In this age of 24/7 Client focus, it is easy for Practice Management to lose sight of the fundamentally important job of looking for internal systematic operating process bottlenecks.
In many cases hidden away in the business, there are functions that remain supported primarily by a mixture of seemingly permanent ‘temporary Shadow Systems” such as spreadsheets and shared drives, all supported by manually driven processes.
Quite often, due to budget prioritization, resource focus or simply not allocating “your own business review time”, opportunities to introduce robust, low-risk digital solutions to help improve productivity and bottom-line profitability are missed.
Typical questions that need to be asked include:
- Can we ensure our compliance and governance processes are adhered to?
- Are our data sources secure and controlled?
- Are we maximising the value of our data?
- Do our processes work seamlessly across the Practice and externally to our Clients?
- Can we guarantee that GDPR request can be answered?
- Am I sure that my KPI’s are based upon fact?
- How can we work smarter?
Many organizations do not have an accurate accounting of their own IT estate. How many and what types of servers? How many and what types of applications? How well utilized is the IT estate? Are there redundancies in application licenses and maintenance? How much of the estate is at the end of service life (EOSL)? Can the estate be consolidated based on newer infrastructure?
Regular analysis of the costs and performance of your legacy applications identifies the gaps, performance degradation, outages, and service interruptions that inevitably arise. The resulting analytics highlight areas that need to be modernized to improve the performance, availability, and support of your systems.
Importantly, the benefits of process optimization have a wider reach than just the business processes. The operational knowledge and experience needed to manage and oversee people-dependent processes tend to be concentrated in the heads of a few key individuals. This results in greater risk to the business.
Ironically, fewer people with complete knowledge of key processes, also complicate succession planning, making transitions prone to disruptions, relationships with partners strained, and general discontent within the organization.
Ultimately, a more structured, stress-free working environment that enables your teams to function effectively, enhances well-being, and can contribute to staff retention, will enhance productivity, increase customer satisfaction and contribute to greater profitability.
Thanks to the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses find themselves in urgent need of a digital transformation to stay afloat. This includes both organizations who were previously interested in the idea but who didn’t think it would happen quite so quickly, along with those who never really gave it much thought at all.
Regardless, your IT department will play a crucial role in determining whether your own transformation is the success you need it to be or the failure you fear it might become. More specifically, there are six core IT department roles that will be instrumental in guiding your organization’s digital transformation.
By far, one of the most important contributors to the success of your digital transformation comes down to the cloud specialists you choose to surround yourself with.
Remember that these professionals are tasked with doing more than just managing the migration of information and services from one platform to another. They also need to be on hand to quickly troubleshoot any issues, to help team members navigate the cloud environment, and to help mitigate risk for your rapidly transforming organization. This is especially true during the COVID-19 era, where industries are constantly evolving in new and unexpected ways and businesses have to evolve just as quickly to stay ahead in increasingly uncertain times.
Another invaluable role during your digital transformation will be that of the system integrators. These IT professionals will need to customize the employee experience before, during, and after the digital transformation itself, carefully selecting the best combination of hardware, software, networking, and storage products to support your people and the important work they’re doing on a daily basis.
In a best-case scenario, systems integrators will be able to create a highly specialized experience that not only meets your business’ needs as they exist today, but that also makes sure your technology is finally aligned with your long-term business goals — which is a big part of what your digital transformation is supposed to accomplish, to begin with.
Any digital transformation always brings with it a certain degree of risk in terms of cybersecurity, which is why another one of the most important IT department roles that can mean the difference between success and failure will ultimately come down to your information security team.
As more and more information and activity happen within a cloud-based, “anytime/anywhere” infrastructure, security must become and remain a top priority no matter what. Information security specialists can not only help come up with a cybersecurity strategy that makes the most sense given your environment, but they can also monitor for any suspicious activity to help stop small problems today before they have a chance to become potentially catastrophic ones tomorrow.
