to me that this technology is still not mainstream in B2B transactions. That is especially so since we use digital signatures for many consumer transactions. Are we, as a business community, just not ready for digital signatures or has this technology’s time come?

We currently use the digital signature tools from DocuSign and they work very well for some very complex documents with multiple signature requirements and multiple documents in a package. I thought it might be helpful to provide a list of digital signature providers. Check out the demos that each system provides. These demos may spark some thoughts about how you can retool an existing process to make it more efficient and less costly.

The list below is not exhaustive, but I did review each product enough to feel that these providers all satisfy the security and authenticity requirements needed by most companies. Depending on your situation, you will probably be able to find a good solution among this list.

  1., Cosign
  2., DocuSign
  3., EchoSign by Adobe
  4., Rightsignature by Citrix
  5., SignNow
  6., eSignLive

If you would like to discuss digital signatures in a workflow, please contact me at or (630) 279-0577 x122.

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Easy Isn’t Always Nirvana

Easy Isn't Always Nirvana

I am going to go out on a limb and say that most companies, outside of highly regulated industries, use a combination of shared network folders and individual user folders on the network to store and manage files like spreadsheets, Word files, scanned documents, reports and presentations. The companies that have moved away from that approach may have adopted SharePoint, Google Documents or Box. The beauty of all of these approaches to file management is that it is easy to create a filing structure and it is easy to add new files. Users can copy, paste, add and cut their way to nirvana. For a while, it is nirvana. But at some point, it turns into a confusing mess that is impacting efficiency and potentially putting the company at risk.

You may have noticed that in your company or possibly in your own family, not everyone has the same idea about organizational structure. This fact of life inherently results in a filing system that doesn’t look anything like the original plan. Throw into the mix a continuous stream of new employees bringing methods from other companies or no method at all. Don’t forget users that make copies of shared folders and files for their own use and then they tuck those folders away for safe keeping. Add into the challenges the ingesting of a filing structure from an acquisition. These circumstances generally do not result in an optimal structure and it is certainly not nirvana.

So while the accumulation of all these files may have been easy, using and finding the right file and the correct information when you need it is now harder than ever and maybe even impossible. The solution?

The solution actually involves two parts. First, the existing collection of files needs to be cleaned up, re-organized and possibly migrated to a document system. Yes, that is correct and yes that will require an initial investment in time, money and effort. The second step is to implement some controls to prevent the situation from occurring again. These controls can be a combination of documented rules and procedures, digital workflow tools that force rules to be followed and a document management and imaging system that imposes a minimum set of required information for all new files added or generated.

The rules don’t have to be draconian and the required information per file can be relatively minimal and you will still have a significant improvement. These steps will improve employee efficiency and company profitability as employees no longer have to spend hours trying to find the right file. When the right information is accessible quickly, decision making is better and the risk of mistakes or decisions based on incomplete information is reduced. That is starting to sound like nirvana.

If your company has a shared drive that is only sharing headaches, please contact us. We have helped many companies get to a better place.

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To Destroy or Not To Destroy, That is the Real Question

To Destroy or Not To Destroy

The destruction that I am referring to is not sinister or borne out of a desire to blow things up. I am simply referring to the difficult decision that many companies agonize over when considering destroying their documents after those documents have been scanned. Fear not, there are answers available to help make the best decision, one way or another.

We have seen situations where documents come out of storage, get scanned and then go back into storage. The reason for scanning was to improve access to the documents. The reason not to destroy might be fear or possibly a valid Federal, State or industry requirement.

Not destroying the documents after scanning increases the cost of the scanning effort and it increases the cost of storing the documents into the future. Destroying documents does cost some money, but it is much less expensive then storing the documents. Making an informed decision to destroy or not destroy can save money or ensure compliance, both important issues.

So where are these answers so that you can make an intelligent decision. Start with the Federal Rules of Evidence, Rules 1001-1008. States all have their own rules but many are modeled after the Federal rules. In fact, for Illinois the State Rules of Evidence that cover “copies” are also rules 1001-1008.

Other places to look for answers would be governing bodies, associations or membership requirements. For instance, the SEC or FDIC may have specific rules for retaining originals of some agreements. Local school districts may have rules for maintaining employment records in original format for all teachers. If you cannot locate the rules specific for your situation or industry there are many good records management consultants and lawyers that will do the digging for you.

If you do find that you can destroy the documents after scanning, the value of your digital evidence (the scanned versions) will increase with some simple steps. First, make sure that access to the digital documents is fully logged so that you know exactly who has accessed the documents. This will let you prove to the court that the document has not been tampered with. Second, think about using a hosted document management system. Since the documents are not on your server, the ability to access them is even more remote. Lastly, document exactly how the imaging process was performed so that there is a chain of custody from paper to digital, which helps to prove that tampering was not possible.

