The Forgotten Process – Documentation Management: Taming Unstructured Enterprise Information to Create Business Value

By Phara McLachlan

As Benjamin Franklin observed more than 250 years ago, “Time is money.” But effective document management does more than optimize business practices and processes to save time and money. It also reduces risk relating to legal and regulatory matters, facilitates the legal discovery process, maintains control over information access, increases security and, ultimately, provides a means of disaster recovery in the event of fire, flood or other calamities.

Among the most perplexing challenges facing IT managers today is effective documentation management of unstructured enterprise information – enterprise assets that are not related to a process or a data model. It is widely understood that up to 80 percent of important usable business information today originates in unstructured form that lies outside company databases: invoices, warranty or loan information, financial records, building documents, contracts, etc. Less widely understood are the enormous risk abatement benefits, security enhancements, operational efficiencies and cost savings that can be achieved by document management policies, best practices and tools that align unstructured enterprise information to create business value.

Understanding the Costs and Risks

Part of the challenge is simple awareness. Senior company management may not be aware that up to 10% of staff costs are lost because employees cannot find the right information to do their jobs according to the Butler Group. Related studies have estimated that:

  • The typical office worker spends over 40% of their time searching for information.
  • Professionals spend over 500 hours annually reviewing and routing files, and another 150 hours looking for incorrectly filed documents
  • $25 to $35 billion is spent annually in the US on filing, storing and retrieving paper documents, according to IDC.
Understanding the Challenges

Behind every solid documentation management strategy is a strong process, along with systems. Document management systems (DMS) involve capture, storage, versioning, metadata, security, indexing, distribution, integration, searching and retrieval of documents – for both structured and unstructured. Unstructured documents related to assets include proof of purchases, purchase orders, contracts, certificates of authenticity, invoices, contracts, authentication codes, etc. In many cases, these documents will outlive the asset itself.

These documents are typically handled by many people within the organization, and they are usually stored in many locations and in various forms and/or versions. For example, a software vendor contract might be handled at one time or another by the CIO, the general counsel, the procurement/acquisition office, accounts payable, the IT asset manager, and so on. Without a good DMS streamlining strategy in place, document management can quickly become a nightmare.

Documentation Management Streamlining Strategies

While every business or organization will have different specific needs and challenges, the basic streamlining steps are the same:

  • Implement a DMS process to help from inception to disposal of every document, including document capture, retrieval, security, integration, workflow, version control, etc.
  • The DMS process should take place within a central electronic repository for all information – both paper and electronic – even if there are multiple hands and eyeballs on each document asset. Having an electronic central repository will make things much easier in terms of search and retrieval. During times where discovery is needed – e.g., a software vendor audit – less time spent retrieving information allows more time for strategy and response. Whenever and wherever possible, request items electronically to minimize scanning and other labor intensive tasks. If there are multiple databases or systems with various documents or versions, they still can be fed into one central repository. A simple example of a central, shared repository that allows for easy management is Microsoft SharePoint.
  • The IT asset manager, or another qualified person, should be given oversight and ownership of the process – someone who understands workflow, processes and policies management. This person should be tasked with creating detailed requirements for devising and using a document management process that is as simple as possible.
  • Tracking documentation: whether done through metadata tagging and/or taxonomies, tracking documentation involves more than just searching; it’s more about the need to understand who is touching, accessing, or changing the document, as well as what other assets are connected to it. For example, a software vendor contract can have items attached to it – proof of purchase, certificate of authenticity, etc. Tracking should include emails and collaborative environments.
  • Organization: documents should be searchable by topic, content, client, date, and any other variable important to your organization.
  • Access control for security. Levels of control will vary, but security is among the most important features of any DMS. Questions such as:
  1. Who has administrative responsibilities? What’s the process for access?
  2. Who’s the author?
  3. Who approves the final document? How is it approved? And, who is responsible for the logistics of storing it?
  4. Where will the final document and the previous versions reside? Who is responsible?
  5. Who and how will amendments or changes to the documents be displayed and/or managed?
  • Workflow: A DMS is not just about organizing documents, but supplying a foundation that maximizes workflow efficiency. For instance, a good DMS should eliminate the mad scramble during discovery periods, where panicked employees are searching for documents, wondering if it’s the correct version, and desperately trying to piece together missing information. Workflow automation becomes much easier to plan, create and implement.
  • Automating notification process. When it comes to documents that need to have action taken upon certain milestones or deadlines – such as contracts where there is an expiration/renewal date – you need to have a notification process in place. The steps for this include:
  1. Create: Creating the notice
  2. Send:
    • Specifying recipients (and other cc’s)
    • Sending notifications
  3. Track: Tracking recipient compliance
  4. Remind:
    • Responding to questions and non-compliance
    • Revising and refreshing
  5. Document: Documenting the process (reporting, auditing)
  6. Release: Releasing the document and putting it back into the document management process all over again

Believe it or not, automating the notification process is the most neglected activity within a document management process/system.

Five Questions to Ask

If all this seems a little bewildering, remember that there are five basic questions to ask as you establish an effective DMS for unstructured, and structured, documents:

  1. What data needs to be preserved and managed?
  2. Where does the data reside?
  3. Who has responsibility for that data in terms of possession, custody and/or control?
  4. When do specific actions need to be taken, and by whom?
  5. How will custodians and data stewards be notified? And how will understanding and compliance be assured?
A Final Question

The benefits of a good documentation management process and system start with much more efficient workflow that optimizes virtually every business process in your company or organization. It can save time and money, but the advantages go well beyond simple dollars and cents. It can:

  • Remove most of the panic from the legal discovery process, and makes it much easier to determine if someone has a case against you
  • Enable an automated warning for legal and regulatory matters
  • Reduce exposure and risk, especially with legal documents
  • Enable tighter control over information
  • Increase security
  • Provide a failsafe in the event of the need for disaster recovery

If you’re still postponing implementation of a good document management strategy, bear in mind the famous epitaph on a grave in Tombstone’s Boot Hill: I was expecting this, but not so soon.

About the Author

Phara McLachlan is the CEO of Animus Solutions, Inc.