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ECM Series

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 It doesn’t make sense to teach new personnel outdated operations.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).