Hidden inside the massive volumes of data that your business is creating on a daily basis is a treasure trove of insight that would have otherwise gone undiscovered. This is especially true during a digital transformation when you need access to current and high-value information to make the most informed decisions possible every day.
Data analysts help enormously to that end by retrieving, gathering, and analyzing data — all of which allows you to take a more organic data-driven approach to what you’re doing. Not only can they spot important patterns and better understand how certain activities impact your business, but they can also make smarter recommendations on how to improve your operations to help you reach your long-term goals more efficiently than ever.
The User Experience (UX)
User experience designers also have a crucial role to play in your digital transformation by capitalizing on opportunities to improve not only the accessibility of your system but its usability and interaction potential as well. In a larger sense, they’re tasked with providing all of your users with the best possible experience that they can — all so that your employees can spend less time trying to figure out how to get their technology to work and instead focus on putting that technology to work for them.
This is once again particularly important during COVID-19, given the fact that your online experience is essentially the only experience that you’re able to offer your employees for the foreseeable future. Therefore, user experience designers are critical to not only help make sure that your digital transformation goes off without a hitch but to do so in a way that also makes sure that your employees have access to everything they need to do their jobs every day.
Finally, we arrive at information management specialists, otherwise known as the hardworking men and women who are tasked with making sure that data is flowing freely across your organization at all times.
Especially when you’re talking about something as important as digital transformation, you cannot afford to deal with data silos at any point. If you’re not sure where information is or even what is important and what isn’t, it’s difficult to make sure that everything transitions from one system to another as securely and as smoothly as possible. Information management specialists can leverage solutions like M-Files to bring all of your data together, regardless of where it might be stored. An information management platform like M-Files will create a single data repository for all of your important files, regardless of whether they’re stored in the cloud, on personal drives, on network shares, or on something else entirely.
In the end, any digital transformation will always be a time-consuming and somewhat stressful process, but that is especially true during the COVID-19 era when more people are working remotely than ever. But by making sure that these six core IT department roles are filled before, during, and after the transition, you’ll have put your business in an excellent position to enjoy all of the benefits of this process with a few of the potential downsides as possible.
According to Nitro, workers spend an average of 50% of their time creating and preparing documents. Yet, document issues account for more than 21% of daily productivity loss.
Businesses depend on information — documents, files, data, content… everything. It is the lifeblood of just about every organization. The past few years have seen a reckoning for companies in how they capture, store, structure, and disseminate information within the organization. The explosion of information across the enterprise has made it an IT issue that cannot be ignored.
The reason is simple… unstructured data is generated at an alarming rate and it’s burrowed away in siloed applications — think email, chat logs, network drives, CRM. This combined with the huge rise of remote work in 2020 has put intelligent information management solutions like M-Files in the spotlight. The way these solutions combat the problem is revolutionary, featuring transformative capabilities like AI-enabled tagging and collation of content across otherwise disconnected repositories.
To put it into proper perspective, let’s examine the obstacles to efficient information management and the six trends you can expect in 2021.
Pervasive (but Not New) Challenges in Information Management for 2021
Companies are consistently battling several information management challenges, elucidating the need to combat them with a frontline intelligent information management system. Top of the list of challenges are:
- A flood of unstructured data — all information not contained in tidy databases, the information contained in documents, PowerPoints, email attachments, email messages, chat logs
- Difficulty in organizing and classifying data, especially in a traditional hierarchy of file folders and subfolders
- Content scattered across the entire information landscape in siloed systems and applications, like a wasteland of misfit documents
Hopefully, some of the trends mentioned below will help ameliorate some of these challenges.
Improving Information Findability with Federated Search
Over 60% of information workers needed to access at least four systems, according to CMSWire. Federated search describes a search technology that can scan several sources for information at the same time. By default, federated search capabilities are baked into the M-Files solution. M-Files doesn’t care where your documents are. Searches can be completed across all company information silos to return results, regardless of where the files live. That’s the power of focusing on content over location — decoupling the content from its repository.
