Each year, RJS works closely with the System iNetwork to develop editorial content that educates the iSeries community. This year, we enlisted the services of award-winning System iNEWS author, Nahid Jilovec, to write an unbiased collection of articles that highlight the current environment and future of forms and document management.
Organizations are increasingly looking to Electronic Document Management (EDM) to help them increase productivity, reduce risks, and increase sales. In this detailed white paper, Jilovec discusses the benefits of EDM and answers pertinent questions your company may have, such as:
- What the document management lifecycle includes
- How e-signatures can help automate approval processes
- How to implement document security technology
- The necessary steps an organization must take to go digital
Continue reading for an excerpt from "Electronic Document Management Growing in Importance" and download the full eBook (above) for more articles.
Print Less, Automate More
Printing has become so easy that we don’t think twice about it, with a typical small business having several fax machines, copiers, and scanners. Printer speeds are so fast that for some it’s a joy to hit the Print button from their desk and find a 50-page document waiting by the time they arrive. Duplex printing? Who likes it? And what about the orphan printouts at every printer station? Often, those are forgotten or obsolete as quickly as they’re printed. Documents, though easy to reproduce, aren’t disposable, albeit their short life and their loss and mishandling are very costly. Seems we’ve fallen back to old habits of needing paper and, in fact, producing more of it this time around. More paper and more transactions mean more data. Having more data in turn requires more processing to run day-to-day operations. Doing so manually means you’re doomed to fail.
Automation of business processes has long been on every CEO’s radar, regardless of company size or line of business. Today’s mega-data, whether originated on paper or not, must be assimilated, personalized, and redistributed in order to speed up the exchange of operational data. And it must be done securely. Although some industries are more data (and transaction) intensive than others, the information required for management to make the right decisions at the right time is dependent on real-time access to data. The days of scheduling batched data are long over, making room for real-time processing. Looking for paper documents in metal filing cabinets, whether to obtain the needed information or verify a signature is simply infeasible. Data, in its current form, is created ubiquitously and can take on different forms, and with data volumes on the rise, data management is an even greater challenge than before.
To further complicate matters, data is both structured, in the form of transactions or documents and unstructured, such as in email or as web content. And sometimes the unstructured data needs to be transformed into a transaction or a structured document. Data is content and must be properly managed—captured, processed, stored, and retrieved.
Data and process automation can been achieved by using content aggregation tools, such as electronic document management (EDM) and workflow automation tools. To create, capture, store, manage, present, and repurpose business documents, organizations use various solutions, such as document imaging, workflow, web content management, and digital asset management. EDM has been a top investment strategy for every business in the past three decades to help automate data capture and exchange. Although focus has shifted from automation of internal processes to external and back again, it’s difficult to draw the line, because the flow of data within and outside the organization is closely interconnected, and documents drive processes and trigger the generation of other documents and processes.
Organizations look to electronic document management to do three things: make documents (and information) easy to find and act on, keep document content safe to meet security and regulatory requirements, and make document content available to customers and suppliers as needed. In other words, they look for increased productivity, reduced risks, and increased sales.
Organizations that disregard electronic document management as a strategic investment fail to leverage what it offers and thereby suffer many disadvantages:
- Lost or misplaced documents cost companies sales because customers expect immediate answers.
- Worker productivity is reduced as employees search for documents.
- Productivity and accuracy are lost as employees re-create lost documentation.
- Accuracy of information is compromised when revisions to documents are untracked; therefore important revisions or notations are lost forever, and the “final” version is not necessarily final.
- Storage devices are artificially over-utilized as multiple versions of the same document are maintained across the organization, from individual hard drives to shared drives.
- Organizations are exposed to considerable risk when documents are improperly stored and tracked.
- Audit tracking of transactions is inaccurate or impossible.
External and Internal Documents
Now that you understand how the increase in paper documents and lack of an electronic document management strategy can adversely affect your business, let’s look at some EDM basics so you can get started on the path of choosing and implementing the right solution for your needs. Enterprise documents fall into two distinct categories: external and internal. Management of these document types may require different supporting technologies, including document management, imaging, e-forms, digital signature capture, and workflow automation. It’s a mistake to think that a single technology solution can support the myriad of content types, from fixed data to dynamic media. Before investing in document management technologies, you should consider where most of your transactions and knowledge reside and where you gain the biggest benefits from data and content aggregation and integration and business process automation. For instance, if your challenge is management of web-based content (e.g., e-commerce transactions, web-based forms), your needs are different than if your organization must support paper documents that require digital capture and management.
External transactions are driven not only by e-commerce but also derive from scanned images, e-forms, faxes, and printed reports from ERP systems. These transactions originate mostly from customers, suppliers, and business partners and rely heavily on workflow automation in order to process the information electronically. External transactions not only trigger internal transactions but can also generate valuable knowledge useful to employees as well as business partners to study trends or make adjustments for the future. As such, external transactions require heavy use of e-forms and document management, but they also require workflow automation. Further, there is a need for document output management for the ensuing outbound correspondence, whether in the form of transactions or knowledge. Document output management is used to create outbound transactions such as response to a loan application or sales quote. Outbound knowledge may include data such as sales trends to help customers make more focused buying decisions from you.
Internal transactions are often based on documents exchanged between divisions or departments and include spreadsheets, e-forms, and web-based content. These transactions are often created in support of collaborative work, such as for R&D, sales proposals, and contract negotiations. Internal transactions often lead to content for internal knowledge management. Examples include sales trends, rates of return for specific products (could signal product issue), or the number of loan applications for different demographics. Internal content is also centered on employee intranets, including HR and benefits details (web content) or internal job applications (e-form).
