Docova is a web based Document Management system that caters for both basic and complex Document Management from department to enterprise level. It supports customizations and is compliant with most international record management standards. We’ve been working with it for several years now and I love it although it does have, like all software, its little nuisances.
The recently released Docova 3.5 has some great new features (check their blog) that will solve a lot of those. In particular the fact that the web components now supports Firefox and Chrome where previous versions of Docova would only run in MS Internet Explorer or in Firefox with IE-Tab plug-ins installed. A great enhancement as, although still preferred by most IT departments, Internet Explorer certainly isn’t the preferred browser among users any more!
Interested in these new Docova features? Register for their webcast about the new release tomorrow or try it out yourself with a free 30 day trial in the Docova cloud solution (another great new addition with this release!).
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, …)
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:
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…
Earlier this week I travelled to Luxembourg to deliver a document management project we have been working on for the last few months. A migration to Docova (Domino based Document Management system) of over 100GB of data that was previously stored in a Domino Document Manager (IBM product that has been discontinued) and Docushare (Xerox) environment. Thousands of legal documents and contracts that needed a new centralized and unified way of storage with some very strict maintenance and compliance regulations.
On talking about the trip and project I got asked what the relevance was of document management with the rise of social business and social file sharing and why I still do a lot of document management projects, seeing as I’ve been really active in promoting social tools and file sharing. And if that isn’t causing a conflict of interests.
Well, where to start…
Structured versus unstructured
Where social business tools offer a platform to share and distribute unstructured data, document management is about handling the ‘structured’ data. Data that requires centralized, controlled and predictable accessibility and that is often core to the functioning of the business process. Information for instance like legal documentation, contracts, HR records, invoices and technical documentation.
It’s not just about storing
But it is much more than just storing it in a controlled environment. It’s also about controlling the information during it’s life cycle to ensure processing, updates and review are taking place and about making sure the documents adhere to regulatory and compliance requirements.
It’s not about numbers
“But isn’t that more something for large environments?” No it isn’t. Every company has data that requires certain procedures and structure. Often these are maintained by individuals who keep lists of actions to be taken or have certain ways of keeping track. But how do you ensure that when those people leave, or fall sick those same procedures are maintained, and how do you keep control? Questions relevant to companies of any size but maybe especially to those where processes often reverberate around a single employee ‘that knows where to find it‘. Dependency on a single individuals knowledge and diligence can be a major threat to the stability of any business process.
Document management is about controlling the data process, not just the data itself
What makes document management what it is?
meta data: Defining document types with information fields and enforcing input control, allows for additional data to be associated for each type of data document. Information that can then be used to index the document, perform processing and ensure better findability.
Versioning: Granular and multi-tier version control (e.g. Major, minor and revision releases) allow for each change in the document or its meta data to be stored and indexed according to it’s importance. Making it clear how the information came to be and who was responsible for what change.
Life cycle management: having life cycle management ensures drafting of documents is possible, while still keeping access to the last released version of the document for the public without having to take the document out of the system (and controlled process). It also allows for controlled release of data to the main public. For instance after formal approval or processing has been done.
Processing / workflow: Often additional actions are required when new data is stored. Contracts need to be approved, scanned invoices need to be cross checked and information needs to be transferred to other systems. Based on meta data or document type, processing or workflows can help make sure this happens. By formalizing it in technical procedures better control can be exerted over the execution.
Monitoring / review: Information is only relevant if it is regularly reviewed and updated. By having regular reviews and monitoring alerts based on the document type or meta data specific to the document, information is kept up to date and relevant. But it’s not just the fact that this is possible, it’s the fact that the process and system is guarding it which makes it valuable as it no longer just depends on individuals taking responsibility and can be monitored centrally.
Record management: More and more regulations and legislation demand specific control on what happens to business process information. Controlling what happens to data at which state of its life cycle; how long information needs to be accessible, when it has to be archived or removed and who, if any, is allowed to delete data, are all key factors in complying with these requirements.
Auditing: Knowing not just who theoretically has access but also who has accessed (even just as a reader) documents, who has edited them and who has send them, makes it possible to better understand and account for what happens with information. Especially where information is critical to the business process and highly sensitive.
Document management & social file sharing
So where does document management stand in the social revolution? Well to me, document management and social file sharing platforms stand firmly next to each other. Social platforms are a fantastic way to capture information and to collaborate on it but at the same time it is not about predictable structure. Document management is, but because of that has trouble handling unstructured data. As is recognized by IBM for instance who is actively building integration between their social platform IBM Connections and document management / ECM systems like Filenet, Alfresco and even Sharepoint.
So coming back to that question on why I still work with both; it’s because they complement each other and allow me to work on both ends of the data spectrum. Building controlled and strict process driven document management environments to capture that structured data, while on the other hand utilizing social platforms to effectively capture the loose, elusive unstructured data out there.
Social tools therefore aren’t replacing my love or specialty for document management, they are expanding it. So, No. They don’t offer a conflict of interests when talking about data management. Only opportunities to capture even more of its fast array of appearances and I feel lucky that I have a job where I get to work with both.
ps. in one of my upcoming blogs I will try to go a bit more into some of the document management functionalities we’ve implemented in our projects with some real life examples of problems and solutions we used. keep an eye on this blog for that one if you’re interested or contact me if you want to know more about document management.