In my earlier post on Document Management in a social day and age I promised to go a bit more into how and why to use Document Management. And how can I do that without talking about that most basic element of Document Management:
It is the backbone of the document management process and one of the things that sets it apart from ordinary file sharing systems. It can be anything ranging from dates, numbers, text, addresses, names or anything else that is relevant to the document. In fact, meta data is nothing more then additional information about the file (document) so that it can be used for things like:
- Visual representation (in overviews, on columns, on forms, in exports, …)
- automation (workflows, review, archiving, automatic deletion, …)
- indexing (searching, reporting, categorization, …)
Yeah, but why bother registering it again as meta data if that information is in the document file itself.
Well, not necessarily. Meta data can contain information that is or is not mentioned in the document itself. Not all contracts for instance will have exactly the same format or hold the same information. By requiring specific information to be provided for each contract like involved parties, start & expiry date, sales & legal responsible, contract category and renewal type you ensure a minimum standard of information for all documents of that type. Regardless of the file (contract in this case) itself.
Meta data therefore can be a great way to ensure all required information is there.
I can simply put it in the title if it’s that important…
It’s more then just assuring it’s there, it’s also about making that information available as individual data elements so you can use them.
To automate renewal and review cycles for instance you need to know when a contract will expire and what term is set for renewal as well as a name or department who will be responsible for renewing or reviewing that contract.
After all, you don’t want to rely on someone just ‘remembering’ when a contract is due for renewal, you want to be sure it will throw alarms, bells and whistles if it doesn’t get done!
So meta data can be extremely useful but it needs to be in context. Asking for a Start date on an instruction manual might confuse people and make them wonder why they are asked for that. That is why document management systems generally identify different ‘document types’ for different types of files with specific types of meta data information that needs to be filled out for each type.
Example of a simple Document type for Legal documents…
Some will require a lot of meta data because you want to do very specific searching, reporting or automation and some will require only one or two meta data fields. Which information is required really all depends on:
- the processes surrounding the document
- how you want to structure it’s storage
- the way you want to make it accessible
So getting it right is really important.
Make it count
But it’s a delicate balance to get that right set of document types with the right type of meta data. It’s very tempting to create elaborate forms to be filled out by the user but overdoing it on the meta data might alienate your users (how much do you like filling out endless information forms). The art therefore is to get the right balance between getting the information needed and doing it in such a way that the user sees the benefit of doing it. And there are many benefits to filling out the information if done right:
- Better searchable
- Better overviews
- Reporting/Exporting possibilities
- Workflow & automation of tasks like review and renewal
- Better change management
Alternatively you can help users by partly automating the collection of meta data itself. Why asking the user to enter all kind of customer details if entering one relation number can mean you automatically can retrieve things like that customers name, location and other specifications from a back-end system for them? Or why not use OCR and scan filters to filter out information from orders and such…? Really, it’s all about collecting the information, not about having your users having to spend all day doing administration. Any type of data contribution automation is going to help.
So it’s all in getting that right mix of required data and processes set up to get the right type of information. No wonder any serious document management project really isn’t about getting the technical stuff together, it’s about understanding the organization and processes and fitting the system to that.
But when you do, you’ll find it’s absolutely worth it. After all, how much does it cost you when you can’t find that business critical document when you absolutely need it. Or miss out on a contract renewal because someone forgot about it…
Next up: Dates!