Workflow Automation Software

Millennia Group Blog

We are all different

via Flickr - TorleyIt’s no surprise that no two businesses are exactly alike and certainly no two employees are either.  Our differences, along with the options provided by technology and changing circumstances, create a tremendous number of possible outcomes as it relates to information creation.  This is especially true of information in the form of documents.

Every day in every business, employees are creating documents, searching for documents, receiving new documents and sharing documents with others.  It’s imperative that the information makes sense, otherwise errors are made and time is wasted.  But since we are all different, don’t be surprised at how someone else defines what a document is and in what form it’s delivered. 

Document management systems (“DMS”) have to be about more than just finding documents, they have to be tools to help organize and make sense of the information.  In that respect these systems need to be able to help users collect, organize and share information, regardless of the variety of formats and user defined “documents”. 

When working with scanned documents, you really don’t know what to expect and it could be complicated.  In the interests of time, some users will take the stack of mortgage documents to the scanner, place the whole stack in the feeder and press go – one giant PDF emerges.  Or maybe the scanner can only take 25 pages at a time so the 75 page report comes out as three 25 page PDFs and all three go into the DMS. 

Use Adobe Acrobat and all its capabilities for splitting, merging and organizing documents before adding the documents to the DMS.  Or ideally use the functionality in the DMS to split or assemble the files into actual documents; a contract, a letter, a report, etc. before uploading.  Controls in place when adding documents will help keep information in a consistent useable format- easy to find, understand and share. 

Try to avoid short cuts.  Users may not want to take the extra minute or two to follow procedures.  Not following those procedures will most certainly lead to wasted time and possibly poor decisions.  Train users on the capabilities of the DMS and on the reasons for the controls.  Show them the benefits of 

It’s not so simple

via Flickr by John McSporran At some point every business probably feels a bit undervalued or unappreciated by customers or maybe by the markets.  This may or may not be justified, but we’ve all been there.  Over the years we have gained a deep understanding and appreciation for one group of businesses in particular that might feel this way – manufacturers. 

There is tremendous complexity in the manufacturing business model of sourcing parts, labor and materials, making something out of that and then selling and servicing that product.  Then there are also government regulations and customer compliance requirements to factor in.  There are highly complex software applications that help keep the cost of that seemingly simple widget at $2.00.  It’s really not so simple.

It starts with design, which generates drawings and a parts list.  Bids for the parts are generated. The parts and materials all need to be ordered and tracked to the manufacturing facility from sources all over the world.  Proof of non-toxic materials, approved points of origin and other documentation all need to be collected on every component and every source.  Then it all must be assembled or made using labor and machines that need to be scheduled and prepared.  Finally, the product is packaged, shipped and invoiced.

While this is the simplified version of a very complex process, you can get a little appreciation of what it takes to create that $2.00 widget and how many they need to sell to recoup the costs.  To help manufacturers manage this process there are enterprise resource planning tools or ERP’s.  These are complex software applications to keep track of the materials, process and labor.  These are data driven applications geared towards smart planning and processing.

Despite having a software application to help manage the data, the volume of supporting documentation is astounding.  Drawings, bills of lading, shipping receipts, customs documentation, parts lists, content certifications and many other forms of documentation are in paper form, faxes, emails and downloads.  In addition to the ERP, a workflow and document management solution is needed to help this complex process run smoothly and to ensure all participants have the complete picture.

Current technology has certainly made the ERP and document management solutions better, easier to use and more affordable.  These tools allow manufacturers and their employees to keep up with the business complexities and stay competitive.  Business owners of all types, especially manufacturers, congratulate yourselves on a not so simple job well done!

Do you have a complete picture?

via Flickr by CatchpennyIt happens every day in our professional lives, we need information to make decisions or to complete tasks.  To assist us in this effort we try to use our memory, the internet and information stored away in filing cabinets, desk drawers and computers.

