Defining a digital strategy for improved information management

By Jim Wade

Information is one your firm’s greatest asset, however, according the leading analysts – Gartner, Forrester and IDC – 80 percent of your information is not structured, i.e., it cannot be accessed in a timely manner. This information is buried in paper files, in email folders and shared drives often several folders deep.

This information enters your processes via delivery services, email, facsimiles and internal sources.

This information cannot be accessed by your Line-of-business or ERP software.  If fact, you are probably entering information from these documents into those applications.

A digital workplace provides streamlined processes that can be completed in a faction of the time of a manual process, while monitoring the completion of each task, improve information access and sharing with authorized users and partners, improve data accuracy, and at the same time, advance regulatory and business information compliance.

 This improved functionality results in improved customer service, reduced operation cost, increased revenue, higher productivity, and improve information governance.         

Below are ten (10) steps to define a strategy for implementing a digital workplace.

Step 1: Identify the business objective

This is a key component that is often overlooked. The business objective not only must be identified, the project sponsor must agree that this is the problem that he/she wants it to be rectified.  

Step 2: Form the team

It is extremely important to have key members of the process to participate in the rectifying the business problem. The most important member of the team is the end-user, without their participation in the analysis and design the possibility of failure is greatly increased.  This does not minimise the need for technical advisors to be on the team as well, e.g., analyst, development, project manager, infrastructure, etc.   Once the team is selected they must be educated on the project approach, the methodology that will be used and the capabilities of a digital workplace so they can participate in the analysis

Step 3: Document the existing process(es)

One of the key objectives of the digital workplace is to deliver the correct information to the proper people at the correct time.

You may be saying "that takes technology" and you would be correct. However, throwing technology at a business objective without a thorough understanding of how that entire process operates can easily result in improving a task or two while decreasing the efficiency of the entire process.  

Implementing a digital strategy in not a program or an application, a digital solution does not come out-of-the-box. Digital workplaces have multiple components that need to be configured. What is the best way to ingest the information? How do we architect the information to deliver the correct information in a timely manner? Who has the authority to access the information? Is the information a record? What are the retention policies to meet legal requirements and provide business information?

Most processes are not accurately documented, due to the fact, that changes occur to a task to meet a new requirement.  Seldom is the entire process evaluated when these changes are implemented, especially, if the process goes across multiple departments or organisations. These changes to a task often effect how other tasks are performed which changes how another task is performed, etc., etc. The result is the process that has become inefficient over time.

Documenting the existing process provides an accurate description of the existing process, i.e., an accurate starting point. 

Step 4: Verify the process

The process must be reviewed by the end-users to verify each task and exception is documented.  This accomplishes two things: 1) it assures that the process is documented accurately and 2) it involves the end-users in the analysis.

Step 5: Analyse the process

Analyse the process for apparent improvements and tasks that do not providing value. This could be a loop in the process that routs information through a redundant task, excessive photocopying of information to provide access to it, sorting documents in a specific order to process them, scanning documents at the end of a process rather than as the information enters the process, manually moving documents from department to department based on their access requirements, etc.

Step 6: Create a Strategy Document

It will be beneficial to create a Strategy Document at this point. This step is rarely implemented; however, it will become the most useful document that your organization will have to evaluate and implement a digital strategy for information management. 

It is suggested that the functionality in the Strategy Document be broken in to three (3) categories, i.e., 1) information capture, 2) information delivery and 3) lifecycle management. 

It is beneficial to have a member of your team have a thorough understanding of digital transformation technologies, e.g., document management, document capture, information governance, etc., to assist in creating this document. The Strategy Document is not a recommendation, but, a list of possible alternatives that should be explored. 

Information Capture identifies how the information enters the processes and possible ways it may be captured. This includes capturing an image of the content and the information contained in the content that will be used to deliver the content – workflow, search and browsing – and assist in the lifecycle management of the content. It also explores how the information within the content is used to populate other systems.

Information Delivery defines how the document will be searched, browsed, routed through a process, permissions to access the content, audit trails, etc.

Lifecycle Management defines how the document will be archived, records management rules, storage requirements, document conversion requirements, etc.

All the categories are interdependent upon one another. 

It is suggested that the Strategy Document have a section for the current process and a section on the possible impact it will have on the process.

The strategy document is a living document it defines the current system and areas where implementing a digital solution may provide benefits and in the next phase defining the functional requirements the digital solution can provide possible impact on the processes.

Step 6B:  Is this a viable project?

Decide based on the analysis of the process if going forward with the project appears to be a good investment, i.e., move to the next step or abandon the project.

At this point an experienced information analyst will only have a few days invested in the project. Regardless of the status of the project your firm will have accurate documentation of process and a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the processes.

 Step 7: Design the new and improved processes

Your firm has decided to take the next step, this step will look at improving the process by eliminating task that do not provide value and exploring the possibility of how a digital strategy "could" add value. 

To perform this task, it will be beneficial to engage a person on the team that understands the functionality of a digital workplace. This person should understand all aspects of the capabilities used to ingest, route, access, and govern digital information. In addition, this person should understand the various ways it can be implemented and the pricing models to achieve this.

It is important to note that in this phase we are designing a strategy, not a solution, multiple alternatives should be considered. To accomplish this the new process, models should be in a format that can be easily modified.

Once the new processes are created they should be presented to the Subject Matter Experts for review and their input.  This is where it is important to be able to change the process maps.  

Step 8: Define a Document Detail document and finalize the process design.

Use the process map to identify all the unstructured information, paper and digital, that is used in the process. It may also be beneficial to review your archives to confirm all the documents have been identified.

Create a Document/Content Detail Form that documents all the aspects of each document. This should include the purpose of the document, the channel(s) the document is received, the format(s) the document is received, who owns the document, is the document annotated, where is the document filed/archived, what metadata will be required to searched for the document, is the document a record - what are the record management rules, what will the taxonomy be to browse for the document, who has the permission to access the document - what permission do they have, etc.

Meet with the SME and end-users to both confirm and complete the information, e.g., the document may be accessed in multiple ways and require additional metadata or synonyms applied to it.

Step 9: Use the information to select a vendor(s) to implement a new digital workplace or upgrade your current system. 

We now have three key documents, 1) a process map defining the new process, 2) a strategy document for each process that is being considered, 3) a document/content detail form for each document in the process. 

This information will define the requirements to evaluate the vendor options to achieve a successful document workplace. This could be selecting a new vendor or changing the process of how your current system operates.

Step 10: Change Management

The job is almost complete, define a change management plan to assure a successful implementation. The change management plan will include implementation, testing, training, conversions, etc.

Jim Wade is a consultant with US firm Performance Improvement and has been in the document management and business process management field for over 25 years.  Jim can be reached at jimwade@performanceimprovementcorp.com

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