Workflow Automation Software

Millennia Group Blog

Downsizing and De-cluttering

via FlickrIn essence, a good records management policy and effort helps companies continuously downsize and de-clutter.  That is not to say that the company moves to a smaller space or reduces headcount.  In this context it is the systematic process of eliminating information that is no longer legally required or relevant to the business.  This sounds fantastic for every company and every employee doesn’t it?

It sounds great to have less irrelevant information to sift through and maybe clearer lines of site to people in cubicles around you, unless you like to work in a bunker.  New office space configurations and the wave of digitization have reduced the chances of boxes piling up.  But even those pesky digital files need to be purged every once in a while.  So why is it so hard to do?

To programmatically or systematically delete files that are no longer legally required or relevant to the business (“Records”) means there must be a few things in place first.  The company will need a records management policy that describes the document classifications (legal record, business record, junk), specifies generally what files fall under each classification and then states the legal or business retention period.  The retention period is the duration (months/years) the file must be retained before it should be destroyed. For instance, retain the customer contract for 3 years after the term expires.

So instantly this highlights some basic challenges.  All files will need to be classified when the file is created or received, including the date of the file.  Secondly, there must be a way to search through all of the company files, where-ever those files reside, to find the ones that meet the criteria for deletion.  Then, and here is the most difficult part – someone needs to actually delete the files!

The benefits of having a records management program in place, as previously mentioned, include less clutter so good information is easier to find and less space, in this case, less gigabytes of storage, which might save some money.  There is also better security over sensitive data and lower exposure to litigation.  Even if it is an ethical, well run business, frivolous lawsuits still cost money and therefore, the ability to quickly prove that no smoking gun exists, is a benefit.

Many document management systems provide the ability to classify documents when they are added to the system.  Many also have the ability to programmatically find and list documents that meet the retention periods and are ready for deletion.  But users still don’t always delete those files, despite wanting the benefits of de-cluttering. 

We have added the ability to hide “retired” information from standard searches into our document management solution.  We have also added the ability to highlight information that is old, but maybe not at the point where it has met the retention period.  So while we understand the benefits of decluttering, we also understand the fear of wiping out information that could, just maybe, once in a blue moon, possibly, come in handy.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions that are flexible, effective and smart.  For more information – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577 x122.

Are you who you say you are?

via Flickr -  David Martyn HuntIf you’re a fraudster you can easily obtain a fake driver’s license or passport.  You can create a fake social media profile complete with fake friends.  It’s difficult to confirm the actual identity of someone without a DNA profile or finger print on file with the FBI.  And that is for confirming someone in person much less remotely.

The widespread use of electronic signatures has taken longer than some people expected and that is partially due to the ability to verify the signers.  If we could feel as comfortable with the validity of the electronic signature as we do with a wet signature, electronically signed documents would become the norm.  But electronic signatures come in varying degrees of authenticity so which one do you use?

Electronic signatures can include a simple, dropped in jpg of a signature on a document, maybe suitable for internal memos.  Other forms of electronic signature include one that the recipient adds the signature to a trusted list in Acrobat or Word for instance because they know the senders email and have talked to them on the phone.  That would be perfectly acceptable for many types of B2B or B2C contracts. 

However, the ultimate electronic signature is known as a Digital Signature and that includes obtaining verification of the signer from an unaffiliated third party.  The third party first must confirm the identity of the signer, which is not quite an FBI review, but does practically eliminate risk.  The signer pays an annual fee for the initial verification and to generate the unique encrypted code that ties to the signature.  If you don’t have a password to the code, then you can’t use the signature – it’s not you.

When the somewhat complex and costly initial setup process for a truly verified Digital Signature has been simplified, it is likely that the percentage of contracts signed electronically will explode.  The trusted third parties might turn out to be a function of banks which could bring cost down.  Video cams are being used to add a virtual notary component to the process, which further reduces risk.  Seamless integration with applications is happening now.  The impediments are quickly fading.

The prospect of both parties to a transaction having trust in the digital signature can provide many benefits for both sides.  There is the cost savings of not producing and sending paper copies.  There is the time savings from not having to involve a notary or to wait for the paper delivery.  One of the most significant benefits is the ability to transform old processes into efficient digital workflows, which provide tracking, reminders and mobility.