AI-Enabled Information Management Functions
Artificial intelligence is ever-present in many technologies we use, and information management is another technology that has a prominent place now for AI. It’s especially useful in a few ways: AI can comb through large amounts of data, for personally identifiable information as an example, and AI can suggest metadata tags to help classify data.
M-Files has spent extensive resources to stay on the bleeding edge of AI in information management. M-Files offers several intelligence services that will help you automate your office work.
- M-Files Smart Classifier: Automatically suggests a Class for an object, such as “Template”, “Agreement”, or “Offer”
- M-Files Information Extractor: Automatically scans through the content of a document to suggest relevant metadata
- M-Files Image Analysis: Automatically examines the image to suggest captions, categories, tags, and facial analysis results as metadata suggestions
The Rise of Anywhere, Anytime Access to Information
The year 2020 will go down in the history books. The whole world was shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic and for businesses, this meant deploying a large remote workforce to ensure business continuity. It put into stark contrast those that were ready with digital transformation and those that were behind the curve.
Knowledge workers needed remote access to company information and files. They needed the same experience from home as they would at the office. By far, the number one most vital part of any successful remote, flexible work strategy has to do with a true information platform at the center. At its core, an information management system is precisely what it sounds like — a solution designed to facilitate not only the storage of critical data but also the organization and retrieval of that same information.
M-Files provides remote access to information from anywhere in the world and from any device. Now, employees can work from anywhere — the hotel, their home, an airport, a client location… anywhere.
Much like remote work and remote access, flexible and diverse tools that enable hassle-free collaboration will be an indispensable part of a company’s tool stack. As traditional working models shift to a collaboration-centric model, intelligent information management tools like M-Files are needed to enable that shift.
But we’ve moved past just enabling collaboration into an era of optimizing it. From sharing documents to tracking tasks to co-authoring, these technologies ease the burden of collaborating, even in a remote work environment.
Connecting Disparate Information Silos
Employees shouldn’t have to toggle between applications, programs, and tools to find the information they need. M-Files and the Intelligent Metadata Layer deliver a simple, unified user experience for modern information management. You can browse data in all connected systems and repositories, whether in the cloud or on-premises with the same user interface — something that other ECM solutions don’t offer.
Friendly and Attractive User-Interface
Now that information management solutions have reached a certain level of maturity, part of the focus has shifted to creating a sleek user experience. Users have become spoiled by Netflix, Amazon, Google, and others and they now expect dynamite user interfaces in business, just as they have in their personal lives.
In 2021, M-Files has put the focus on the UI and the experience — highlighted first by M-Files’ new and improved web interface. It’s a trend that will pervade information management solutions of all types and sizes — lest they be bested by competitors that will put the proper resources into intelligent UI design.
As you gear up to take advantage of these emerging trends, you might be interested in exploring the M-Files intelligent information management solution. M-Files goes beyond traditional ECM — automate manual workflows and allow employees to work more productively, and M-Files is equipped with out-of-the-box, built-in AI to help classify and find information. Ultimately, M-Files helps organizations find and manage business-critical documents and information from any device, no matter where it’s stored — preparing your organization for anything 2021 might throw at you.
With regards to technology, one of the major mistakes that far too many business leaders make involves clinging to legacy applications purely out of a sense of familiarity. They think to themselves, “Why do I need to invest in something new? This has gotten the job done for years, I see no need to make any type of change right now.”
But while those legacy applications may be getting the job done… they may not be getting them done particularly well, and it could be costing most businesses far more than they realize.
The Most Common Business Challenges of Legacy Technology
By far, one of the biggest problems with legacy technology is that they almost always result in the types of security vulnerabilities that most businesses simply cannot afford to deal with.
