Would a modern day Aladdin be more interested in documents than lamps? In
1989 Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web to enable people to easily
locate and share documents. The humble document pervades much, if not all of
our work and this very familiarity may explain why its importance is so easy
to overlook. The new Electronic Communications (Jersey) Law 2000 makes now a
good time to benchmark the potential to gain business advantage from
document management - even if an organisation already has systems in place.
Documents act as the repository for many of the intangible assets of an
organisation, provide an effective environment for work and make tangible
the result of that effort - documents provide an implement for thinking,
capturing and signifying value. From this vantage point notions of the
paperless office can be recognised as simply misguided because they did not
appreciate the way people work. Neither has the thirty-year history of IT
yet measured up to its promise - partly due to the scant attention given to
the way people work and the way knowledge is created and used. The genie
unleashed by Berners-Lee is beginning to work its magic but these are still
If an organisation sets out to provide its people with the information that
they need, at the time they need it, in the (document and other) format that
they require - reliably, simply and cost effectively where might this lead?
A full answer to this question would need to consider all the information
resources of the organisation and the way these interplay with the business
strategy. However, bearing this caveat in mind, documents are a good place
Interestingly, the underlying technologies that can be employed to manage
documents, in one form or another, are mostly already in use in even the
smallest organisations - fax, photocopier, printer, microfiche, the
ubiquitous PC, word-processing, database management systems and, more
recently, email, intranets and browsers. Hitherto these technologies have
typically been used in isolation, often just to mimic the way we would work
in a manual environment. Thus, document management can be thought of as
integrating necessary infrastructure and working practices to achieve a
better return on investment - an example of working smarter not harder.
Technologies include systems for scanning or importing documents, storage,
retrieval and manipulation, workflow, and importantly, capabilities to
integrate with existing financial and operational systems (so, for example,
an administrator can immediately call up a document from a screen displaying
basic client data). These are generally well established, robust and
reliable, costs are no longer a barrier and increasingly systems come with
intuitive user interfaces. IT services businesses offer the skills and
strategic partnerships to implement and support the technologies. Outsourced
services, especially archiving, are readily available.
The benefits that a business can gain will preferably be identified in the
context of its goals and priorities. However, useful cues can be taken from
characteristic benefits that can be broadly grouped into:
A benchmark comparison of the significance of these benefits can be taken
against estimates made by a cross-section of directors, managers and
administrators in offshore financial services. Many organisations that work
with knowledge will find parallels that make this comparison worthwhile.
Benefits can relate to internal documents (e.g. correspondence and reports)
or all documents (e.g. incoming mail, faxes, invoices and statements).
- Strategic, and
- Business Continuity.
The potential for increasing efficiency is easy to relate to experience,
time spent searching for a document or filing it will be familiar to most of
us. Estimates of the savings that could be achieved in benchmark research
averaged 3.7 days per year per person (1.8 for internal documents)
suggesting that this is a significant but currently hidden cost for
Other hidden efficiency savings to consider include those gained from
eliminating duplication, less filing, distribution effort and floor space
required, lower transport costs where documents are used in more than one
location and reduced errors. Particularly in situations where high volumes
are processed, productivity may improve though better management of the
workflow. Less obviously, the spur to eliminate obsolete activities that no
longer add value can also be significant and the automation of some manual
processes may also be possible.
The potential for document management to improve effectiveness may take the
form of a reduction in the time required to deliver a service, allowing
steps to be performed in parallel rather than sequentially, reducing the
vulnerability to errors arising from lost documents, incorrect data or out
of date data. One Jersey organisation took stock of its critical client
information and discovered that the same data was duplicated in 26 separate
places - raising alarming questions about the hidden scale of wasted efforts
and vulnerabilities to errors.
In the benchmark study estimates of the overall benefit averaged ?2,200 per
person per annum. (?1,400 for internal documents only):
Whilst efficiency and effectiveness improvements are frequently strategic
drivers in their own right, other possibilities can be equally significant.
These will be specific to each organisation and often commercially
sensitive. For example, a role may be identified in deepening client
relationships, enhancing service, reducing vulnerability to loss of key
staff, development of skills, use of knowledge resources contained in
documents to create new value for other clients, co-ordination of work
across locations, creation of new information that has value for clients or
through which the organisation can be better managed, or improved regulation
and control. Benchmark estimates averaged ?1,300 (internal ?850) per person
Business continuity is a complex field in its own right. Whilst attention is
usually paid to the resumption of systems and availability of alternative
office accommodation, many businesses will want to ask what impact the loss
of paper records will have. The benchmark results gave an expected value of
the order of ?130 per person per year.
Bringing these benefits together, a multifaceted case for document
Against these benefits, the up front implementation and lifetime costs will
need to be weighed (together with the attendant risks) to come to a clear
view of the bottom line impact. A sound business case will give attention to
the avoidable costs of existing document management processes. For example,
an organisation may already be incurring the cost of scanning every document
- but perhaps doing so at a point near the end of its economic life rather
than at the beginning. It may be storing an electronic copy of every
internal document - but not in a form that is easy for a user to locate on
The examples cited here are taken from real world situations but will vary
significantly from case to case. Even if there is a compelling business case
for your organisation, whilst the technologies are available to do these
things well, unless the implementation pays careful attention to the way
people work it may end up adding more duplication and wasted effort to an
already stretched business. Worse still, a poorly handled project may result
in widespread disaffection or complete rejection. The sobering experience of
the US Inland Revenue Service sounds a clear warning - processes were
simplified “but workers considered their jobs to have worsened markedly.
Instead of socialising with co-workers as they discussed or sought taxpayer
case files, they worked heads down at terminals...collections agents
resigned in large numbers". Such a disastrous outcome would miss a rare
opportunity to simultaneously improve working environments and business
performance in Islands that needs to come up with win-win solutions.
This article has looked at the possibilities for today. An infrastructure
being implemented now should leave open the door to future developments. An
example of trends worth keeping in view is the emergence of XML standards
that promise to facilitate document based data exchange / reporting and
partial integration of documents with transaction processing applications.
Another interesting example of a trend to watch for is the evolution of "on
the fly" hyper link generation (being pioneered by Autonomy) that may lead
to a step improvement in management of information resources.
Echoing Mark Twain, we can confidently advise that the report of the death
of the document was an exaggeration