Look at the processes in your company that involve contracts or signing documents, even internal documents.  Understand the need, chose an appropriate solution and start reaping the benefits of electronic signatures. 

Millennia Group, LLC provides workflow and document management solutions – Information [Found} is Power.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com

Too many to choose from

Via Flickr - Chris WinterDo you ever marvel at the number of choices available in the bottled water aisle at any grocery store or online market? There are dozens of options to choose from.  How about barbeque sauces, bourbon, pizza or crackers?  There are far too many choices and it gets frustrating and time consuming to make any kind of decision.

This has some similarities to the frustration many people experience when they are searching for a file at work.  They may find a copy of the file duplicated in multiple places.  Determining which copy is the final version is both time consuming and frustrating.  The process of de-duplicating is not an easy task, but reducing our choices has obvious benefits and it can be done.

In document management terms, de-duplicating is the process of eliminating redundant copies of files.  In this digital file dominated era, file copies can be in many places including cloud storage, network drives, local drives and even as email attachments – cc’d to many people.  Making sure that all employees are looking at, and making decisions on, the same file is very important.

The challenge is two pronged; 1) figuring out how to clean up the existing mess and 2) preventing it from happening in the first place.  Cleaning up the existing mess involves a combination of technology and labor.  The technology can be as simple as finding all files with the same filename and properties (date modified, file size, creator, number of words, etc.) to actually comparing the content of the files.  For full comparison, some files may need to be opened and reviewed, especially scanned documents.

After the duplicates are identified, the technology takes over to separate and re-file the known, record copies into a new, organized structure.  Preventing the duplicates from happening in the first place starts with a well organized and easily understood filing structure or taxonomy.  Eliminate rogue silos of files being kept by employees and merge the silos into a single document management system or as few storage locations as possible.

Then to really cut down on duplicates, institute cloud based file sharing or use a cloud based document management solution.  Actual files don’t need to be emailed around, just links back to the single, record copy.  Also look at using workflow to capture the creation, revisions, approval and ultimately the archival of the final version of the documents.  Don’t put your employees in a situation where the choices are a burden – start to de-duplicate.

Blockchain will heat up your document strategy

via Flickr - sicilianoWe recently attended and exhibited at a technology trade show for the commercial real estate industry. The technologies that were in the spotlight were wide ranging from remotely monitored and controlled water values to AI solutions for recurring administrative tasks. Less “hot” technologies were also represented like accounting, lease management and of course workflow and document management systems.

Blockchain is poised to spice up the future of the document management world. There is quite a way to go before transactions are conducted and documented with blockchain documents. However, the concept is promising and it is sure to have an impact on how documents are stored, created, shared and even alter the definition of a document.

First, some background. Blockchain is a word that is used to describe a method of storing information that makes it extremely difficult to alter. The information is encrypted and redundant copies are essentially kept in a de-centralized record system, blocks. Theoretically, if you open a document that is stored (or its code [aka hash] is stored) in the blockchain, you can instantly verify if it has been altered. All references to the document (hash) stored in the blocks will match, which validates the document.

Once a document has been signed by both parties and the final version is stored in the blockchain, both parties can feel comfortable they will be referencing the same, final document. The question is how do you do that? If your organization stores its legal documents on a network drive, how it is validated? Possibly, when the document is opened it will automatically use the internet to confirm the hash/code with the blockchain.

If your organization uses a document management system, it will need to allow some communication with the blockchains to verify documents. Notice the plural use of the word blockchains. There is no restriction on who can establish a blockchain so each industry might have one or some large company may create one. Therefore, your document management system must be capable of accessing all of them. In fact, that is how the current digital signature industry works, only each digital signature player acts as the blockchain (DocuSign, RightSignature, etc.).

Some documents, like the simple apartment lease or mobile phone service agreement, might actually be data files only and all data would be stored in the blockchain. Therefore, no document actually exists, but both parties can access the information about the unalterable terms via their contract application. Those are situations that are referred to as smart contracts since the data can include both banks account numbers and therefore, the blockchain can automatically request payment and make a payment. No real need for a document management system.

