Intelligent Information Management

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part VI
Intelligent Information Management

Slaying the Dragon

We all know the fairy tale… The brave knight challenges the fierce dragon, who has been sleeping on top of an immense and unclaimed treasure. By slaying the dragon, the knight captures the gold and the glory that everyone else has been too afraid to attain or even attempt. This fairy tale is an analogy for modern business practices: organizations that utilize ECM are the sleeping dragons and their content is the unused and wasted treasure. In the coming years, Intelligent Information Management (IIM) will play the role of the knight.

One theme of this ongoing Enterprise Content Management Series that we’ve emphasized is that all data has a lifecycle. So too does ECM, and its lifecycle is coming to an end. So why were the last five installments series dedicated to ECM? Because, even though the terminology will change, conceptual familiarity is necessary for optimal organizational performance. ECM must be achieved in order to evolve into IIM.

The reason ECM is being phased out as a term is because of emerging technological trends like IoT, data-centric metadata management tools (Hadoop, NoSQL, Blockchain), cloud content management solutions that are being incorporated into file platforms, the push for digital and the need for on premise legacy systems to move to the cloud1 These technological advances will change the way we look at information and the data continuum. The data lifecycle will be much shorter and it will become more dynamic. The enterprise content, itself, will also morph, especially with the implementation of artificial intelligence. In this data-driven age content is a valuable commodity and it must be protected. With these IIM advances, enterprise content will not only be protected – it will be put to work.

Intelligent Information Management Model

One way to think about the IIM Model is to conceptualize it as one brain. The brain performs many functions and the different parts of the brain regulate different life functions (the temporal lobe handles emotion, associations and equilibrium, while the occipital lobe handles sight and recognition, while Broca’s area handles speech functions, etc.2). All the brain functions just seem to be happening and that’s because of the immediacy with which our brains operate. There is so much information constantly coming at us. Our brains sort it all and focus only on the things that are relevant to the task at hand, whatever that may be. The brain is continuously reacting to outside stimuli. It’s a little surreal to think about, but this is the way that organizations will operate with IIM systems. There will still be separate specialized enterprise areas, but they will become completely fluid. IIM will become the central nervous system of any successful and innovative organization in the coming decades.

Modernize, Digitize, Automate & Leverage

According to AIIM (the Association for Intelligent Information Management), there are four key actions that must be taken to enable IIM to happen; modernize the information toolkit, digitize core informational processes, automate compliance and governance and leverage analytics and machine learning.

IIM Solution Software & Service is a growing sector with a range of capabilities available, but there is no one solution or combination of solutions that will work for every organization. It’s not one-size-fits all, so you should be prudent and focus on what it is your organization is trying to accomplish. When choosing an IIM software or service you shouldn’t focus on the suite capabilities that are available. You should focus on what’s required and absolutely necessary before you invest.

ECM is the essential first phase of IIM. It cannot and should not take place without mastering the four main areas of ECM; Imaging, Workflow, Records Management and Enterprise Relationship Management. As the information age rolls on, the changes to business operations are really unknowable. Human work arenas have developed, from farming for most of history, to factory, to office, to the mobile workforce. In recent years there has been much speculation as to the effect artificial intelligence will have on our organizations. Here are two major questions:

What kind of impact will automation have on future work opportunities for individuals?

How will AI automation affect the very nature of work?

“Nothing is written.”
-Lawrence of Arabia

It is impossible to predict the future with any accuracy, but there is no debate that artificial intelligence is starting to reshape the ways businesses approach their operations as seen through the ECM evolution and the more proactive IIM advances. Organizations will become better and better at optimizing their data and using it to develop a more fluid approach. Rather than locking it all in a vault to be opened periodically, content will be used to create more content and the barriers between an organization, its partners and its customers will shift as well. Complex inter-relationships will be established and automatically updated to maintain the functions of the organization at large. Artificial Intelligence will make this dynamic change a near constant occurrence and Intelligent Information Management will be leveraged to make this happen. It will be interesting to see how these operational changes will be adopted, and how new organizational formations will manifest over the next few years. With such dynamic and sweeping changes, new opportunities for individuals are bound to present themselves as well.

