Unfolding plans 171 – Document management

So, one of the best things about going down to the Local Government Forum in Manchester earlier this week was the drive there and back.  I know it was awful.  I said so in my blog.  We got stuck in bad traffic both on the way down as well as the drive home yet it gave me the time to talk to Lee.  For six or seven hours we were both had a captive audience and we could talk about what was going on and our plans for the future.  We had nearly a whole working day to put the world to rights.  Boy did we cover some topics.

Eventually we got around to talking about a subject that has been troubling us for some time, the fascinating world of electronic document and record management.  We’ve both been trying to get our heads around how we solve the problem of creating a system that allows documents (and records) to flow through the organisation and arrive at the correct destination.  It sounds like a simple problem and one that could be fixed by buying an application off the shelf.  There are many such tools purporting to be out there but buyers beware.  Before you spend your hard earned money on a piece of software, you need to have an understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve.

As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going then any road will do so if you don’t know what you want then any software will deliver.

Document management sounds like a simple problem yet when you think of all the kinds of paper and electronic things we produce or receive, along with all the different actions we the perform with them and the multitude of places that they can end up the whole issue ends up like the proverbial dog knitting.

As we sailed through Yorkshire, Lee and I got our heads round trying to simplify the problem.  Rather than thinking about the multitude of differences we tried to contemplate the larger patterns and types of documentation whilst avoiding being simplistic.  What we were after was a picture that we could present to the business that would start a discussion leading to a decision about what it is that we wanted to solve.  We imagined ourselves as those documents flowing through the business.

Eventually we decided that we had three types of input: Items that were for information; items that needed action and; items that were for general consumption such as magazines.  We felt that we had five kinds of output: Documents; Documents that will become records (a record is something that we need to keep as defined by our retention policies); Records; Copies of records for distribution and; Rubbish.

Form this we decided that we need to metadata tag all of the inputs, apply some workflow to make sure that they ended up where they need to and are dealt with appropriately and that all outputs need to be classified so that they are stored or disposed of correctly.

As soon as we stopped I wrote this all down and drew a picture.  We’re going to use this as the basis of our discussions.  Despite the trials and tribulations of the drive to Manchester it gave us something we have very little of – time.  It gave us time to think, time to talk and the time to create.

The best part of the journey was the journey itself.

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