More complex transactions have more complex documents and would not likely be good candidates for smart contracts. And the blockchain doesn’t necessarily offer privacy, which also might deter use for complex transactions. Deeds and other property records, that are ultimately public record, might be good candidates for blockchain and might be cost effective compared to paper. The bottom line is that there is a lot to be worked out and some things may change and other things may radically change. There is no doubt, this will change how all organizations manage documents.  Stay tuned.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  Visit www.mgdocs.com for more information or send an email to info@mgdocs.com.

Email is not dead, just mature

via Flickr - Quinn DobrowskiYour email solution used to be both your communication tool and document management solution.  Everyone was sending messages and documents to everyone else and then just creating a nice neat (sometimes) folder structure to save the emails for future reference.  For a while that was a tremendous improvement over phone calls, stacks of paper and filing cabinets.

Then came the demand for corporate wide information access and individual user email accounts were demoted and retention policies were implemented.  The next dagger was the lack of encryption on standard email such that corporate information was therefore at risk.  Possibly the final blow is that email became a spam fest.  But wait, email is not dead and there are good reasons why.

Really an email is a document, a record, a corporate asset that should be treated as such.  Email, as opposed to messaging, is used when there’s a desire on the sender’s part to memorialize the conversation or message.  What once was accomplished by writing a letter, is now frequently accomplished by sending a well written email.  These writings are now retained or should be retained in your document management system.

Messaging apps, by contrast, are used as casual conversation or quick thought tools.  It would take some clean up before you would generally want to archive a message thread in the corporate document management system.  A quick word of caution – messaging apps are subject to legal discovery, so be careful what you do say.  Messaging has probably replaced many phone calls and reduced the number of three-word email responses.  But messaging is not generally used to memorialize corporate actions, decisions or activity.

Standard email is still not encrypted and caution should be used when sending confidential information in the body or as attachments.  Secure email systems do exist and should be used to transmit confidential information and documents.  The email itself may be a document record and if so, should be added to your document management system.  Your document management system should make it easy to add email messages in and allow you to securely share documents externally via email.

Email has replaced letter writing.  The email itself has become a document.  Email is readily available on your desktop or your phone.  It is cost effective compared to delivery services.  There are also secure email methods available either within your document management system or with secure email applications.  Email is not dead, it’s use has finally matured to a point where it is both communication tool and recognized corporate record.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions.  For more information, visit our website at www.mgdocs.com or contact us via email at info@mgdocs.com.

Derby Day is coming, place your bets

via Flickr - Phil RoederIt’s completely acceptable and a lot of fun each year to take some risks and place some bets when the Kentucky Derby is run.  The riskiness of the horse you choose is usually based on a personal hunch, minimal research or discussions with a spouse, family or friends.  The amount of loss is known up front and may or may not have anything to do with the riskiness of the horse selected.

If only all risk assessment was so easy.  When you look at real life risk assessment as it relates to your company’s information assets, it’s a very complicated issue.  Here are some basic points that should be considered when trying to protect (aka mitigate risk to) your information assets like documents and data.  Avoiding a data breach is a bet that you really want to win.

Start with the basic process of understanding what data you have and what it’s value is to the organization.  The social security numbers of all of your employees or customers is high value data.  The parts numbers of all the products you carry is not very high in value, but the design drawings or intellectual property behind those parts might be.  Segregate your information into buckets of high, medium and low value.

Next look at the form of that data and where that data is stored.  Start with paper documents.  Relatively secure, especially if in a protected environment like locked file cabinets and with fire suppression protection.  Mainly secure because it’s too much work for data thieves to comb through documents. They would rather have a nice spreadsheet to steal.  Most data today is digital so find out if it is inside or outside your firewall?  It can be debated which is more secure, but start with understanding where the data is located.

Another key to risk analysis is understanding what the risks are.  Is the only risk theft from a dark web participant?  Could there be risk from internal theft?  How about the risk that information is accidently lost or shared or destroyed?  Is there a risk that some procedure was put into place to process information more efficiently, but the procedure actually increased the risk of data loss?

