Why Document Management Solutions Fail

By Eric Parsons, CIO, Associated Asset Management (AAM)

My customers trust Associated Asset Management (AAM) with the creation, management, disposition and seamless access to their documents and official records. We take this role of the custodian of their documents very seriously as mismanaging them can lead to legal exposure for our clients. When it came time for AAM to replace our document management system, I became very interested in what makes Document Management implementations fail and what can be done to prevent it. Having successfully navigated our implementation, I wanted to share some of my findings.

This isn’t a ground-breaking discovery but the reason that so many Document Management Solutions fail is because the user circumvents the protocols in favour of familiar or easier solutions. The inconsistency that these tactics create leads to document incompleteness that becomes a tremendous liability to the organisation both in term of lost productivity and legal exposure. Exploring the reasons why users typically bypass Document Management protocols can be informative, and how you respond to mitigate or eliminate such behaviour will determine if you end up with a successful project.

Typically, organisations attempt to solve this challenge by enforcing strict policies around the use of the system. Approaches like this, however, are much more effective when dealing with an ERP or accounting packages, as failures such as service non-delivery and/or customer non-billing become immediately apparent. Often organisations may not realise that they are missing documents until months or years later, when a contract dispute requires a document to be produced that is not in the document management system. At this point,  organisations are left hoping they can find the document somewhere in their email archives as an attachment.  Even when organisations are reaching near 100 percent compliance by policing, the policing process itself tends to be effort intensive and fraught with negative interactions between IT and the users it is serving.

At AAM, we took a different approach when we developed our Document Management System. Our goal was to identify the functionality that users liked about other systems that could lead to them to circumvent our process and then include it in our design. Some responses that we received included:

  • “I love Dropbox, I can access my documents anywhere”.
  • “I like the Shared Drive because it is so fast and I’m used to it”
  • “I’m used to my records management solution”
  • “I have a custom macro that parses documents”
  • “I like My Documents because it makes sense to me and I can find things fast”

We also took a lot of time to understand how, when, and where users consumed documents in our current solution and where they would like to.

From this analysis, we realised that if we wanted to have the adoption we desired, we needed to choose a solution that was web-based, mobile friendly, could directly integrate with capture devices (copiers, scanners, etc), and gave us the flexibility to control the end user interface. The flexibility to control, tailor, and design the end user experience ended up paramount in the success of the system.

While taking this approach and investing so much time and effort into the end-user interface delayed our projected timeline and pushed us over budget, it resulted in an incredible adoption and satisfaction rate with the end users.

While a high adoption rate was one of our main goals, we also wanted to concentrate on the back-end processes. We  built in robust reporting to track current and expected usage and now the system issues positive messages about our compliance rather than negative violation notices.

In order to implement this strategy, we needed to choose an appropriate solution and set of tools.  The core of the solution is the Microsoft SharePoint 2013 platform. Global content types and meticulous mapping and standardised metadata allowed us to deploy an extremely robust search feature that delivered an end user experience that exceeded expectations.

The search interface development was an iterative process where we learned what and how people were searching for and adjusted the interface and search refiners accordingly.

The size of our content databases required the use of over half a dozen content libraries so we choose to age documents through these libraries according to their age and retention policies. This strategy accomplished the goal of having a manageable database size to restore the most recent documents in case of a recovery event.

We focused just as much on the ways in which we would ingest documents into the system.

We created a configurable system, where document naming conventions could be created and would result into metadata accurately mapped and the document routed to the correct library. This system allowed us to support current integrations and be well suited for future ones.

On top of this system sits a custom JavaScript interface where end users can drag and drop documents; if metadata can be implied, it is and presented to the user for verification; if metadata cannot be implied, end users can easily and quickly assign metadata in bulk to documents.

 The reception for the interface was universally positive and was so intuitive that very limited training was necessary. We are currently in the process of extending the integrations to capture devices such as copiers using the Nuance eCopy product.

To secure the solution, we leveraged Citrix NetScalers. They serve as a reverse proxy and authentication gateway to the public Internet and have Global Load Balancing functionality that allows to easily and securely scale as needed.

The extra money and time it took to deliver a consumer-friendly solution was well spent.  The solution ultimately helped flip a paradigm from one that required heavy training, messaging and enforcement of use to ensure use of the system to one where users actively and aggressively embrace the solution.

Eric Parsons is CIO at Associated Asset Management, one of America’s most-respected Homeowner Association (HOA) management companies.