A lot of people don’t realize that software updates are about more than just adding new features or tweaking the graphical user interface. Vendors offer software updates to patch bugs, exploits and other security vulnerabilities quickly after they’re discovered, before they can be taken advantage of by someone who knows what they’re doing. If a vendor stops providing updates and focuses their attention on a modern solution, that means that when additional exploits are discovered (and make no mistake about it, they will be) they will be left unchecked. That means there is essentially a backdoor into your business’ network that could potentially compromise every last kilobyte of critical data you’re creating on a daily basis.
In 2018, Shawn McCarthy, the research director for IDC Government Insights, said spending on legacy systems had risen by 13 percent over the last five years alone. This increase means agencies need more now than ever to ease themselves of the burden of antiquated IT systems.
Another major issue with legacy applications ultimately comes down to cost. In the event that a piece of software is no longer supported by the vendor, that means that it is up to you and you alone to keep it running as effectively as you can. Normally, that involves hiring people with the right type of expertise to keep a constant eye on your infrastructure — a move that is costly to say the least. Even if you hand over these duties to your existing IT people, every minute that they spend simply making sure that everything stays up and running is a minute that they’re not making money for your business.
One of the biggest examples of this cost issue has to do with how legacy technology usually lacks compatibility with other IT solutions. By remaining tethered to these legacy systems, you’re likely creating data silos across your business where critical information is essentially trapped in one platform, unable to get into the hands of the people who need it to make critical decisions. Workaround solutions exist, sure — but they’re usually just as costly (not to mention frustrating) to implement.
Likewise, legacy applications are problematic for most enterprises simply because they’re trapped in stasis for all time. They’re not evolving and gaining new functionality as the industry around you does the same. This makes it not only more difficult to scale your business as needed, but it makes it nearly impossible to innovate as well.
A report from Dell says:
“In the last 10 years, roughly 701 percent of all applications used by Fortune 5000 companies run in legacy environments built 20, 30, even 40 years ago, according to one analyst group. Another top tier analyst firm estimates that a typical corporation spends between 60 percent and 80 percent of its IT budget simply to maintain existing mainframe systems and applications.”
The Solution: Modern Day Information Management
The good news is that all of these issues with legacy applications can be solved with the right information management platform like M-Files. This type of solution will almost instantly eliminate the need for specialist skills to “make do” with your legacy apps by providing a common platform for storing and accessing ALL legacy data across your business.
M-Files, for example, is designed to act as a way to bring all of your various data repositories together — regardless of what is being stored where and why. It brings together information from network shares, cloud storage and other sources into a system that anyone can access at any time. At that point, it doesn’t actually matter where the data is — so long as you know WHAT it is that you’re looking for, you’ll be more than capable of finding it.
But the best part of all is that this type of solution can be presented in a way that maintains familiarity for users — meaning that they don’t have to worry about how difficult it will be to learn a new system just to keep working in the way they’ve always preferred to. From their point of view, nothing really “changes” beyond the fact that it’s now easier and faster to find the information they need when they need it the most.
This brings with it the added benefit of allowing your information management platform to act as a useful source of historical data, all of which can be mined for critical business insights using the analytical engine of your choosing. This can help you uncover trends and patterns that otherwise would have gone undiscovered, finally allow your data to push your business forward rather than allowing it to hold you back.
Of course, the benefits of moving away from those legacy applications and towards a more modern solution like an intelligent information management platform aren’t exclusively internal. By allowing your information management solution like M-Files to integrate with your front office systems so that current and historical data can be accessed quickly, you’re allowing your people to respond far faster to customer issues as well. This brings with it perhaps the most important benefit of all: you get to create a more seamless (not to mention higher quality) experience for your customers by improving the quality of work that you’re able to do for them across the board.
Change is certainly tough on any organization — the scope, scale or specific nature of that change doesn’t actually matter. Some changes are major — like with digital transformation initiatives. When an organization decides that they are investing in a new information management system, for example, it can represent a change to the fundamental way people work — a positive change, but one that requires an adjustment, nonetheless.
