Choosing an information strategy: isolated solution or comprehensive approach?

Anyone considering implementation of an information-management solution in one area of a company or organization will be forced to consider the trade offs between a specialized, isolated solution and a comprehensive solution. The isolated solution may quickly and effectively fulfill current requirements (such as archiving of e-mails or websites), but investment in a more comprehensive solution will be useful in most other situations as well.

Managing unstructured information within the framework of a comprehensive information strategy is a business-critical task. It ensures that information can circulate throughout the company without obstacles. A wide variety of internal and external systems generate large volumes of data and documents that must be simultaneously forwarded to downstream systems for further processing. In other words, management of documents must cover the entire value-added chain. This is the only way to achieve consistently high quality throughout the entire process. Any information that is not integrated into the enterprise-wide strategy will wind up in separate data silos that threaten the quality of internal processes. Information will not be available where it is needed, documents may be held as redundant copies (quickly leading to discrepancies), and data will not be available in the “right context”, thereby preventing a comprehensive view of customer- or project-related information.

This does not even address the fact that isolated solutions will result in additional expenditures of time and money on the IT side, particularly in the areas of administration, data security, access protections, and backup processes. Comprehensive management of data within the framework of an enterprise-wide ECM system can significantly reduce these costs.

Traditionally, ECM-related applications are rooted in electronic capturing of paper documents. Scanners digitize inbound documents (see white paper on incoming mail processing). In many cases, automated processes directly after the scanner use technologies like OCR to read out information from the documents and set index values or assign documents to specific business cases. Typical examples include solutions closely tied to the ERP system, whereby documents like invoices are scanned and – ideally – automatically forwarded to the invoice approval process.

However, other areas that generate a great deal of paper, such as HR management or contract records, also have tremendous potential for savings. Of course, besides external sources, plenty of internal processes also depend on paper documents. These must also be assigned to relevant business cases (or “records”). This is where the ubiquitous Office applications come into play, since they are used to generate documents. The output format itself is insignificant for the business case; it is only important that the documents (Word, Excel, PDF, etc.) are accessible within the context of technical processing.

Any comprehensive information strategy must consider e-mail as a major channel of inbound information. The past several years have seen increased use of electronic mail for sending business documents. Under ideal circumstances, e-mails will also find their way into the business case or the (customer) record (see white paper on e-mail management).

Like e-mail, use of the Internet has spread with breakneck speed as another medium for exchanging electronic business documents. This is particularly true of transactions occurring within the scope of e-commerce. Even interaction between governments and citizens is increasingly moving online, a trend known as e-government. On the other hand, many companies use their websites to release corporate, contractual, and product information of central importance. While not specifically “transactional documents”, they must also be included in an enterprise-wide information strategy.

The following diagram shows how management of a variety of business documents can be integrated into a comprehensive information strategy in order to achieve the maximum benefit. A wide variety of information objects travel across numerous different pathways in order to reach the joint document management system. Ideally, data will be “bundled” directly into virtual records and business cases so relevant employees will have access to them within the proper context. Of course, a complete record can then be forwarded to just about anywhere in the company for further processing using predefined business processes (see white paper on business process management). As a result, the proper employee receives the business case quickly, easily, and with all relevant information.

Information management: inbound channels – documents – records – processes

Information management: inbound channels – documents – records – processes

Information management: inbound channels – documents – records – processes

Of course, expectations for how content is managed can be just as diverse as the content itself. For some documents, it may be “convenient” to have continuous access to them online within the context of other relevant information. But other documents may be subject to a very wide variety of regulations, some of which vary from country to country, and must therefore be managed in a revision-proof archive. This is especially true of tax-relevant documents like inbound invoices. Yet other documents, particularly contracts or product specifications that form part of a business relationship between two parties, should be retained in revision-proof format.  In the event of dispute, for example, it is highly advantageous to have the ability to prove without any doubt what information was accessible as well as when and how it was accessible and that subsequent changes were not possible.

The document’s original format is irrelevant. A contract remains a contract regardless of whether it is recorded on a paper document, in an e-mail, as web-based content, or in the form of transactions.

Co-Author: Dr. Martin Bartonitz

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