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The information enterprise
Dr Vijay Magon, managing director of OITUK Ltd., explains how businesses, working closer with IT suppliers, can realise tangible benefits by careful use of existing technologies to deliver successful information management strategies and systemsMost businesses will be dependent on both paper-based content as well as electronic content. The latter is surely a sign of more recent times, particularly with low-cost, high-speed desktop computing. Many businesses have fallen into a culture where information is stored in a veritable hotchpotch of formats, leading to an incoherent and ill-defined approach to information management.
At a time when the amount of information and records being dealt with by businesses grows year by year, in the form of documents, e-mails, electronic data streams, faxes, etc., the need for businesses to embrace a practical strategic policy towards records and information management grows ever more pressing.
In order to turn this around, Electronic Document and Records Management Systems (EDRMS) offer the chance for businesses to evolve their practices and embrace a culture of effective and compliant information management practice. EDRM should be seen is a key component of the wider Enterprise Content Management (ECM) framework, which includes web content management, document and records management, electronic forms, business process management, collaboration, and compliance processes.
What is ECM?
ECM is essentially a conceptual framework for centralised information access, creation, management, and standardisation of business processes. There is no magic bullet solution – just a common sense approach which focuses the available technologies on specific business processes to ensure that the solution delivers what is expected of it. The process is a migratory one which promotes a corporate-wide information repository with newly created ‘current documents being ‘born’ onto the repository whilst ‘legacy’ information is scanned and digitised in a staged manner. While there is some ‘lag’ time in this process, a strategically planned implementation should lead to harmonisation with minimal disruption to the business.
Document management or ‘electronic filing’ started with turning paper into electronic files, which saves space, be moved around and shared. Lessons learnt from early adoption of such systems are now being realised through more sophisticated Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) which supports other electronic documents and include electronic content. Add a dose of systems integration, workflow, collaboration, and compliance, and suddenly organisations are beginning to realise tangible benefits from these technologies. However, goal posts keep moving – the worldwide migration towards the Internet and the resultant connectivity is pushing digitisation further into business processes and practices. This translates to integration between disparate systems to help streamline data flow between systems and a consistent approach to data storage – a Centralised Information Repository.
OITUK believes that EDRMS is likely to become as ubiquitous and as pervasive a part of a company’s enterprise application infrastructure in the coming few years as database management systems have been over the past two decades. Database management systems based on open standards enabled organisations to move away from proprietary, legacy systems and opened up options for inter-operability. Similarly, EDRMS will enable organisations to minimise dependencies and process in-efficiencies due to ‘information silos’.
A holistic approach
The returns from investments in EDRMS (e.g. process and staff efficiencies, standardisation, automation via workflow, etc.) are being realised through careful application of this technology to address strategic business requirements rather than short-term measures to solve paper problems. By managing the document while it retains a high business value, deployment and use of EDRMS will benefit from the long awaited executive attention and backing, as organisations begin to realise that these systems are not simply a luxury, but essential tools that are needed to succeed and maintain the competitive edge in the new ‘information enterprise’.
The core technology has been around for over 25 years, and is in use across many industry sectors. While this is not rocket science, its use within any particular sector cannot be generic, ie. it is not ‘out-of-the-box’. Consequently, its selection and implementation are complex and open to costly miscalculations.
Following many implementations through close liaison with customers across a number of sectors, OITUK believes that any solution must support the following three key components:
1. Document capture isn’t just about capture of paper records to cut through backfile issues. The increasing proportion of information received and generated electronically mandates import of electronic content from other systems to eliminate document folders scattered across storage servers, and on-going generation of new electronic content, including use of online electronic forms for new business transactions with little or no dependency on paper. It is vital to understand that simply digitising paper records is not enough – the solution must offer facilities to stop producing new paper – generation, management, and integration of ongoing (electronic) records, in order to minimise or eliminate the paper chase.
2. Management and Systems Integration: the document is the vehicle for content which must be searchable and integrated with the core business systems and practices. Its management has to encompass the document life-cycle which includes day-to-day business record management (including security), as well as retention and destruction in compliance with legal guidelines. The combination of external threats (hackers, malicious damage, fire, theft, flooding, etc.) and legal obligations (Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act, and Civil Procedures rules on Electronic Discovery) surrounding the issue of storing and safeguarding crucial information applies to all businesses across all sectors. Data merely stored on computer hard drives or paper-based filing systems are particularly vulnerable to loss or destruction. Failure to manage electronic documents as formal corporate records will mean that organisations will not be compliant with government legislation. Compliance demands at the very least a high-level inventory of a company’s information assets and investment and careful application of available technology.
Business information also resides on many disparate systems within organisations – information that is relevant to any process should be presented along with the digital record, when and where its required. The electronic business record cannot sit in a document management system that remains un-connected with other business systems and processes.
3. Delivery: to be optimally effective the electronic record has to be delivered to key users when and where they need it. The problem is that there isn’t a single user type within any organisation. Each organisation will have many different user roles, each with their own specific requirements and, consequently, their specific need for information. A solution which offers a standard interface for all users will provide limited functionality to most users, especially those who work under time constraints and under pressure – these users care less about the back-end processes! IT solutions must recognise this and ensure that the information displayed on a screen is meaningful to the user and the user’s role. Such a model can be readily extended to include relevant third-parties engaged in delivering and supporting any business process to share and collaborate.
The implementation approach behind any IT solution is just as important as the technology employed. Given the bad press about large scale IT solutions, two valuable lessons must be learnt:
(a) not all organisations are ready for the top end solutions – each must accommodate the technology and its implementation gradually to suit a number of local conditions including budgets, IT infrastructure, user training, etc.;
(b) a core application cannot be driven top-down without involving the people who will actually use it and held accountable!
OITUK works with companies and organisations across the public and private sectors – clients including NHS Trusts, local authorities, Law Enforcement Agencies and the private sector. The common theme running through all these customers is their need for a robust, legislation compliant information management system, which acts as a hub for vital information which can be accessed and archived at the touch of a button and deliver information to those who need it, when they need it. An approach based on evolving long-term partnerships has proved successful time-and-time again - to understand the business objectives and requirements, and liaise closely with the key stake-holders to deign, build, deliver, and support successful IT solutions at a pace that suits the business.
The underlying technology
OITUK has an established track record in providing and implementing EDRMS. At the core of the OITUK solutions is the award winning C-Cube suite incorporating, work flow, electronic forms, electronic document, records, and content management. From hospital wards to local council planning departments, to the leading edge in the fight against organised crime and international terrorism, OITUK is helping to demonstrate how EDRMS is making real and lasting changes to the way information is stored and managed across the UK and beyond.
For more information
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