Sometimes decisions or tasks are completed quickly from a single source of information.  For instance, “was customer order 12345 invoiced?” – you can easily look it up in “the system”.  This becomes more complex if the question simply expands to “and was it correct?”.  Just like that you need much more information to come to the correct decision.  It would be nice if there was only one place to get the complete picture.

The task of confirming the invoice can be a challenge.  A manufacturing business or a service business will likely mean that there are several inputs and therefore, a more complex task.  A few items that might be needed include; the contract and amendments, the quote, the actual order, parts list and materials order form, shipping documentation, tax documentation, time cards, etc.

In many businesses, some portion of the supporting information is a document, whether paper or digital.  In most businesses, the true source of the supporting information is a document that was used to enter data into “the system”.  The issue isn’t just about having access to the supporting information, but it also includes trust in that information because the data may have been entered incorrectly.

Information access and business processes need to incorporate the entire package of supporting data, including documents, to be optimal.  When supporting documentation is actually paper, it invariably includes notes in the margin, notes that may never have been entered into “the system”, but provide valuable information.  Contracts, even those that are electronic with digital signatures, almost always contain rights and obligations that aren’t entered as data but may prove crucial.

The bottom line is that “the system” either needs to include supporting documents or provide integrated access in order to give users the complete picture.  Armed with the complete picture, users will accomplish great things like making better decisions, making customers happy and eliminating problems.  That complete picture is powerful.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996., (630) 279-0577,

What work will work on my $1,000 phone?

Via Flickr, by Phil WilkersonThe typical mobile phone these days has a 2 ¼” x 4 ¼” screen and a pop up keyboard.  Most cost something close to $500-$750 and will soon move up to $1,000 – not counting cellular service.  A very competent Windows laptop can be acquired for the same price and a powerful tablet computer can easily be obtained for a lot less.

For many of us a laptop or tablet, possibly with a supplemental monitor and keyboard, is our primary workstation.  Most of us also accomplish much of our daily tasks using some type of cloud based solution, such as a CRM, financial system, document management system or email.  So when we need to be mobile AND get work done, it’s no problem.  But, how much of that work can we actually complete using only the ultimate mobile workstation, our expensive new phone?

Email, for starters, has been formatted appropriately for the phone so it is fairly convenient to read and respond.  Long emails are not always easy to read if you have to scroll through a lot of backstory.  CRM’s on a phone are also pretty good for basic information lookup and adding notes.  Running contact reports and sending mass communication, not so much.  Financial systems on a phone have limited utility, but some lookup and data entry is possible.

Document management at first glance seems like a long shot on a phone.  Who wants to read an 80 page document on a tiny phone screen?  As it turns out, actually reading the document end to end may not be the main use case or limiting factor.  Typically, access to the document is for specific clarification or reference from just a page or two.  Actually getting to the document is a far bigger challenge. 

A useable mobile interface for efficient searching or browsing through folders is the real problem.  In order to have enough context to know which document to open, sufficient meta data must be presented.  If the results only show a long list of documents called “Contract” or “Sales Order”, it’s a problem.  Contract must be further defined by information such as the vendor name and date of the document.  Sales order needs to be accompanied by sales order number and customer name and so on.

Mobile solutions that want to provide users the ability to accomplish work on their phone starts with a well thought out interface.  Like a mobile CRM, a mobile document management system can provide opportunities to get work done using a phone, but the use cases may be limited.  Possibly immediate access to the exact terms of a customer contract are needed.  Another use case would be workflow, where the user needs access to data and documents to make and submit a decision. 

Workflow normally will incorporate an email notice and access to a review and approve interface.  A well designed mobile solution will be able to provide that access so that your workforce in the field can be very efficient.  The bottom line is that there is some work that can be accomplished on a phone.  It is not likely to cover the entire job description, but work can get done.

In documents we trust, data not so much

via Flickr, by Alejandro MalleaSome day in the future it is plausible that paper documents in the business world will disappear.  Electronic documents, however, in the form of PDF’s, Word files or Excel spreadsheets, will continue to exist.  In fact, it will be a very long time before documents, and the content of the documents, cease to be important in the business world. 

