Document Management Solution-Paving the Proverbial Cow Path

Alexander Popowycz, CIO, Health First

Life Cycle of Data

First, any document management solution must reside within the needs of the organization it services. What works for one organization may not necessarily be the best choice for another. This is dependent on several factors: the maturity of data governance policies and practices in the organization, the depth of understanding of business workflows, as well as the current state of information management technology in the company.

Data governance (or more accurately, information governance) is perhaps the most important aspect of selecting and using a document management solution. There must be an understanding of the full life cycle of any piece of data, be it structured and managed in databases or sourced from external documents from which specific information is captured and used to fulfill a business function. This should include data ownership, custodial responsibilities (be they contractual or specified by laws and regulations) and subsequently handling of the documents until they serve no business purpose and need to be retired, destroyed or returned. With structured data this is more easily accomplished compared to the more ad-hoc nature of information sourced and managed through documents, which may contain many types of data. Also, when information from documents is used as sources for structured data, there needs to be means to validate, correct, and maintain currency of the data.

Understanding business workflows is vitally important in selecting and deploying a document management solution. These workflows include the activities and handoffs as may be required to turn documents into integral components of business value. But even when documented, simply automating current processes into a digital document management solution may simply be paving the proverbial cow path. To move from an order-taking mentality to business partnership, CIOs should actively be engaged to ensure that inherent capabilities of contemporary document are understood and considered as part of the transition from a paper-based environment.

While seemingly contradictory, the state of information technology in the organization probably plays the least significant consideration in identifying the best document management solution. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored. Inadequate infrastructure such as network capacity could slowdown and cause dissatisfaction, particularly when large documents and complex processes are involved.

  ​Document management solutions do not live in isolation, but are most often brought into environments that have well established practices   

Taking a system engineering approach can be extraordinarily beneficial in ensuring a successful outcome. Document management solutions do not live in isolation, and are most often brought into environments that have well established practices, where there are critical dependencies from one process area to another.

Identifying Needles in Haystacks

It’s hard to nail down just one challenge that will affect document management. I’ll highlight a few which are likely to affect most, regardless of industry.

The first is the continued explosive growth of information and correspondingly the documents that will need to be processed. As organizations seek multiple sources to drive an almost insatiable desire for information to fuel big data and other analytics efforts, being able to scale to meet both the volume and complexity of incoming data will strain document (and other data management) solutions that have not prepared for this onslaught. Depending on the industry, the so-called “Internet of Things” will be a significant catalyst for this growth, but will need to be assessed for the value that the data they will provide. As organizations seek to find needles in haystacks, it doesn’t help to just create bigger haystacks.

The next challenge will be security, not only from a data confidentiality point-of-view, but also in assuring higher confidence in the quality of the information in documents being input and used in a given document management solution. How confident are you that the data being used to power your most critical functions is accurate? Or timely? Or contextually relevant? Depending on the nature of the documents stored, transmitted, indexed, or otherwise processed in a DMS, appropriate controls on access or manipulation of the material must be in place on day one. In addition, the integrity of the source documents must be maintained as may be required to support legal and regulatory needs as appropriate. These include establishing and exercising relevant retention (and destruction) policies and procedures, in addition to ensuring the ability to retrieve vital documents at a moment’s notice.

Documents, in particular digital documents, can pose a significant threat to an organization if preventative controls are not in place. It seems like a daily occurrence that we come across security breaches resulting from the seemingly innocuous opening of a Word document, PDF file or some other file based vector. But in those cases, the Word document that happened to have a macro virus or the PDF file was malformed, taking advantage of an unknown (zero-day) vulnerability, exposing an individual, or worse yet, a firm to unintended information disclosure or other damaging outcome. The implementation of a document solution needs account for these all too common threats.

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