  1. Mancini, 2018
  2. Cognifit, n.d.

Enterprise Relationship Management

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part V
Enterprise Relationship Management

Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM) encompasses many facets of an operation. What makes it distinct from earlier installments in this ECM Series is that it is the only ECM area that incorporates and utilizes outside elements. While the other categories (Imaging, Workflow, Records Management) all deal with the internal workings of an enterprise, ERM acknowledges and accounts for external drivers. Enterprise Relationship Management covers the methods you use for coordinating with your suppliers, vendors, distributors, customers, etc.

To give a quick example of these external drivers, consider an Uber driver, or a Lyft driver, or a Via driver, or any driver from pretty much any rideshare app you can think of. They pick you up and take you to your destination. Each driver has a profile, and you can give their service a good or bad rating through the app. They can also give your customer profile a rating. If you get enough bad ratings, all the ridesharing drivers will know not to pick you up. This is Enterprise Relationship Management in action. ERM is the utilizing of operational data to improve efficiency and organization.

There are four elements of ERM: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) – the last example was CRM -, Partner Relationship Management (PRM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Human Resource Management (HRM), and Supply Chain Management (SCM)1. If you like initialism, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll go through each category, but it is helpful to remember that the goal of ERM is similar to that of workflow – to automate as much as possible in order to improve efficiency and drive profits.

“Speed, Speed, SPEED!!”
Mick, Rocky II

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) & Partner Relationship Management (PRM)

There is some debate over whether or not PRM should be considered a separate entity from CRM, or if it’s really just an extension of it2 . Both CRM and PRM share their data through an extranet network. This allows access to a small subset of data from an organization’s intranet. Extranets act like an intranet, where employees can create content, communicate, collaborate, etc., but it provides controlled access to authorized customers, vendors, and partners, or others outside the company3.

How is this extranet good for partnerships?

Your extranet can streamline repetitive business processes. For instance, if you order from the same vendors over and over, it makes sense to establish a secure private network where all of your orders can take place in a virtual space4. Say you’re a beverage company and you use the same distributor for all your regional sales. With a good PRM system in place, every time an order is placed with you it can instantaneously be communicated to the warehouse, and then an order form is automatically sent to the distributor, which calculates the number skids, the weight, the price, pickup and drop off location and ETAs, and any other pertinent information. All of the input is done by the customer in the extranet, rather than over the phone or through email.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

ERP is, simply put, the accessibility of certain resources to multiple divisions of the same organization. One example would be sales orders automatically populating a financial sheet5. It reduces redundancies and ideally puts the right information in front of the right people.

Human Resource Management (HRM)

HRM takes the same concept of automating repetitive tasks and attaches it to speeding up the processes associated with the recruiting, hiring, developing, and reviewing the performance of personnel. Performance management software can determine performance by establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for personnel based on their roles and the expectations associated with those roles. One of the more common ways it is used is through payroll software like electronic timesheets.

Supply Chain Management (SCM)

SCM will overlap with the other elements of ERM because the supply chain is a term used to describe the flow of business processes from one arena to the next covering materials, suppliers, transportation, warehousing, reverse logistics, inventory and distribution. It is an end-to-end coordination. Its nature is to be a multi-operational, cross-functional, cross-company coordinating agent6. The supply chain is really about collaboration between internal divisions and external operators. The right SCM technology is similar to a lot of HRM software. SCM evaluates performance of suppliers and it can also assign corrective and preventative actions, like providing alternate routes and accounting for all kinds of roadblocks and delays.

The barriers between CRM, PRM, ERP, HRM, and SCM can be hazy at times, which is why they all fall under the umbrella of ERM.