With both internal and external content, in addition to static and dynamic data, the definition of content extends beyond what we’ve typically seen in a paper document and includes rich media such as videos, images, and audio. To meet the needs of businesses today, an electronic document management system should manage various content types that may or may not be embedded in a document.
What Do Today’s EDM Solutions Need to Encompass?
EDM solutions are traditionally designed to manage static content—typical office documents like orders, invoices, or loan applications. A high-speed scanner is used to capture the image of incoming documents. Once captured, the electronic document can be tagged or indexed and filed. It can, at any time, from any place, be retrieved, viewed, modified, forwarded, or even deleted, given the proper access rights.
These electronic documents can be set up for distribution or routed based on simple or even complex business rules. For instance, you can set up orders to be routed directly to your ERP system for processing if no issues or exceptions are noted. But what if the order is collected via an online e-form or some other electronic template? An EDM solution can offer the ability to map electronic documents and templates to whatever format is required and automatically integrate them with the ERP, similar to their paper equivalents. In other words, regardless of original content form, the data can be mapped and processed in the same manner, creating a more consistent approach to document management. In addition to static content, dynamic content can be derived and managed from a web page via e-forms, images, print streams, emails, and digital content (i.e., audio and video).
EDM systems have been around for some time. Earlier versions were of great benefit in their time, offering the ability to manage the life cycle of paper documents that were turned into digital images. But there was still manual processing involved to retrieve and act on them. Today, documents, regardless of their form at inception (paper or electronic), are needed in one place for operational efficiency. Employees need immediate access from anywhere, anytime to key business data to use and share with others inside and outside the company.
Therefore, today’s EDM solutions must have the ability to connect related documents, not just like documents (related documents are tying an invoice to an order, whereas like documents are documents that serve the same purpose, such as invoices). Actions must be triggered and completed based on business rules set up in the workflow automation process tool, not manually by people. We need great storage and retrieval mechanisms, access from various sources (e.g., PC, mobile phone, tablet) and locations, capture and sharing of knowledge as well as data, and transparency of sources for the end user. In other words, the customer should receive business documents the same way every time, regardless of how you’ve pulled it together (e.g., by web e-form, paper, EDI transaction).
The job of an EDM solution doesn’t end there. It must offer users the ability to distribute data and content via traditional means of paper, email, fax, data files, and Microsoft Office documents. The outbound paper or electronic transactions must be mapped to each customer’s or supplier’s unique requirements, whether in terms of format, delivery mechanism, or frequency and time. It must accommodate more modern document output media such as mobile devices or XML transactions. These outbound transactions also require automation in their assembly, approval, and distribution. Given all these requirements, exactly what components must an up-to-the-minute EDM solution have in order to meet today’s needs?
Document Management Components
The creation and capture of a document can be done using e-forms. E-forms are very popular across many functions, including for loan or job applications and order placement. Documents can also be captured using a scanner, ranging from a desktop scanner to capture an image of a paper document to a more sophisticated variety in which scanned images are indexed and filed. Digital signatures can also be captured and stored electronically. Many retailers capture customer signatures digitally, as do package-delivery companies such as FedEx and UPS.
When a document is captured, it’s important to store it in such a way that it’s easy to find later. Indices are assigned to each document to group it with related documents. For example, you’d want an invoice associated with what originated as an electronic order in your ERP. You’d also want it grouped with other documents, including the delivery receipt (think electronic signature) and even the master contract. Indices can be assigned to help group documents by type (e.g., invoices, orders, complaints), by date, by customer or supplier, and by any other keys that would make future searches easier. With some documents, you may also want the ability to make revisions. This facility is useful when working on something collaboratively, such as a sales proposal or product design. Key to managing documents electronically is the assignment of logical indices (avoid over-engineering this, or you risk not finding your document; indices should be laid out simply and logically without too many layers) and a strong search feature to locate them.
Document retrieval and distribution.
Document retrieval and distribution are key components of a document management system. With the right indices and search capabilities, retrieving a document should be simple. Make sure you’re using the right version (versioning control is necessary) and have the ability to view, modify, and send documents to anyone within or outside your organization. But document retrieval and distribution, although possible manually using a document management system, take only partial advantage of business process automation. To automate processes, you can set things up so that when an invoice is received (electronic or scanned), it’s automatically routed to the accounts payable system for matching and payment. If the system detects a problem, it sends a notification to an authorized person. Otherwise, payment is made. Remember earlier in this article when I outlined the disadvantages that EDM-less companies suffer? With those disadvantages in mind, it’s easy to see with just this one example how process automation can mitigate those problems and bring benefits far greater than merely transforming paper documents to digital form.
Some people argue that paper is safer than stored electronic data. But consider that it takes a lot less effort to walk out with a piece of paper containing confidential information than to retrieve it electronically—that is, if the electronic version is maintained with the proper security measures for access control. Electronic document management systems must offer a robust set of security features to control who can access what, determine the rights they have (e.g., authoring, revising, viewing, routing, deleting), and enforce versioning control to ensure that changes are tracked (i.e., who changed what, when). Keep in mind that backing up and archiving documents is just as important as the ability to discard them to ensure that they aren’t a legal liability.
Plan, Implement, Automate—and Prosper
As we move further into this document-centric digital age, it is important to formulate a comprehensive electronic document management strategy. Documents come in the form of paper and digital, structured and unstructured, text and rich media. The optimal document management strategy is one in which supporting technologies are used to tie all related documents together, no matter what form or format, and to automate their processing to have as little human intervention as possible, leaving people to manage the exceptions. These approaches save time and money and help gain customer confidence, ultimately helping your business flourish.
Download the full eBook to delve into additional articles where we’ll explore the key components of electronic document management further, including web forms and electronic forms technology, digital signature technology, document management systems, accounts payable (AP) automation and business performance management (BPM), and document security technology.