Workflow Automation Software

Millennia Group Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision Influences the Purchase Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captains of Industry are Building Conglomerations

via Flickr HRP2911I heard a story about how there is a push to bring the “Hipster” crowd to Eau Claire Wisconsin, a family oriented, affordable, city of 150,000+ in Northern Wisconsin.  My first response was that with current technology, people can choose to live wherever they want, so why not Eau Claire.  Having this opportunity is not a new concept and in fact, people working remotely is very commonplace already. 

However, what it brought to mind was that it’s not just your remote employees that you need to plan for these days.  Today some portion of your business process may be outsourced and you need to plan for those workers as well.  Where are those workers and how will they be included in the process?  How does your technology support this new conglomeration?

Who is part of your organization and where they are located is blurring.  Companies and their systems need to function efficiently and securely with traditional networked employees, remote employees and these third party participants.  The dreams of some early technology proponents and visionaries to getting work done wherever you are is getting closer to reality.

Phone systems can reach someone on any device no matter what number was dialed.  Messaging and email systems can include any user in the communication chain.  ERP systems, which manage the accounting and production process, are now web based.  It is much easier to make people feel like part of the team with Skype or GoToMeeting or other desktop sharing, video meeting systems. 

And of course file cabinets are now online providing access to drawings, specs, reports and other documentation that is needed to perform tasks.  And with web based workflow and digital signatures, virtually any business process, whether it involves internal users only or includes external users, can now be done via the web. 

Processes that involve employees in the office, remote employees or remote third party users, can now be structured to be the optimal process, not the optimal process under the physical circumstances.  You too can be a titan of industry – use technology to build your conglomeration. 

Millennia Group provides web based document management and workflow solutions with integration capabilities to ERP systems.  For more information, please visit www.mgdocs.com or contact us at info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577 x122.

Convention News (File Naming Convention that is)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want better software ROI? Hug a risk taker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Ethereum to Hadoop via Bitcoin. What?

Millennia Group is all about documents; document scanning, document workflow, document management systems, etc.  That means we are always interested in what is next and the future of the document management industry. 

So it was interesting to see AIIM.org having a conversation about Hadoop (a framework to support distributed data storage and analysis) and also hearing from one of our developers about Ethereum (a distributed computing model for digital currency and digital “smart contracts”).  Both of these models definitely look to the future. 

It was intentional that the word “distributed” is used to describe both models.  In fact, the distribution of data is part of the Cloud movement and it has some clear advantages like lower cost and higher security.  Most companies want lower cost and more secure applications.  Beyond the concept of distributed data, it is more difficult to make the two models connect, but they can. 

The Hadoop model uses intelligent applications to distribute the data, find the data and process the data in the most efficient method.  Yahoo searches don’t happen on one big server looping through a bunch of web pages.  Instead, a Yahoo search could run on any one or combination of 50,000 servers, all communicating, anywhere in the world and the result is back in seconds. 

Ethereum is based on the block chain concept, probably most recognizable as the model used by Bitcoin.  Essentially the block chain model is a single ledger of every transaction.  The key is that the ledger is public and replicated (distributed) on every server that is part of the chain.  Therefore, a user can’t fool the system because the ledgers all have to be in sync and the anomalies get kicked out. 

The Ethereum model allows for the creation of digital contracts to exist within its ledger.  Therefore, if you create a digital contract with another user, both users are bound by that contract and it is fully supported by the ledger.  And the contracts, because they are programmable (think a collection of fields with data, not a Word file with nothing but text), can be very intelligent.

For instance, you can have a contract that requires one company to sell 10 office chairs for $500 to another company.  The digital contract can include the FedEx package ID so that when the chairs are delivered and accepted by the receiving company, it triggers an auto withdraw of money from the bank account (also pre-entered into the contract).  All recorded in a public, distributed and verified ledger.

It is a lot to digest and some of it is long way off from being tried and true, much less mainstream.  The models could change the method of document management on both the front end and certainly on the back end.  You might be able to build a document management system based on the Hadoop model that seamlessly allows you to “find” your documents in an Ethereum ledger or on some server in the Cloud.  If your brain hurts, join the club.  But it is fun to think about the possibilities.