When all of these abbreviated terms are put together it can seem very confusing. The main point to remember is that all the Enterprise Relationship Management divisions are meant to minimize risk, eliminate waste, drive down cost through automation, and speed up processes. Stay tuned for our final installment in our Enterprise Content Management Series, where we’ll discuss Intelligent Information Management (IIM) and speculate about the future of ECM.

  1. Techopedia, 2018
  2.  Rouse, 2018
  3. Eisenhauer, 2017
  4. Eisenhauer, 2017
  5. Oracle, 2015
  6. Dittman, 2010

Records Management

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part IV

Records Management

You understand the importance of Enterprise Content Management (ECM), the data continuum, cloud-based imaging technologies for back filed documents and the importance of proper workflow. These are the large-scale, macro concepts and system implementations of ECM. Records Management is the next area of ECM we will focus on. Records Management is the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, no-frills, in the trenches work of ECM.

“Let’s get down to the neety greety.”
-Ignacio, Nacho Libre

We’ve covered digitizing physical documents and discussed the push toward paperless environments and workflow protocols, so let’s focus on electronic documents. Most organizations are sitting on a mountain of data, and, unless there is a solid Records Management system in place, it will be a jumbled mess. Standardized file naming conventions are the best and most immediate way to manage your organization’s records, but just because you have a naming convention in place does not guarantee information won’t be lost, work won’t be duplicated, and time won’t be wasted. It has to be the right naming convention.

What’s the right standard naming convention?

Naming conventions vary across industries and from one organization to the next, but the first step is to implement something that makes sense. Just because you put a system in place, doesn’t mean you’ve improved efficiency. The point is to make sure that the records are easy to navigate and immediately recognizable. This video from the University of British Columbia’s Records Management Office does a great job of clearly explaining how you should go about it:

The tutorial gives a breakdown of how file naming conventions should be set up. It points out the need to have simple naming that separates drafts from final documents. File names should be broken down into unique elements, separated by underscores, so a user can know what the document is about at first glance. If it’s a working document, it will likely go through drafts that need to be revised. You should mark each revised document’s drafting status by assigning it a revision letter, i.e. “revA,” “revB,” etc. and NEVER mark a document as “final.” If you want to mark it as completed, name it “rev0” so last minute changes can still be made to it and it can be given a status of “rev1,” “rev2,” etc. instead of something like, “final final.” We’ve mentioned in previous posts that all information has a life cycle. By marking a document as “final”, you are essentially killing that document and the information it contains. If you mark it “final final,” you’re hiding the body.

As stated above, there is no standard file naming convention that crosses industries. Your files can be named in any way that fits your organization’s needs, but name should answer three questions for the user:

1. What is this document about?
2. What is its drafting status?
3. Is it in use?

You must be sure that whatever method you choose is adopted by everyone. Consistency is crucial.

“All things must pass
All things must pass away”
-George Harrison, All Things Must Pass

Once you set up your naming convention, you have to properly organize your folders. If you can’t find the folder that contains your properly named file, it doesn’t matter what it’s called because it is lost. Folders become confusing when they contain sub-folders, which contain sub-folders, which contain sub-folders… etc. When organizing folders, you cannot be afraid to change their set-up. Often the previous setup was completely logical and made sense at that stage of institutional development, but all institutions are constantly evolving and pivoting (at least they should be), and, now more than ever you must be able to adapt. In the future you’ll have to adjust your organizational models even more frequently than you do now.

Okay, how should Folders be set up?

Whether you’re proficient with the command line, or you’re comfortable using the file finder window on your computer’s operating system, you want to eliminate waste and improve efficiency when dealing with your content, which is a key theme of ECM. The best way to do that is to make your folder structure as simple as possible while still being effective. So, just as with file naming, there is no standard, one-size-fits-all, cross-industry folder structure implementation that exists. It must be tailored to fit your organization’s functions, and it is subject to change over time.

