Every day, in every office across South Africa, people look for particular pieces of hay in their haystacks. They spend hours doing it. How many? IDC says 12.5 hours per week for people directly involved in creating or managing docs, 4.5 hours per week for general knowledge workers.
Documents are the lifeblood of any business – they contain information, they protect you from risk, they let you roll back time. But they are only useful if you can find them – a task that gets harder every day as the piles of files pile up. Doing everything electronically – storing information and then looking for it using our computers and mobile devices – was meant to solve the paper-based document management problem. Instead, we now have two problems. We struggle to manage all the paper documents, and increasingly we struggle to manage all the electronic documents.
The root cause is the same – we’re poor librarians. It takes discipline and expertise to store information in a way that is secure, and where we can retrieve it easily and quickly. Storing and managing documents has to be part of our business processes – in fact, document management and business process management is almost the same thing. Every time we generate a product specification, a contract, a purchase order, a marketing plan, we are starting or completing a business process. Optimised document processes and optimised business processes are one and the same – if we use the right workflow tools and manage the outputs.
Proven Return On Investment For Managed Document Services (MDS)
How do office workers know how to perform a business process? How do they find out what it is they need to do?
Ideally, they would be shepherded through the process by an integrated workflow system, that tells them what’s required, provides the document templates they need, and then stores completed material in a structured repository to allow others to retrieve the work later. The technology exists – it is affordable, there are well tested implementation methodologies, and there is proven return on investment for Managed Document Services (MDS).
How do knowledge workers actually go about finding out what they need to do? They ask around.
Osterman Research found that employees of companies spend an average of 38 minutes every time they are looking for a document. If they can’t find what they’re looking for, what do they do then? 71% waste time “asking around”, a third will try the company directory or intranet, and a terrifying 30% will send a company-wide email, endlessly multiplying the wasted man hours.
At one large pan-African telecoms company, product managers complained that they are the “document management system” – every time salespeople need a product spec or pricing information, they tap them on the shoulder (and boom! there’s two people’s time wasted) to ask them to forward an old email with the relevant document.
Is it an up to date version? Who knows. Is it safe stored in email “sent items” boxes? Who knows.
The Solution To All Wasted Man-hours
None of the problems outlined are surprising. But little is changing in today’s business world. Productive hours continue to be lost to fruitless searches for information, compliance levels with document retention laws are stubbornly low, and disaster recovery strategies in the event of a building fire, flood or collapse are still based on wishful thinking.
Mostly, companies let their inefficient document management practices slide because they’re not sure if they can fix them – and they’re worried it’ll cost too much.
What’s too much? They have no idea. But it’s not hard to work out what the required investment could reasonably be. Simply take the total wage bill of your knowledge workers, take a pro-rated 4.5 hour per week they waste searching for documents, and get a number how much money it is already directly costing the business per year in lost productivity.
Say you have 50 knowledge worker staff, at an average Cost to Company of R60 000pm. Lost productivity caused by poor document management is costing you R4 million per year. It needn’t.
The questions to be answered are fairly simple when starting an implementation.
What data needs to be stored… is it structured (the output of a system that identifies, adds keywords, etc), or unstructured (folders full of Word documents with few meaningful titles)? Is it semi-structured that can have structure created with tools (e.g. extracting documents from email archives)? Does it have metadata (information about source, author, keywords, change history)? This tells you what tools you may need to bring to bear.
Do you have business process management tools – workflow systems or automated processes? These should be sources of data, and sources of structure.
What outputs do your systems create? Log files? Accounts and customer databases? Documents and spreadsheets? These sources need to be sorted according to retention requirements (e.g. to comply with Protection of Personal Information Act) and security requirements.
Where are your documents stored? Paper docs in folders (do you keep copies offsite)? Electronic documents on servers and individuals hard drives (are they backed up?) Documents in mail stores? These days, storage is incredibly cheap, with a mixture of on-premises systems and Cloud (Internet-based) providing total redundancy.
Document Solution Management – Real Business Benefits
Using the back of the envelope calculation to estimate how much lost productivity could be turned into proper document management, we came up with a number of R4 million per year for a medium sized business. That kind of money invested in proper document management systems would not only save masses of money in lost productivity, but also provide spin-off benefits in regulatory compliance, response times when quoting or supporting customers, brand perception benefits (professionalism, competence).
Call us – let’s find the balance between new enterprise tools to power productivity and weeding out redundant communication and collaboration tools used throughout your business.