If you would like to explore these ideas in more depth, please contact us at info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 x122 or visit our website – www.mgdocs.com.

Lost Document Cost? – The Search & Wrong Answers

via Flickr - Dru KellyWhat is the cost of a lost document?  There are two components to the cost regardless of the document being either lost or just misplaced. 

One component is the potential cost that a decision is made or action taken with incomplete information and there are negative consequences.  For instance, if a contract is lost, one party to the agreement could take advantage of the other party.  This situation might occur even if a replacement document could be obtained, but maybe not in a timely manner.  Therefore, the employee makes a decision based on what they remembered.  We call this the “Oh Sh&#” cost because it usually doesn’t get noticed until it is a surprise, and its usually a bad surprise.

Another component is the cost to try to locate the document.  Some amount of time is taken by one or more people to locate the document.  This could be searching the office or network drives, cloud systems or even calling associates that might have a copy.  The time could be minutes or hours.  When you multiply the time by the number of people involved and an average labor cost per hour, it adds up.  It adds up even faster when it happens every day or every week.  We call this the “APB” cost, as in All Points Bulletin where the whole office is involved in locating a missing document.

The cost of an APB is relatively easy to estimate.  Here is a reasonable set of assumptions to estimate a cost.  A company with 500 employees probably experiences 5 document searches a day that last at least 15 minutes.  If the average labor cost of the employees involved in the search is $50 an hour and there are two people looking each time, then the daily cost is $125 (5 docs x .25 hours x 2 people x $50/hr).  If you multiply that by 250 business days in a year, it is a large number – $31,250.

It is very difficult to estimate the cost of an Oh Sh&# situation.  However, if the same size company experiences one situation a month and the average negative consequence is $5,000, then the total annual cost is $60,000.  There was a recent news story about a firm that missed out on $190 million because a document was completed incorrectly.  It is probably not too much of a stretch to think that a mere $60,000 lost could be due to a missing or misplaced document. 

No paper filing method nor digital document management system is going to solve this problem 100%, but a digital approach with the proper configuration will reduce the chances.  A document management system that indexes the text of every document, including PDFs, is going to significantly improve the chances that a lost document will be found.  Of course, having a well thought out process and controls for adding documents to your document management system is also going to help.

>Be sure to have required fields or required information for every digital document added.  If the document is a vendor contract, make sure the vendor name field is “Required”.  If the document is an HR document, make sure the Employee ID is a “Required” field.  Better yet, make sure these required fields are approved, complete lists that the use must select from.  This will help reduce and possibly eliminate APB’s and Oh Sh&# situations.

When Is Automated Workflow Justified?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Active vs Final Documents – Co-habitation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Tax Day – Do you know where your Supporting Documents Are?

IRS Publication 4837, otherwise known as “Achieving Quality Examinations through Effective Planning, Execution and Resolution” published by the IRS Large Business and International Division, indicates that it would be wise to have supporting documents readily available when audited.  Because you want to defend your position and you really don’t want the cost of responding to the audit to be greater than the potential tax impact.

The IRS will make Information Document Requests (“IDRs”) to support claims made on any entities tax return involved in an audit.  Various types of documentation support revenue recognition and expense claims.  It is highly recommended that this documentation being organized, accessible and easily reproduced – sounds like a perfect scenario to justify an electronic document management system (“EDMS”).

Some types of documents that support revenue recognition are contracts, leases and licenses.  To support transactional events like acquisitions or dispositions, closing binders will have the required documents.  Expenses are of course supported by vendor invoices or contracts and payroll reports.  Other documentation includes bank statements, journal entries with supporting documents and even market reports (mark to market).

If your business is ever involved in an audit and the IRS issues an IDR, it is good practice to assemble the requested documentation in electronic format and retain an exact copy of the information provided.  That way as the IRS reviews and responds to the new information, you are looking at exactly the same information that they are.

Supporting documentation that is organized and electronic will speed up the audit process and reduce internal costs to respond.  Supporting documentation in an EDMS that can export the files and retain the organizational structure will greatly reduce response costs.  Supporting documentation actually linked to the specific tax forms and line items is a dream, possible, but a dream at this point.

Millennia Group, LLC, Information [Found] is Power – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 x122