One way to organize folders is with the ABC Method. This organizes folders alphabetically so, for example, the “accounts payable” and “accounts receivable” folders may be subfolders to an accounts folder, which is a subfolder of the root folder titled “A.” Folder A might also contain a folder titled “access codes”. Basically, in the ABC Method, unrelated folders are grouped alphabetically. This may be a great method for smaller institutions to organize their folders, but you have to know what you’re looking for, so it may not be as effective for larger groups.

The ABC Method may be the best way for you to organize your files or it may not be. There are countless ways for you to set up your folders; the challenge is finding the best way. The point of highlighting the ABC Method above is to illustrate that the methodology changes. What makes perfect sense to you might not make any sense to someone else, and what made sense in the past may not make sense now, and what is in place now almost certainly won’t make sense in the future. Finding the best system doesn’t mean finding a perfect system. The best way to decide how to set up folders is to try to imagine that you know nothing about the intricacies of your operations and then follow the most logical file path as if you were starting from zero.

Here’s a helpful article (Zen and the Art of File and Folder Organization) to reference when managing your folders. Tip #27, “Try to Minimize the Number of Folders that Contain Both Files and Sub-folders” is a good rule of thumb for avoiding confusion. Another rule to remember is that all your data has a lifecycle. Since this is the case, so should your Records Management systems; be willing to change outdated and inefficient models. Change is inevitable, so try to embrace it. In the next installment of our Enterprise Content Management Series, we’ll be discussing Enterprise Relationship Management (ERM).

Workflow

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part III
Workflow

We’ve covered what ECM is and the data continuum. We’ve gone over the immediate and quantifiable changes associated with Imaging. Now it’s time to tackle Workflow.

“Now the real game begins.”
-The Riddler, Batman Forever

Don’t worry. Workflow is not a new concept. Henry Ford’s famous assembly line is an example of workflow. One modern example of workflow is an online repository, like GitHub, where web developers can work on different phases of a project. The project can be tracked and monitored and tasks can be assigned to those who are best suited for them. Another modern and more accessible example is a fast food drive through. You have one person on the headset taking the orders, ringing them up and plugging them into the computer that sends it to the people in the back. There’s someone on fries, there’s somebody else whipping up the burgers and another person on drinks who hands you the food. There’s also a manager onsite overseeing everything to make sure everything goes smoothly. Your fast food is only fast because of the efficient workflow set up by the franchise.

What is Workflow?

Examples of workflow are everywhere. Workflow is the optimizing of high value workers so they can concentrate on high value tasks1. Going back to the drive through, the person working the register and the person working the fries both have important roles in the operations of the restaurant, but the person who’s taking the orders on the headset has a much more specialized skillset. He can interact with customers and work the register. The person on the headset must also be able to make change for one person while taking orders from the next. He has to be able to concentrate and multitask for hours because a slip up slows everyone else down. It would be a waste to have a talented high-value worker focusing only on the fries because it is a much simpler task.

How are burgers related to Enterprise Content Management?

“Mmm… Burger.”
-Homer Simpson

The fast food analogy is only meant to get you thinking about the systematic break down of tasks into sequential units as a productive operational process. That’s the essence of workflow and that’s how it is used in ECM. One of the most common ways workflow is seen in ECM is by establishing different admin accessibility for different users. Say you’ve digitized all your information and destroyed the physical documentation. You know that you can access and search all these scanned files using OCR technology. It’s all right there at your fingertips… but you might not want everyone to have access to all that data, just like the fast food manager doesn’t necessarily want the French fry guy working the register. If you are implementing an ECM system in a hospital, for instance, you may not want the Doctors to have access to employee health records (even though they are medical professionals), but you probably do want them to be accessible for certain members of Human Resources. There are any number of examples of role-based limited access that you want in place. In organizations, you want people to focus on the roles they are suited for and limit the opportunities for misbehavior.