As a prime example within the M-Files solution — and top of mind since it was the topic of our last podcast — is the idea that computer folders don’t matter. Putting files in folders and subfolders has been the norm since the very first iteration of MS-DOS — where you drop objects into a file directory. So, the idea of simply having documents described by metadata, out in the ether, uncoupled from file location is a paradigm shift.
Getting your team to buy into the vision of a newer, better way of doing things is the first step to navigating disruption. Mismanaging disruption can absolutely harm user adoption if you’re not careful, which will harm your return on investment for the solution, too. Thankfully, if your current goal involves boosting the user adoption of your information management system, there are four key ways you can do it.
You Need a Team of Champions
Your users aren’t just going to decide to adopt your new information management system out of the kindness of their heart. They need to be swayed, and they’re going to start looking to the people around them in order to see whether yours is a solution worth paying attention to.
Therefore, if you really want to boost user adoption, you don’t just need a team of people who are willing to sing your praises. You need a team of people who are willing to champion the effort and evangelize their experience. Essentially, you’re looking for people who won’t shut up about what a good experience this is and how they’re getting more work done than ever — and you need as many of them as you can get.
The benefit here is that this creates a snowball effect in the best possible way. Once a few of your champions begin to spread the word, it’ll almost always convince someone who was resistant to change to give your information management system a fair shake. They, too, become advocates for the effort and things only get better from there.
Overall, find a quick win and evangelize it to get people on board. If you have a user who lets you know that thanks to the information management system, they were able to improve their own productivity by 30%, that’s a big win — and that person (and their story) should be held up as a major example of what your solution can do.
Test, Test and Test Some More
Another one of the best ways to boost user adoption for your information management system involves using the testing phase to train IT and future administrators. Keep in mind that during your wider rollout, people are obviously going to have a lot of questions. They’re also going to run into issues and have concerns that will need to be addressed — it’s only natural.
What you need to do is be in a position to take care of all of this, creating the most seamless support experience possible. If users can see that there is someone there to help them and that they’re not just being “thrown into the deep end before they’re ready,” they’ll be much more likely to embrace the solution. This is true even if problems arise or things get a little frustrating.
On the subject of training, be sure to use real-life use cases specific to your business as the main training modules. The more general your examples are, the more disconnected users will feel because they don’t feel like this information management system has any relevance to THEIR lives.
Instead, you need to create training modules that speak to the work they’re doing on a daily basis. Show people how this solution will fit into their lives and let them experience how much easier their job will be once it is in place. Demonstrate how communication and collaboration are better than ever.
The more relevant you’re able to make it to their lives, the more likely they are to adopt it wholeheartedly — and at that point, that’s really all you need to get started.
Communication is King
There’s a reason why your business is using THIS information management system at THIS particular moment — and it’s incumbent on management to explain why it’s so important for users to change the way they’re used to doing things.
Obviously, you have a plan in place. If you want to boost user adoption, you need to make sure that plan is actually communicated to your users early and often.
If users can at least understand what this tool is, why it will make a positive impact on their lives and why it’s so important for them to use it, they’ll be much more likely to adopt it. At that point, the software can speak for itself and the users can see the benefits up close and personal.
Choose an Information Management Company Committed to Help You Increase Adoption
Make sure that whichever solution you choose, that company has a robust Services and Support team, with the experience needed to help you roll out the software. Any SaaS company worth their salt knows the most effective way to increase user adoption of their product. So, ask questions about Services and Support in the buying process. Find a vendor that will guide you to optimal user adoption.
At M-Files, we have a global Services and Support arm ready to help you tackle change management, user adoption, and everything in between. When you implement M-Files, really, what you’re doing is asking staff to use a tool that is objectively better than the previous one. Our Services team is experts at demonstrating just that. Once your staff sees the information management system for what it really is — an invaluable asset that will allow them to work better than ever — they’ll soon begin to wonder how they were ever able to live without it.