Design processes to be efficient, but always contemplate the risk impact.  Create procedures to mitigate risks, then follow up on those procedures to make sure they are being adhered to.  For instance, all databases containing social security numbers must have the data fields encrypted.  That is a good requirement to mitigate risk.  Now have a standard procedure to have someone test that on any new database implemented.  That is proper risk mitigation strategy.

Once you understand the data that you have and you assign value to that information, you can start to understand the risks associated with it.  Then design processes and procedures to mitigate those risks.  It is not as fun as placing a bet and winning at your favorite Derby party, but lowering your data breach risk is a huge win.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions in a secure SaaS model. For more information – www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com or (630) 279-0577.

Friday the 13th can happen any day

via Flickr - Stefano CobucciNormally we don’t do a blog post on a Friday, but since this is Friday the 13th it seems like a good time to remind everyone that document disasters can happen any day.  The cause of these disasters is usually us and we can screw up today or any day.  So be careful, be diligent and try to be organized.    

What are the typical disasters that can happen?  Accidental deletion of a document, a file dragged and dropped into the abyss, version nightmares ie. V1, V2, V998 and counting, files that are too large to email or upload or download, and on and on. 

Accidental deletion is a bad one.  The only advice here is to be extra extra careful if you know the file storage location doesn’t have backup or only has backup nightly.  If you create and delete a file in the same day, it may not be backed up because that process typically only runs at night.  Find out how your file server and backups are configured and act accordingly.

Searching for a lost document, whether your searching your email system, a file server or the cloud storage is a pain.  Hopefully there is a full text search option available to you and hopefully the file you are looking for has searchable text, like a Word document or a PDF with searchable text.  It does help to make sure you name files with some intelligible words and not some cryptic language.  See if you can get scanned documents converted to text searchable PDF.

Version control is a difficult one to stay on top of if you don’t use a content management or document management system AND use the built-in version control.  Yes, it may take a few more seconds to load a file and to file it away, but…  One tip here is to always save versions only in one folder.  Try not to save one version on your local drive and then save one on the file server and then another in the cloud.  Now you are really making it difficult to figure out which one is the most current.

Lastly, problems with file sizes. Some email systems and cloud based applications still limit the size of uploads.  As far as we can tell, much of this problem is related to scanning documents on digital copiers.  Check your copier to see if the default settings are to scan in color at 600 DPI.  That will take a 10 page document and turn it into a 30 meg file and incompatible with many systems.  Change the settings if you can to 200 DPI, black and white and only use color when you really need to.

We hope these little tips help you and keep the curse of the 13th away today and every day.

Millennia Group provides workflow and document management solutions to companies that want to get and stay organized. www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com

Has efficiency peaked with mobility?

Via Flickr - Giorgio MontersinoIt seems simple to envision the tools required by a mobile worker.  The basics quickly jump to mind including a phone, a laptop, chargers of course and a Starbucks or Panera card.  Then you need a location, which could include a home office, an office suites membership or the aforementioned coffee shop.

The real tools of the trade are more software oriented.  It’s critical to have a fully cloud based infrastructure or a VPN that provides access to your CRM, accounting system/ERP, messaging app, email and of course documents.  The emergence of technology and the disappearance of ledger books, the Rolodex and filing cabinets resulted in amazing efficiency gains.  Now that these tools are also available to mobile users, has efficiency peaked?

Even with all of the great new tools at our disposal, incorrect accounting entries still occur.  Important contacts are still missing from the CRM.  And always, on any given day, time is spent trying to find a lost digital document.  These tools have definitely allowed employees to have more flexibility, in fact total mobility.  Now it’s time to focus in on optimizing efficiency.

Enough information is available for users to work at an acceptable level of efficiency, mobile or not, based on the low hanging fruit of a cost benefit analysis.  To move beyond just acceptable and get closer to optimal, what is the cost?  What is the cost of implementing an accounting system that demands double blind data entry to avoid mistakes?  What is the cost of sniffing out every bit of new or updated contact information from employees?  What is the cost of emptying out the file cabinets or the off-site document storage?

Measuring the gains will be more difficult because they will likely be in soft benefits like less mistakes, improved customer service and possibly less employee turnover.  The costs can be justified in an ROI analysis, with a little effort.  Some level of probability could be assigned to losing a client due to poor customer service applied to the average dollar value of the customer.  The same computation could be used to value a missed opportunity.  Maybe a lack of information could result in opening up the company to litigation risk.    

