Back to basics with integrated DM

Back to basics with integrated DM

Document management is not a dusty technology confined to the back office, it is an essential part of e-business, says Ovum in its latest report.

Many of the arguments for implementing an integrated document management (IDM) system are the same now as they were when the discipline first appeared 20 years ago. Nonetheless, they are worth clarifying and restating here. Alongside those values naturally go the reasons against and the doubts that such implementations raise.

Is IDM worthwhile? Is it a luxury or a necessity? These are questions being asked at every level. Is IDM humdrum automation of routine office procedures or something business critical that can provide your organisation with a competitive edge? When seen as part of a business process solution, IDM can offer a wide range of benefits. These can be quite radical in nature and underpin a major shift towards a more efficient and cost-effective way of working. A good IDM implementation can unlock the value currently lying dormant within stored information and ensure that businesses stop "re-inventing the wheel".

Document management - with its sister discipline, content management - is an essential platform for doing e-business.

Specific benefits include:

* better management of information

* faster response times to inquiries

* reduced overhead costs

* meeting regulatory obligations

* more business process transparency.

Integrated document management can be seen as an insignificant technology. Because of its roots in automating dusty filing systems, IDM is still seen as a boring "back office" function that can be delegated down to the bottom of the corporate pile. This is traditionally one of the major reasons that IDM purchases are not sanctioned. IDM is not seen as business-critical, because of the misconception that IDM systems simply automate what filing cabinets do for paper documents.

As a result of these incorrect perceptions, IDM can experience difficulties securing a corporate sponsor. It may also suffer in terms of budgeting. The process of information flow needs to be owned and funded - costs should not be justified by existing document storage departments.


We do not share this view. Seen through another lens, IDM is a critical part of knowledge management - a key concern of many corporations. Readers of Ovum's report Knowledge Management: Building the Collaborative Enterprise (see January/February 2000, page 18) will know that a document management system is at the heart of a knowledge management platform - it is a mandatory, not optional, component.

Furthermore, document management - with its sister discipline, content management - is an essential platform for doing e-business, and all companies today want to be e-businesses.

The argument is simple: all businesses revolve around and rely on documents.

E-businesses rely on e-documents. Controlling documents is even more critical if they are e-documents, because electronic documents are so easily modified, lost or deleted. The discipline of record management is rarely applied to electronic documents, which are often kept on staff's own PC rather than on the corporate intranet. This is a recipe for failure.

There is also the issue of staffing. If IDM is seen as an uninteresting, back office occupation then it is likely to attract low-grade personnel. But IDM by its nature requires the very best professionals to operate it, people who are not only IT literate and interested, but also those who will gain an understanding of the business and ensure a synergistic relationship between business requirements and IDM solutions.


The main purpose of IDM remains to make sense and order out of the corporate filing system. We use the term filing system despite its unfashionable status, because at the end of the analysis that is the prime mover among companies when approaching an IDM implementation. They have a mess and they want it sorted. But this is only another way of describing something very fashionable - knowledge management.

We are living in an age of "info-glut" - we are swamped by the sheer volume of documentation that we produce. The double-edged sword of enterprise-wide email has contributed to this document build up, as has the introduction of desktop applications such as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation packages to virtually all white collar staff. These technological advancements have given people the ability to create larger volumes of documentation than was ever thought possible.

But although desktop applications can correct our spelling and arithmetic, they do not help when it comes to logically or efficiently filing output - or helping to find what we need in that output when we want to refer to it.

The result is that most companies have the "1,000 islands of information" situation. Documentation is stored disparately in hundreds of thousands of folders, on thousands of hard drives, on dozens of servers, all randomly located throughout the corporate infrastructure. Most of this information is only available to the person who created it. With or without security restrictions, it is likely that the originator is the only person within the company who knows where the document is stored and they themselves may have forgotten its location.

So the need exists to make some order out of this chaos: to structure the stored documentation in such a way to ensure that it is safe, accessible to those that need access to it and stored in such a way as to easily find it again.

Business Solution: