Friday, May 25, 2007

Business Processes vs. Document Processes

There are two different sets of processes to evaluate when establishing a document management strategy: business processes and document processes. Quite often, the two are the same, but oftentimes one can be at odds with the other. Bringing them into alignment is the ultimate goal, in that streamlining how the business is run often means streamlining how documents are handled, and vice versa.

For an example, consider a high-volume manufacturer. One of its most paper-intensive processes will be in the shipping department, where pick lists, packing slips, and proofs-of-delivery (PODs) most often generate significant costs in terms of labor, paper, ink and toner, etc. Because these documents must often follow the product as it's picked, packed, shipped, received, and billed, there would seem few opportunities to reduce paper and improve processes.

In evaluating the workflow, though, numerous opportunities for improvement can be identified:
  • Rather than creating multiple copies of signed documents for filing and distribution, originals can be scanned into a document management system, distributed electronically to other departments (e.g., sales and accounts receivable), and electronically filed for easy searching and retrieval. This reduces printing, copying, and filing costs, while improving the efficiency of the overall workflow.
  • Invoices can be automatically created at the same time as packing slips, reducing delays in payment caused by AR clerks awaiting physical copies of paperwork from the shipping dock. These invoices can be printed directly in the mailroom, for quick and easy stuffing and mailing, or in AR to be injected into existing invoice generation processes.
  • In many cases, print distribution systems can create electronic images automatically, further reducing the labor involved. Such images can be routed and filed according to rules established in software, reducing entire manual processes to a few, fully automated steps.

A future post will outline the various stages of general document processes. For now, take a few minutes to think about your business processes that are highly dependent on paper and electronic documents, and how those documents are created, distributed, and stored. Finding only a few instances where documents are extraneous can drop significant dollars to your organization's bottom line.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Introduction to Document Management

The title of this blog is "PaperFree SMB," but that isn't to imply that only organizations generating large volumes of paper need be concerned with document management, nor that it's necessarily possible to become entirely "paper free" or "paperless."

Rather, this blog is about becoming as paper free as possible, an end goal that will be different for different organzations. And, all organizations have methods for managing documents; the defining question for this blog is, are these methods well-defined and well-managed, or are they undefined and mismanaged?

For our purposes, document management includes consideration of the following:

  1. Converting paper generated during normal business processes to digital images, and managing those images efficiently and effectively;
  2. Efficiently and effectively managing electronic documents that are generated during normal business processes; and,
  3. Altering business processes to reduce paper, by eliminating unnecessary steps and/or by utilizing electronic versions of currently paper documents.

Established methods exist for analyzing business processes and document flows to identify the types of documents being produced, their volume, importance and relevance, and changes that can be made to processes to reduce the reliance on documents. Because every organization is different, each organization needs to take some time to conduct this analysis process.

The larger and more complex the organization, the more time and expertise is required. In many cases, outside expertise might be required, and fortunately there are numerous firms that specialise in providing document management services.

The point of this particular post, though, is to avoid the misconception that only paper documents are of concern. In today's litigious and highly regulated environment, every organization, whether large or small, for-profit or not-for-profit, private or public, needs to assess their current document management strategy and ensure that they know which documents are important, where they are, how to find them, and how long each document should be retained.

Without such knowledge, a single lawsuit or regulatory audit could be devastating in terms of the amount of time needed to pour through paper and electronic files to find important documents. Time and money spent prior to such occurrences represent and important investment in an organization's long-term viability.