Total those costs up and see how you can now justify some additional document scanning, a new workflow module with a mandatory review step or possibly a bonus pool tied to CRM updates per month.  These and other business changes will not only benefit mobile workers, they will also lead to optimal company efficiency.

Millennia Group provides cloud based workflow and document management solutions that help companies optimize operations.  www.mgdocs.com, info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 x122

Security shaming is working

Via FlickrOkay, maybe security shaming is not the proper way to describe security awareness training.  No matter how its labeled, it’s working.  We don’t receive emails with employee or patient lists attached.  We aren’t given access to a Box account where we can see all company information instead of only the one folder we should see.

More and more we recognize the need to share information in a secure manner.  Nobody wants to be the one who accidently released a million names and social security numbers.  Security awareness training, a standard ritual now at most companies, is effective at helping to prevent accidental releases, but ensuring that information is securely shared could be a lot easier.

Its already commonplace to ask Siri and Alexa to answer a question, and they do quite accurately.  Cars can park autonomously.  Rockets can blast off and come right back down to a standing position.  Why can’t all software applications enforce secure sharing of information?

Applications are designed to be as easy to use as possible for the intended purpose; find contact information in the CRM, enter transactions in the accounting system, find a document in the document management system.  At the same time, the information needs to be protected; don’t allow all users to export the entire list of contacts, don’t allow users to send financial statements to just any email address, and don’t allow users to download all of the R&D documents to a thumb drive.

Security in most applications is good at preventing access to information based on role or some other factor.  But some applications are not good at placing control on the information once it is accessible.  Information generally should not be allowed to be emailed as an attachment, however should be a secure link back to documents or information.  The link should expire at some predetermined date.  The application shouldn’t allow batch downloads of documents without some administrative oversight and possibly require all data to be encrypted if downloaded.

The developers of applications can achieve the ease of use they want and also have controls where it makes sense.  Nobody wants to be shamed for the release of sensitive information, especially not the creators or administrators of the applications you use every day.  Take a look around your applications to see if the controls exist and if they are appropriately applied and avoid being shamed.

Millennia Group has been providing workflow and document management solutions since 1996.  Contact us at info@mgdocs.com, (630) 279-0577 or visit our website at www.mgdocs.com

Valentine’s day has past, but show your data some love

via Flickr - Open KnowledgeWe serve clients in many different industries; commercial real estate, manufacturing, insurance, telecommunications, non-profit, education, etc.  Each one of these industries has some critical information that drives the company or certainly a significant department within the company. 

Most of the time that critical information is data that is pulled from or supported by documents.  Lease agreements and other contracts contain the terms and conditions that feed the accounting system.  Customer orders contain the all-important customer information that goes into the ERP.  Unorganized, mis-filed, inaccessible documents result in inaccurate data.

In a completely paperless environment like an online order, the typical data error is caused by the user mis-keying an address or ordering the wrong item.  The user interface is configured to prevent this by having an order confirmation page for the user to acknowledge.  Mistakes may still occur, but are minimized with a simple step.

With data derived from documents or supported by documents, the process was to send the information around in a folder from preparer to reviewer to data entry.  Maybe it even involved using overnight shipping from field office to the corporate office.  That progressed to sending the support via email or uploading documents to the network or the cloud.  That is a faster, less costly process, but still lacks visibility, tracking and a confirmation requirement. 

In order to ensure that you are getting good data in your business systems, use technology to develop a good collection, review and confirmation process.  A document management system can collect and route a complete package of information through a defined process – aka, workflow.  Build a workflow to send alerts, provide real-time tracking and to enforce validation and review of critical data. 

Show your data some love by building out a workflow to help manage the process.  Identify your critical data and documents.  Analyze how the information is received, accessed, stored, shared and even disposed of.  Determine an efficient way to get the information to the right people at the right time and build in checkpoints to increase accuracy.  Nobody has cornered the market on the confirmation page – you can have one too and you will get better data because of it.

Millennia Group provides SaaS model workflow and document management solutions to companies looking to become more efficient.  For more information go to www.mgdocs.com or send us an email at info@mgdocs.com