Technology has enabled simple processes or transactions to occur entirely with online forms and direct data entry.  But there are still many instances where the content in a complex document becomes the data for accounting or ERP systems or documents.  It is easy to see what was keyed in, but In Documents we trust.

Some business processes are being converted to an entirely form based process where the concept of a document doesn’t pertain.  Take for example the process of setting up a new account with a water delivery service.  The entire process involves entering information into online forms to set up the account and start delivery.  No documents.

There are also processes where the document is created and then the document is used as the basis for inputting data into a business system.  And try as we might, we don’t always enter it correctly.  This has resulted in a lack of trust in some systems and a reliance on a quick peak at the original document to confirm the data before responding to the customer or to your boss.

There are also situations where the document may contain information that is not capable of being entered as data, like a photograph or a drawing or a long legal description. This is supporting documentation that may provide some clarity or understanding not found in data fields.  All systems should require the attachment of the supporting documents so that users can quickly verify the information. 

We used to call this “image enabling” a system – getting the images attached to the system.  There is no doubt that attaching the support after the transaction is entered is good practice and produces positive results.  But there is also the option of capturing the documents as the process occurs, thereby ensuring that supporting information is present and potentially reducing errors in the first place. 

Capturing documents as the process occurs is document management based workflow.  It is workflow that tracks in parallel with the ERP or accounting data entry process.  As the data moves along, the supporting documents come with, all in once nice neat package that can be referenced quickly at the time of the transaction and long after.  When users can have instant access to both the data and the documents, they can trust the information and provide fast and accurate responses to customers or vendors.

Millennia Group, LLC has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996., 630-279-0577,

Artificial Intelligence – Getting to Know You

via Flickr - Gustavo da Cunha PimentaHow will artificial intelligence (“AI”) impact our world?  There are knowledgeable people talking up the potential positive uses of AI and there are knowledgeable people voicing concern over the potential problems.  On the positive side are articles generally oriented towards business efficiency gains, of which IBM’s Watson is a widely seen example. 

Many companies are looking for a better way to help manage the explosive growth files and documents and they are hoping that AI and Watson can benefit them.  The rate of growth is exponential and that is creating increased user search times and poor results accuracy – inefficient.  AI might help users find the information that they are looking for, but Watson is going to have to get to know each user and know each user very well first.

Finding the right information has become very difficult as not everyone stores files with the same identifying tags.  Sometimes the tags are incorrectly applied or not provided at all.  That process, generally known as indexing, meta data tagging or applying file attributes, is predominantly a manual, human process today.  Using AI, when documents are created or received, they will be placed into one big folder where the AI engine can figure out what the document is and automatically apply the identifying tags. 

The AI engine interprets the contents of the file, such as a subject, section titles, word combinations and patterns, etc.  This is probably pretty straight forward for most files, but there are a few exceptions.  Scanned documents have to be converted back into readable text, which doesn’t always produce 100% accurate results.  Maps, charts, CAD drawings and photographs may pose some problems as well given the lack of text in the file.  Therefore, some files could be successfully tagged, while others may need human input.

A more difficult hurdle is getting the AI engine to understand the intent of the provider, which can determine how the file is stored and who should have access to it.  We have all seen that the same file can end up in many different “folders”.  The file may initially have been intended as support for a specific client and stored in the client folder.  However, that same file might later become support for a special project and therefore a copy stored in a project folder.  Same file, different user intent.

Another example of intent deals with applying the appropriate security.  Two documents might have almost identical content, but one is meant for review by the finance department and one is the final and is to be sent to investors. The AI engine can determine who provided the document and the security rights of that provider.  But the AI engine would need to know user intent to set the proper security and access rights. 

