Workflow Automation Software

Millennia Group Blog

Piece of Cake

via Flickr - Shyn Darkly

Not many companies have the resources to operate on a global basis.  It can take a large team of lawyers, experienced financial professionals and local facilities or representatives.  To go global for a product or service also requires understanding the local custom so you don’t accidently insult the community.

Operating a business, locally or globally, will involve customer contracts, vendor contracts, financial reports, etc.  The business processes and document content might be vastly different from Bavaria to Bali and Caracas to Quebec.  However, we see four key characteristics of document management on a global basis and if you focus on getting these four correct, it will be a piece of cake.

The four universal document management requirements are:  The files must be organized in a logical way, the files must be accessible to users that need the information, there must be an easy way to maintain the document collection (add and delete) and there must be security on the information.

Virtually all document management systems are going to have the ability to keep documents organized.  It is essentially up to the enterprise to determine what organizational structure works for it.  Some solutions will be folder based and some will be database oriented, the preferred method.  Either way, a hierarchy or data taxonomy is essential.  There might be a need to have an application that can translate because “Add” in German is “Hinzufügen”.

Access for users is a complicated issue.  For cloud based systems, browser capabilities may vary country by country.  Users will need a viewer that works with the file formats that are used locally.  Data privacy rules might dictate where data is stored and therefore, impact how users can retrieve it.  This isn’t an access rights issue, it is just the basic ability to use the system.  Do your homework here.

To maintain a system is to keep a system relevant.  The more ways a user can contribute content to the system the better.  Different work habits and hardware/software technology across the globe will require a flexible solution.  As long as users have the ability to contribute content, the usefulness of the system will prevail.  A solution should support email in, fax, scan, batch upload, drag and drop and as many methods as possible.

Lastly, security will be a significant issue.  With a far-flung operation, understanding the users and their need for access will be challenging.  Having a solution with the ability to localize user administration is a plus, especially if there are some controls on that administrative access.  There could also be local customs at work here as some locations will expect greater autonomy than others.  Therefore, a flexible, granular security model is important.

We did gloss over the language issue, but Google Translate can work miracles with any browser based system.  As for English based solutions, it is a bit easier as a good percentage of international business is conducted in English.  Aside from these little hurdles and growing data privacy requirements, don’t let document management slow down your global expansion, it’s a piece of Gâteau (French) or Ciasto (Polish) or Kaka (Icelandic).

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  If you would like to learn more about how your organization can benefit from our experience, please contact us at info@mgdocs.com, www.mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Going to the grocery store is a teaching moment

via Flickr - Brian, Thin MintsWe have all encountered the situation on our way into the grocery store where a young girl in uniform is selling cookies.  Or maybe it’s someone dressed as Santa ringing a bell.  In both cases, the story doesn’t end there because you have a second encounter when you exit the store.  So the issue is, which do you prefer, addressing the situation on the way in or dealing with it on the way out?

This post is not really about the Girl Scouts or the Salvation Army of course.  This is an analogy for how your company deals with its critical business information.  Either your company has a well-defined process and structure to identify information as it enters or it relies on advanced search capabilities to find information where-ever it may hide.  Or, oh no, it’s a free-for-all at your company.

There is obvious business value when the right information gets into the right users hands at the right time.  And conversely it is a detriment to have users wasting time trying to find information or worse, finding the wrong information.  Therefore, it is highly recommended to have a strategy to make sure information is accurately tagged and easily accessible to your users.  There are different ways to try to accomplish this.

First, you can implement a document management system and create some policies and procedures that users are supposed to follow for putting documents into the system.  The system will naturally need to have a structure to it that makes sense to the users and the classification process will need to be as easy as possible.  For instance, keep meta data tags to no more than six in number.  There is no doubt that the risk here is user apathy. 

A second method would be to use AI and smart search engine capabilities to programmatically classify and return search results to users.  This search engine would do all the work so that users can “throw” files into the system with little to no meta data.  In fact, it could be a version of federated search where the engine finds documents located in multiple repositories.  This is simple for users, but the risk is unstructured or inaccurate search results.

We have mentioned it before, but we generally see a mixture of methods.  Working files tend to be on a shared network drive with control based on department and users browsing or searching in hopes of finding what they need.  No meta tagging at all.  Archival or record type files tend to be in a document management system with some meta data requirements as files are added. 