These different roles can be established through a variety software, but the key is to find one that is easy to use and can be integrated with your current systems as seamlessly as possible. Workflow solutions enable work to be shared between workers easily and allow duties to be routed to the appropriate personnel.

Much like the assembly line we mentioned at the beginning, the purpose of an effective ECM workflow is to automate processes as much as possible. If you’ve ever applied for a job at a large company, the first step is often to fill out its online application, which is an online form. When we fill out these fields we are sending structured information to a database that is one piece of its larger ECM software system. There are likely minimum requirements for the position e.g. college degree, five years’ experience, etc. If any of the minimum requirements are not met your application will be sent to sit in a database on file and will most likely never actually be reviewed by the human hiring agent. If you do meet the requirements, then it will automatically be sent to the hiring agent for review. Enterprise Content Management workflow applications not only manage all the content an organization produces, they also manage all the content an organization receives.

“The idea is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness…”
-Bruce Lee

All of this is meant to alleviate manual processes, save time and money and improve security2. The whole purpose of workflow in ECM is to allow specialized people to spend more time doing productive work and less time on organizational and retrieval chores. Individuals in organizations often debate whether or not these workflow systems help. Some see them as cumbersome and restrictive, and others see them as great tools.

So, which is it?

An individual’s stance on this may vary depending on one’s skillset, personality, tendencies and temperament. These workflow systems are a part of professional life and will only become more vital to operations as time goes on, so, if you’re unable to adapt or adopt them, you’ll be left behind, BUT, if you rely on them too heavily, you might be limited in your career because one firm’s ECM system can be totally different from the next. Let’s finish up with our friend from the French fry station. Just because he shouldn’t be working the register doesn’t mean he’s not a valuable asset to the fast food operation. He may bring a positive attitude or a willingness to work which is intangible but does have a productive effect. In sports these are called locker room guys. Until an organization’s system is entirely automated through workflow, these locker room guys will still be needed.

Keep an eye out for our next installment in the Enterprise Content Management series, where we’ll focus on Records Management.

Imaging

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part II

Imaging

 

The paperless push has been happening across many industries for almost a decade now, particularly in healthcare with the passage of Health Information Technology for Clinical and Economic Health (HITECH) in 2010 (Compliance & Ethics Blog). Why is there a push to digitize? Is it just to keep up with the times, appear more modern and adapt to a changing workforce, or does it actually improve Enterprise Content Management? Also, what industries should be going paperless? These are good questions to ask when considering converting your systems from paper-based to digital.

“Because I want to fit in.”
-Patrick Bateman, American Psycho

Going paperless is the first area of focus for your ECM. If you have a filing cabinet, you should be going digital. It is a way to keep up with the times; it will make you appear more modern to outsiders, and it will help you adapt to a changing workforce. Your systems should not be archaic. It doesn’t make sense to teach new personnel outdated operations. The digital age is in full swing. It’s said that Gen-Xers are the last of the analog age, with millennials being fully immersed in the digital experience since youth. Successive generations that are still too young to enter the workforce are going to be more and more comfortable interacting with an interface, and they will be much more adaptive to the new ways information will be shared, stored, indexed, received, queried, and retrieved. Whether or not paper will be in common operational use in 15 years remains to be seen, but hard copies may go the way of carbon paper.

How to go paperless?

Scan

The first step is to scan your physical files. Scanning is a digital image capture process. It is best to outsource the scanning of your files to a third-party service because they are experienced and have the proper equipment to produce the best images. There are a number of scanning services that will perform this function for you as it is a very time-consuming and labor-intensive process. The digital files should be indexed in a way that is consistent with your current system to minimize confusion.

Upload

The files should be migrated from an organization’s application server and uploaded to a cloud-based server. This may vary depending on your organization’s security protocols and comfort level of having information on separate hosting, but for most cloud-based is the way to go. If this is an issue, they can be integrated to application servers, but the truth is no system is 100% secure, and cloud-based servers provide the best backup coverage. You should also make sure that all the digitized information is backed up onto secondary storage devices, like CDs, as an extra failsafe in case of some sort of unforeseeable black swan event.