The AI engine might be able to determine appropriate tagging at a high accuracy level but, with a little human intervention, it can be almost perfect.  AI is coming and we will figure out how to use it to make work more efficient and make user’s lives easier.  Watson will need to know the users to make it all work, like understanding that some users always put the mustard in the fruit drawer😊.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions and will continue to explore ways to help its clients get more organized and more efficient., 630-279-0577,

Folders and paperclips, the original workflow tools

via Flickr by Michael CoryI don’t think I would like to be in the folder, inter-office envelope, paper clip or staple businesses.  They had a great run.  They served a very good purpose.  But it’s time to move on to new forms of workflow.  Yes, that’s right, paper clips, folders and envelopes were the first workflow tools.

Paper clips and staples separated documents into relevant parts.  Folders and envelopes kept the collection of information together as it moved through the company for decision making purposes.  Plenty of business decisions still rely on a collection of data and documents.  So where have all the folders and paper clips gone? To digital workflow packages, which are the new tools for business process.

Some business processes can be very simple and decisions can easily be made with limited information.  For instance, maybe it’s a help desk situation and a user entered information into a form that indicated they needed help re-setting their password.  The help desk worker (workflow participant) receives that notice, reads the information on the form and sends a response.  Decision made, workflow complete.

There are many business processes that require far more information to permit a participant to make a decision.  Calculations might be necessary and result in the creation of a spreadsheet.  Historical documents may need to be reviewed.  Other live data may need to be considered.  This is not so simple. The good news is that current tools can accomplish all that the folders and paper clips did, and much more to ensure better AND faster decisions. 

Document management based workflow systems can create or assemble collections of documents, both new and historical and also display data, all in one decision making package.  This lowers the friction for a user to access the necessary information to make the most informed decision possible.  And with the benefit of database logic that can be included, the right information gets to the right people at the right time.  For instance, the package doesn’t hit the VP’s desk unless the project exceeds $500,000.

It’s not to say that the inter-office envelope didn’t contain good information.  But let’s face it, it wasn’t always sufficient to hold everything so maybe a few pages or documents were left out.  The envelope couldn’t carry real time information or electronic data.  And only one person ever knew where that envelope was.  If there are complex processes in your company that are reliant on a folder or envelope of information, look into a document management centric workflow tool.  You won’t miss the office supplies and you will really appreciate better, more timely decisions.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996., (630) 279-0577,

Why is the mustard in the fruit drawer?

Via Celeste Lindell at FlickrHave you ever found a jar of mustard in the fruit drawer of your refrigerator?  How about the Penske file in the folder labeled Clients D-E?  Let’s face it, there are those of us that are very organized and there are others that aren’t.  This could be at home or at the office and it can be both frustrating and in the case of the office, costly. 

We were recently asked if there is an optimal company size that dictates when it’s time to use an electronic document management system (EDMS) rather than a file storage solution like a network drive?  I would say as soon as you find the mustard in the fruit drawer, it’s time.  However, there are several factors that should be taken into consideration when considering the need for an EDMS and two stand out, number of employees and industry the business operates in. 

The number of employees or users is certainly a very important factor.  With a large number of employees, the quantity of files can grow so large that it becomes impossible to find documents.  All or most of the employees may be well intentioned, but there are going to be some that just don’t have the organization gene.  Every company has experienced the all-hands-on-deck search for a file and every company knows that is costly.  But it’s also costly when every document search takes even 30 seconds longer than it should and you multiply that by 500 or 1,000 employees searching every day.

When you have a small company, it’s much easier to overcome a lost file.  Everyone knows that Jake is prone to put things in the fruit drawer so look there first.  But when employees are spread out over multiple office locations or there are thousands, it‘s not practical to function based on guidelines or tendencies alone.  An EDMS with automated rules that force users to provide some basic information for new files will significantly reduce the instances of lost files and speed up the every-day search as well.

The other factor that can drive the need for an EDMS is the industry that the business operates in.  Even a small company with only 50 or 100 employees may find that they need to have detailed file access logs and strict file sharing permissions enforced to meet industry standards.  It’s even possible that the industry has specific solutions that are standard or solutions that must meet certifications like department of defense (DOD) or Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS).  Windows explorer does not meet either.