The use of AI can help simplify the identification and classification process and make it better than it is today for both working files and record files.  Ideally this should be part of the front end of the process.  There is no need to take the risk of the search finding the information you need when the solution makes the process friendly and easy on the way in.  Improving your approach on the front end will make the back end result that much better.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996 and continues to develop better ways to make information easy to find.  Contact us at info@mgdocs.com or visit our website at www.mgdocs.com to find out more about the latest AI centered solutions we are working on.

On the surface it may look simple

via Flickr - Cookieater2009Autonomous vehicles will make driving simple.  Get in, tell the car where to go, sit back and relax.  Artificial intelligence is going to read our minds and do our work for us.  The same goes for robots.  High speed data via 5G wireless will transform our lives by making these and other advancements possible. There are hundreds of steps and parts just to make a simple pencil.

The fact of the matter is that behind the scenes lots of hard work is happening to make something seem simple for the end users.  For example, what if artificial intelligence changes its mind or futuristic fabrics confuse the autonomous vehicle system so it doesn’t recognize a person in the street?  To keep it simple requires ongoing work by the engineers and tech teams.

It isn’t really that AI will change its mind so much as the data that is fed into the engine may pose a completely different point of view.  Just like the autonomous vehicle system will need to be retrained as our physical environment changes, so too will the AI system.  These are just some of the issues that will require ongoing effort to keep the appearance of simplicity for the end user.  After all, if its not simple, then it likely won’t survive as a solution.

As an example of a situation that will require re-training of the AI system, consider a corporate merger.  Company A has always classified its legal contracts in three ways, short term, long term and specialty.  Based on the contents of those three contract templates the AI engine can auto-classify them.  However, Company B uses different classification schemes; standard, custom and master.  After the merger, someone will need to reclassify the old documents so the system can re-learn.

It’s also possible that normal business transformation will take place altering document classification schemes.  As new applications are created and sources of information expand, the knowledge base of the AI engine will need to be modified.  This is evident already today with the newest document storage silos that hold corporate information, such as in chat bots and instant messaging systems.  Soon documents will be in a blockchain database or replaced altogether by data.  AI engines will not only need to get smart but will need to have access to all these systems.

As we plan for the introduction of AI into document management systems there are several things to focus on.  First, it has to make the whole process of document management simpler for the user, that is goal number 1.  Second, it also needs to have flexible architecture given the inevitable environmental changes that will occur.  Lastly, plan for regular audits of the data.  It will take an ongoing commitment to keep the information accurate – finding the right information easily and quickly is the business goal.  

Millennia Group has been providing document management solutions since 1996.  For more information, contact us at www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Blockchain vs AI vs Bob

Via Flickr - by Bovee and ThillRegardless of the industry, at every trade show, in every webinar and at every lunch and learn the use of artificial intelligence or blockchain has been a topic.  It’s been stated and debated about how these technologies are going to revolutionize industries and change our lives.  That can be a bit unnerving.

However, there is hope for us, AKA Bob.  Blockchain might give us smart contracts built from nothing but data points.  No need to also enter the data into another system, the contract is the system.  AI will take the document (Word, PDF, etc) and it will interpret the information and populate the system automatically.  Poor Bob, who previously found, interpreted and entered the data, gets left out of the process.  But wait….

Blockchain will have some utility in some specific industries or processes as will AI.  However, Bob will always be needed in some capacity.  Unless each clause in a contract can be written in specifics and absolutes understood and agreed to by both sides, Bob becomes critical.  Imagine the amount of front-end time that will be necessary to create contracts or transactions with zero unspecified factors.

For AI to work well, the documents cannot have ambiguity and if the documents originate as paper, the documents cannot have any imperfections when scanning.  AI may not be able to get over the ambiguity hurdle even with the most robust machine learning or text analytics.  Many documents will never become paper thanks to digital signatures, so that helps.  However, the same issue exists regarding ambiguity in the language and mis-interpretation by the machine.

What does this all mean?  In the context of document management and workflow, there will always need to be an intervening step to review the captured or interpreted information when the confidence level falls outside some parameter, like 99% confidence.  Even when Bob is the sole source of adding content to systems, this review step should be implemented.  Afterall, we are all human or human-infused.

Millennia Group simplifies workflow and document management for its clients and that simplifies our clients lives.  For more information, www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, 630-279-0577

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.