Retrieve

What really makes digital imaging and archiving worthwhile is Optical Character Recognition technology, or OCR. OCR is the process of transforming an image of printed text into code so it can be read by a computer. The scanning process produces an electronic version of the original document as a bitmap image and it’s saved as a TIFF file. OCR technology increases productivity and accuracy. It actually corrects flaws in original documents through text image and blocks identification, character recognition, word identification and formatting output processes (Sheehan, Elizabeth). Simply put, you can search through decades of files with a simple search query using a scanning process software.

Shred

Once the files are digitized and backed up on the cloud, you should destroy the physical documents. The main reason for this is to eliminate threats because what is being digitized can be extremely sensitive. Some of the threats people and organizations face are fraud, legal action, loss of business, damaged reputation and termination. Ask about the size of a company’s shredded materials when considering a shredding service (should not be wider than half the width of your thumb) and make sure the shred is cross-cut.

Imaging and the Bottom Line

“That’s the bottom line.”
-Stone Cold Steve Austin

Optical Archives, Inc. is a trailblazing digital imaging service that has been scanning for decades. They recently removed documents for a major hospital in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley that filled up 40 filing cabinets, scanning and archiving all of them onto a cloud-based server. This under-utilized real estate that had been designated as storage space for the hospital’s records was freed up because they went paperless and is now where they conduct all interviews for prospective employees. In Westchester County (where this example took place), at the time this is being written, commercial real estate is between $25.00 and $30.00 a foot (loHud). In Manhattan it may average $80.00 a foot. Aside from improving operations, this move cut expenses for the hospital. Real estate is usually the second highest expense for any business, according to CoreDispo, right behind payroll. You wouldn’t pay people to do nothing, so why pay for commercial space that does nothing? This example illustrates how improving ECM can impact productivity and improve the bottom line in ways that aren’t so obvious.

Imaging is the most immediate organizational change, and its potential cost savings can be seen and calculated (Real Story Group), like in the example above. There are also less immediate or ways in which imaging can help you. Take this scenario:

You’re an HR professional, and a lawsuit has been filed against your company for wrongful termination from a former employee named, John Doe. John Doe hasn’t worked for the company in five years, which was before you held your current position and you have no knowledge of the situation or circumstances that lead to his firing. Since so much time has passed, all the parties who had any involvement with John Doe’s firing have also moved on. You would have to search through years of records, track down former employees and try to get them to remember and recount the specifics of this case. It would be better if the company had gone paperless because all you would have to do is search “John Doe” and all his records would be immediately available. You’d see that he was fired because he failed a drug test five years ago, and John Doe’s case would go nowhere.

What should you digitize?

This is difficult to say. What you want to discard and what you should retain varies from business to business. If you don’t know where to begin, you can start with employee records, historical payroll sheets, accounts payable, client and/or patient information, any microfiche or microfilm and all auditing information. HR and Accounting are good places to start.

Digital Imaging improves accessibility, efficiency and productivity. It is the first area of ECM and all other areas follow. Stay tuned for our next post of our Enterprise Content Management series where we’ll be covering the next ECM focus area: Workflow.

What Is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

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SwiftSHRED ECM Series, Part I

What Is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?

 

We are in a very interesting time in human history, a time marked by great convenience and comfort for large swaths of the world’s population. We’ve seen rapid technological changes over the last decade and seem to be on the cusp of even greater and more radical technological breakthroughs in terms of connectivity, processing power and mobility. For the first time ever, we are not held back from a lack of information, but instead must deal with the challenge of an information surplus. We have so much data at our fingertips yet there is still consistent confusion, uncertainty and disorder.