To say that information governance is critical in the fast-paced digital era that we’re currently living in is probably a little bit of an understatement.
Every day, businesses are creating countless volumes of data that contain the insight necessary to guarantee success for the next five, ten or even twenty years of that organization’s existence. The problem is that if you can’t dive beneath the data and uncover the true narrative playing out, the data itself is effectively worthless. Without the right information governance plan, you’re really just talking about little more than a series of 1s and 0s sitting on a hard drive somewhere.
This is all especially important during an era when more people are working remotely than ever, thanks in large part to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that continues to drag on. Employees are using mobile and cloud technology to stay productive while on-the-go, creating even more challenges in terms of managing information in a way that allows it to remain productive and useful.
However, even organizations that understand the importance of information governance often run into issues — as this exceptional AIIM article goes a long way towards illustrating. It outlines not one but three pressure points that usually cause information governance policies to fail, and we thought we’d take the opportunity to both recap and present our own unique solution for each one.
Weak Spot #1: Information Entry Points
One of the biggest areas where information governance tends to break down is also, for most organizations, among the most immediate: the point at which that information enters your system to begin with.
These days, even small enterprises have more information coming into their environments than ever. But a lot of organizations have thus far been slow to adapt their governance strategies, particularly to take advantage of the fast-paced cloud and mobile-driven worlds that we’re currently living in.
For example, did you know that only about 40% of businesses have automated processes to guarantee the deletion of personal information? Likewise, did you know that 85% of people see that a failure to digitize, standardize and automate business inputs is one of the key bottlenecks that appears during a digital transformation?
This is one of the biggest reasons why it’s so important to have an information management platform like M-Files. Whether you’re talking about capturing information with scanners or the native input of files and information using other tools, within M-Files, the entry point is automatically equipped with artificial intelligence-enabled metadata. This helps guide the information through its lifecycle, making it more searchable (and ultimately useable) at the same time. So regardless of being forced to focus so much on WHERE the information is, you can instead devote your attention to WHAT it is — which is exactly the way things should be.
Weak Spot #2: Information End Points
Another one of the major pressure points for information governance comes down to information endpoints — a topic that is far more complicated than most people assume.
Endpoints can be practically anything — from personal workstations to smartphones to Internet of Things devices and beyond. If you’re unable to access data on those endpoints, you’ll have a far harder time leveraging and growing historical data intelligence, validating past categorizations and much, much more. You’ll also likely be dealing with a lot of duplicate data, which can make it even more difficult to find exactly what it is that you’re looking for when you need it the most.
Weak Spot #3: Policy Administration
Finally, we arrive at policy administration: something that a lot of organizations are still trying to do manually, to mixed results.
If you’re still trying to do everything “the old-fashioned way,” even keeping your information governance policy up to date can be an uphill battle. Never forget that every minute you’re spending trying to get this right is a minute that you’re not focused on those matters that really need you. Plus, depending on the size of your enterprise, trying to demonstrate compliance may not just be difficult… It might be literally impossible.
If this describes your own situation, don’t worry — you’re not alone. That AIIM article referenced above indicated that for about 70% of organizations, key governance processes are less than 50% automated across the board. Even today, a lot of businesses still find embracing automation something to be far easier said than done.
That is, unless you leverage the right information lifecycle management tool like M-Files to do all of this for you. As stated, M-Files is built to guide information through its lifecycle with workflows as efficiently as possible. Those workflows notify all key stakeholders when a document has reached the end of its useful life, thus allowing them to quickly do something about it.
Plus, M-Files will automatically save documents that need to be kept due to regulatory compliance and much, much more. All of this makes sure not only that your information governance policy is executed and managed in just the right way — it frees up as much of your valuable time as possible so that you can focus on those tasks that actually generate revenue for your business.