There are other reasons that companies want to use and should use an EDMS.  Just the fact that an EDMS makes finding, sharing and collaborating on documents easier is a good reason as those things lead to a more efficient company.  Smaller companies can use that solid, EDMS enabled foundation to become larger companies.  There is no doubt that large companies with hundreds of employees need EDMS.  Do some math on time saved and lost document costs.  Then throw in other efficiency gains from available workflow and collaboration.  You might find that the optimal size company is much smaller than you thought.

Search for the needle OR the haystack

via Peter Pearson, FlickrThere are many benefits to using electronic documents versus paper.  One of those benefits is being able to do a search to quickly locate the one document that you are looking for.  This takes only a matter of a few seconds in most any document management system.

But what if you are looking for more than one document?  What if you need a collection of documents, like all of the contracts for customers with model number 123abc?  What if you aren’t exactly sure what documents you need and only have a few pieces of information to go on?  This is where you will get your money’s worth when properly configuring your document management solution.

The main approach to good document management is having good meta data or good descriptions of the documents.  For instance, when you create a new contract for a customer, you want to be sure to include the customer name, that the document is “a contract” and you might want to include the model number.  This is all meta data that relates to that document and this will help other users find that document.

You can get a sense of how powerful this meta data concept is by looking at the car shopping experience.  Go to any online car buying site and you can specify that you want a 2017, Mustang, red, six cylinders, with leather seats.  Bam! – all the cars within 50 miles that match that “meta data” will show up in the results.  Best of all, you can quickly change the parameters (meta data) to look for blue or V8.

As a car shopper, you want more than just the one result.  You want sufficient results so that you can research what might be best.  This is also true of your documents.  You want to be able to see results that include more than just documents that have the word “contract” in the title.  You want to have other meta data to help filter the results and help you gather or collect the information that is most useful to you. You want meta data.

To get there with your document management system you need to follow a few simple steps.  First, make sure that users are required to enter in a basic set of meta data for each document.  Second, specify the type of meta data that is required by document type.  For instance, invoices require vendor name, dollar amount and invoice number, while contracts require customer name, date and model number.  Third, configure the search results to include all of the meta data in filterable fields so that users can find exactly the information they are looking for, whether it’s a needle or a haystack.

Millennia Group has been providing document management and workflow solutions since 1996.,, (630) 279-0577

Looking well beyond the next quarter

Millennia Group just wrapped up being a sponsor and participant in the 19th annual Realcomm IBCON tradeshow in San Diego.  This is a show dedicated to the understanding and use of technology in the commercial real estate industry.  As one might expect for a technology show, there were some familiar topics including robotics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality and renewable energy.

The current news touches on these topics, but from a different angle; the death of the retail industry, the reshaping of office workers and their environments and Amazon warehouses – they’re popping up everywhere.  After 19 years of participating in this industry trade show, it is still very clear, there is a long term focus in this industry, well beyond how these external forces will impact the next quarter.

Based on the content of the breakout sessions at the show, it appears that approximately half was dedicated to how technology could make the use or management of real estate more efficient.  The other half was dedicated to how technology could impact the business today and in the future. 

Vendors are promoting and owners/occupants are evaluating options for reducing energy consumption, improving customer engagement, eliminating friction to onboard new tenants and streamlining the valuation of properties and getting those things done now.  Both vendors and owners/occupants are simultaneously factoring in the potential impact from disruptive technologies and how to deal with that for tomorrow. 

There were robots wondering the show floor – will that mean office or industrial jobs will be eliminated and will that mean no more need for lunch rooms or restrooms?  People were testing virtual reality – will that mean no more trips to the store to touch and feel a product?  There were sessions on how blockchain will impact transactions and discussions of Teslas dropping off people and product – where will that lead?

Every industry is dealing with the impact of these issues.  It is good to see that the commercial real estate industry is looking technology in the eye to see how it can benefit.  How can cloud based workflow make my operation more efficient?  How can technology help me track and lower energy consumption?  How will people and businesses need and use real estate in the future?  That is not an evaluation for the next quarter, that’s a long term, full time effort and that is a professional approach.