It’s important to keep in mind that every piece of data has a lifecycle and because things are changing so rapidly in the modern world, a piece of data can outlive its usefulness very quickly. Once a piece of information becomes outdated, it becomes an unwanted and unnecessary burden. This is something that all organizations and institutions are coming to realize. Whether they are large operations with multi-variable blockchain systems in place or small mom & pop firms that are still running on paper-based systems, it doesn’t change the fact that they need to have some form of an information governance program established or they will be inundated with data.

…So, what’s ECM?

ECM stands for Enterprise Content Management and is the evolved form of Document Management. The term “Document Management” has become outdated because there are so many other forms of media where a piece of information can live, beyond just a physical document.

…So?

When we’re considering what ECM is, we should first consider the nature of information today. Information in 2018 can be categorized into three groups: Unstructured Information, Semi-Structured Information and Structured Information (AIIM). These three groups are known as the data continuum . This may seem highly semantic, but it is helpful in understanding the usefulness of ECM.

Unstructured Information

“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
-Bill Clinton

Human communication is extremely contextual, which is why it is so hard to define the exact meaning of a word. One way to think about unstructured information is to think of it as human communication. It is content that is produced by humans for a human audience. Anything that’s done in a word processor or presentation application is unstructured information. It can be formatted in many different ways but it is usually text heavy data (Expert Systems). Documents, emails, news streams and web pages are all vehicles for unstructured information . You may remember the theory of Dramatic Structure from high school English (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Conclusion), but as far as ECM is concerned even a great work of literature is unstructured information. What you’re reading right now is unstructured information too.

Semi-Structured Information

“Get it? Got it. Good.”
The Court Jester

This is where these semantic differences of the data continuum can become confusing. There is some debate in the IT world over whether or not unstructured information should even be used as a viable data classification because almost all data with any commercial value has some structure (Computer Weekly). However, there is still a reason for the distinction for our ECM purposes. Invoices, receipts, purchase orders all need to be processed by computers and inserted into relational databases but their data is still usually classified by humans (for now) . This is why semi-structured information exists. Part of it is automated and part of it needs human verification. Another example is an X-Ray. The raw X-Ray image is an example of unstructured information even when digitized – it’s captured by people and meant to be viewed by people – but once meta data is added to the document for classification, indexing, archiving and retrieval purposes, it becomes semi-structured .

Structured Information

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
-Hal 9000, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Structured Information is very precise. It is usually table based and lives in relational databases and spreadsheets. With every form field you fill out, you’re placing data into related databases. Changes to the data fields in one categorized database will affect the others in a relational database system. This is accomplished by utilizing functions that recognize the primary keys of one table and the foreign keys that reference other tables. Think back to a purchase you’ve made online – you may have a filled out a customer profile (first name, last name, address, date of birth, payment information, etc.) and then been given a customer ID which you typed into the form along with an item number, quantity, etc. All of that information you filled in is structured information. It’s is being put into a relational database and is making changes and manipulating data to any number of tables. Simply put, all structured information is exact and quantifiable because it has to be that way in order to maintain the integrity of the relational database. In a spreadsheet if the information is not structured, it will break the function and you’ll receive an error. Structured information is the best data for being stored, processed, queried and accessed. It is often managed using Structure Query Language (SQL) which was first developed in the 1970’s by IBM for its internal use and then commercially by what’s now Oracle. The fundamental composition of the SQL really hasn’t changed very much in the past 40 to 50 years, which is very unusual for programming languages, and it is the foundation of relational database systems.

Why is ECM important?

Enterprise Content Management is how any venture governs the information it produces. Effective ECM will help to minimize risk, maintain adherence to regulatory and corporate compliance, improve efficiency, maximize office real estate, speed up information retrieval times and minimize outside threats.

In the next few blog posts we will focus on the Four Key Areas of ECM: Imaging, Workflow, Records Management and Enterprise Relationship Management. After that we will look to the future of ECM and speculate a bit about Intelligent Information Management (IIM).