We are happy to refer you to some records management experts if you have questions. One other piece of advice, don’t run out and buy a giant shredder. Let a professional help you – and get a destruction certificate too.

Please contact us for more information or to get started today

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Getting it Done – Integration 101

Integration 101

There are usually a few applications within every company that are core to the business but maybe focused on a limited set of capabilities or tasks. When those applications were implemented they may have been the be all end all. But with the passage of time, new capabilities are needed so additional, complimentary applications are put into production. So now the direction is centered on integrating the applications or at the very least creating a dashboard on top of a data warehouse.

There are a number of ways to integrate third party applications including API’s, web services, scheduled data extraction to name a few. Likely one or two methods will provide the right mix of effectiveness and efficiency while preserving security.

There are one-way integration’s and two-way integration’s. One-way means data comes out of one application and into another and data in the latter is updated as necessary. In a two-way integration, data passes back and forth so each application can update the other. Two-way is more difficult but is generally more effective.

The desire to integrate is usually tied to a need for additional data in one of the applications for better decision making or the integration eliminates duplicate steps such as data entry. Either reason typically enjoys a strong return on investment.

There is one note of caution besides the technical aspects and that is, be mindful of what you will find when you pull back the covers. We have been involved in many integration’s of document management systems to line of business applications (documents plus data equals nirvana) and many times the core data is not optimal for integration. This can be the result of bad data, missing data or data anomalies at implementation. Data anomalies are related to non-standard business processes that had to be jerry rigged in the core application to get them to work. Therefore, that data doesn’t look like the other data and consequently is not easily integrated with other applications.

So why is this a blog post you ask? Because better decision making and the elimination of unnecessary work is worth some effort and Millennia Group is in the business of helping our clients do both. Of course, we are generally helping to integrate digital documents with line of business applications.

Please contact us for more information or to get started today

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Training, Overlooked and Under Appreciated

I am a firm believer in the benefits of training. A few of my reasons are as follows:

  • Training leads to more consistent results
  • Training leads to a shorter learning curve
  • Training reduces the incidence of bad hires

These are all positives for any company and for all employees. So why is training neglected or avoided? I can think of a few negatives to training also, such as:

  • Training takes time and time is money
  • Training is boring and nobody pays attention
  • Training is difficult in a fast changing business world

These may have some merit but they do not outweigh the benefits noted above. So what does this have to do with document workflow or imaging? As it turns out, document workflow and imaging can be somewhat complex and the output or outcomes can contain mission critical information. Therefore, training should be an important component.

Technology has provided us with some great tools to make training easier and make it appealing to more employees. For instance, training videos can be very useful and are on-demand and available anywhere. Those characteristics make videos appealing to many employees. There are also hands on training applications to give users the feel and experience of using the actual application, but the application is not live. This lets users get over the fear that they may “break” something in the application. Training sometimes is about trying things. “I wonder what would happen if I did this” or “What if I click on this button here”. These applications can be interactive and provide instant feedback.

This is not to say that you don’t need to create a training manual. Some employees will feel more comfortable with a manual that they can flip through to find answers. Pretty soon that need may go away and all users will “flip” through the online help. In-person training is of course still a popular and effective method. And in-person may mean remote using GoToMeeting or WebEx or Link.

The bottom line is that training can be done and should be offered in a variety of formats to effectively reach the greatest percentage of employees. Training is also continuous. Applications and hardware are changing all the time. New releases of software or changes in workflow should always be accompanied by follow up training, even if it is only 15 minutes.

Selfishly from an application providers perspective, I know that the value of an application increases as the level and quality of training increases. The good news is that it is a win win situation because the value to the client also increases with greater productivity.

So talk to your vendors about training.

Please contact us for more information on training on FileStar or CollectDocs

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Digital Document Organization – Got Folders?

Digital Document Organization

This post expands on a previous post, but the topic is important, so here you go.

Does your company store all of its digital documents in folders on a shared network drive or in static SharePoint folders? If the filing method is by folder, how was that folder structure designed? What are the rules for creating new folders or changing the names of existing folders? Are there any requirements before a file can be saved to a particular folder? How is security managed across the folders? Why all the questions?

These are important questions when your company is trying to figure out how to be profitable and grow based on a critical business asset – Information. After all, if your employees cannot find the information that they are looking for, the business is likely in serious trouble.

Given those goals and the explosion of digital documents, how are companies designing these file storing structures? Is a folder based method the preferred method?

Designing the structure can involve the assistance of a records manager or library sciences professional that have a background in taxonomy (a scheme of organization) and records management. These professionals can help look at the types of documents and information being used and generate a logical storing and naming scheme. Some common high level organization methods use a structure based on department, functional area or document type. Other methods involve storage by project, job, employee, property, patient, etc. Most likely the end result will involve some mixture of these methods.

A document management professional can also help look at the current filing methods to see what is working and what is not working. Interviews with all of the departments will usually dig up the problems. Sometimes the problems are plainly obvious when looking at the randomness of the folders on the network. Sometimes the issues aren’t problems as much as lost opportunities.

Keep in mind that a nice neat filing structure is not the ultimate success. The ability to have information provided dynamically or proactively is just as important. That ability requires intelligent folders or no folders at all, as in the case of database driven document management system. It is more effort to classify a document before it is approved for filing, but the end result far outweighs that effort. Think of it this way. The extra time for one person to properly classify one document is far outweighed by the value of that same document being instantly available to many users across multiple departments. As an example, think of the new customer contract, it is used by sales, accounting, customer service, audit and the legal department.

Storing documents in network folders is not optimal due to the limitations mentioned above. Look at a database driven document management system for superior information access or at least use intelligent folders. The end result of the effort to convert will be quickly realized and very likely lead to an explosion of opportunities to improve your business.

Please contact us for more information or to get started today

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A Little Out There

Integration 101

Here are a few thoughts that might be a little out there but they do have some merit.

A National Digital Document Recorders Office

Many, many years ago a great idea came about to have local governments keep “recorded” copies of real estate documents. The purpose was generally to ensure that ownership could be proven and the legal relationship was recorded and recognized. Each local government runs its own recording office for properties in its jurisdiction, but there isn’t a statewide or national “Recorder”. This is also primarily a paper based process with actual document stamps.

With digital signature technology, endless online storage and internet access, it is easy to see how one entity could be the “Recorder” of all real estate transaction documents. That would save governments countless billions of dollars on labor, storage and systems maintenance as well as user’s time and money for submitting and finding documents.

Take that one step further and conceive of a document escrow for medical documents, mortgage documents, car loan documents or commercial leases. Pieces of this concept already exist with Docusign, Dropbox, Tapestry, eRecorder, but they only serve groups of users that have volunteered to share documents in that way. This may need some government intervention and some deep pockets, but it makes a lot of sense.

Location Services to Connect You With Your Files and Data

If you own a smart phone or tablet device you are aware of the feature that allows your current location to be known to various applications. For instance, if you use Yelp, the food rating app, just open the app and search for pizza. Yelp will find all pizza joints near your current location, whether that is at home or in another city.

So is it possible that all documents and files related to the customer that I am visiting will be on my tablet as soon as I enter their office? Can all of this information pop up on my screen as soon as the phone system sees an incoming call from a recognized phone number? How about if you are a construction manager on the 30th floor of a building under construction? It would be great if the plans and specifications related to that floor were waiting on your tablet as you walked off the elevator.

Just some thoughts, but some of it sure sounds nice, and my guess is, not too far into the future.

Please contact us for more information or to get started today

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Taking Inventory of Your Digital Folders

Taking Inventory of Your Digital Folders

There used to be a frequent occurrence at retail stores called “taking inventory”, an all-night process with an army of workers. It was a process of manually counting each unit of every product on the shelves to confirm the actual inventory with the inventory on the books. Together with other data like deliveries this helped confirm sales numbers, but that was about all the data was good for.

This process has come a long way with the use of purchasing systems, UPC codes and registers with barcode reading, all feeding the same database. Inventory is now up to the minute and able to generate automated workflows that send out restocking orders to the vendors.

So where is this going relative to document imaging and digital document management? The analogy is the same when comparing the use of a static file folder method of document storage with the use of a database driven document management application. A well designed file folder system on a network drive or in the cloud should allow you to find a document quickly if you know where to look. If you need more that, you should use a database driven system.

Document files stored in a folder hierarchy, no matter how well designed, will always have serious limitations. Here is a short list:

  • Folders on a network drive will not alert you when documents are added, changed or deleted
  • Folders need to be manually updated for every change, such as customer name change, otherwise files will be lost to some users
  • Tracking folder activity on a shared network drive is almost impossible
  • Folder based systems never know that a file is missing; for instance, it is required that each employee have a signed I-9
  • Full text search or advanced searches are impossible – ie; all invoices between two dates
  • Folder based systems don’t require a user to follow any naming convention or add any specific information to a file

Cloud based, folder type storage applications fail on most of those issues and basic SharePoint setups fail on some. But most of all, folder based systems fail to provide access to information in ways that are truly productive to users, such as reporting, information assembly and workflow.

We see many companies that have very costly, manual methods to assemble groups of documents for reporting purposes. These can be monthly or quarterly financial reports, tenant common area maintenance packages, construction loan draws, collections of documents for audit purposes and supporting documentation for medical review, just to name a few. A database driven system can breeze through all of those tasks and more.

Workflows are easily initiated with a database driven system. Workflows can be initiated based on information that is entered with the document, information that is missing or a comparison of multiple pieces of data.

Just as the retailers have benefited greatly from the use of database driven systems, so too will your business when you replace the folder based document storage method.

Please contact us for more information or to get started today

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