One of the most important things to understand about a digital transformation is that ultimately, you’re talking about exactly that: a transformation from where you are today to where you hope to be tomorrow.
In order to get to that point, companies have to be willing to change. Not just for the sake of it, but because it makes the most sense at this particular moment given everything that you’ve set yourself up to accomplish. Clinging to old ways — or worse, old systems — runs contrary to that goal. It doesn’t just stifle innovation and make progress difficult — in most situations, it makes them largely impossible.
As a result, that change often starts with retiring those old legacy systems that are not supporting broader digital transformation initiatives. Indeed, this is one of the biggest hurdles that most digital transformations need to overcome in order to guarantee success and if you’d like that for your own organization, there are a number of important things you’ll need to consider.
A Digital Transformation is a Foundational Transformation
A key concept to understand with regards to digital transformation is that a corporate leadership focused on change is critical to what is about to happen. Leadership should be at the forefront of bringing in new software and new processes, all while taking a cold, hard look at how existing business “best practices” and technology platforms are no longer supporting the overall trajectory of the organization itself.
Because of this, organizations need to be willing to adapt their core systems and processes not to where they are, but to where they want to be. A key symptom that the time for this transformation has come takes the form of siloed information and business practices in various departments that ultimately make it difficult for people to communicate and collaborate with one another.
If information is trapped in a data silo and is only available to your finance team, for example, all of that insight and information is essentially cut off from other teams who might be able to use it — like sales. This doesn’t just put up a barrier where one doesn’t need to exist — it’s literally making it impossible for people (and their technologies) to talk to one another.
Data needs to flow freely not just between departments, but across your entire organization. This is true in terms of human resources, finance, IT and even legal. They can no longer afford to operate in their own distinct “lanes,” never sharing data with one another. There’s no such thing as “departmental data” in a digital transformation. Every last kilobyte of data belongs to your organization as a whole and it needs to be available in the exact same way.
Think about this issue within the context of your human resources department, for just one example. Most HR departments manage not only your existing employees, but the teams who are going out to find new ones, too. But if they don’t have access to critical information on things like the total number of workers, positions to be filled, and onboarding documentation, it can create a negative ripple effect across your entire enterprise. At a bare minimum, it makes it difficult to find those ideal candidates because you’re never really sure what you’re supposed to be looking for to begin with. At worst, it can make it difficult to adequately perform things like budgeting, reporting, security, invoicing and even payments.
Evolution Begins Inward
This is all why digital transformation must be seen as so much more than just “throwing on a fresh coat of paint.” Any components that can be moved to new physical or cloud-based infrastructures should be. Any existing code that can be optimized on the backend WITHOUT changing front end behavior or features should be.
But no matter what, you need to essentially start over with the idea of what your business is and make sure it properly aligns with what your business CAN be. You must take new business requirements into account when creating your digital transformation plan and build something fresh and new from the ground up.
Within the context of a digital transformation, nostalgia is not the asset you think it is. If there is an existing legacy system that is holding you back, and the only argument in favor of keeping it is, “Well, that’s just the way we’ve always done things,” that’s not very compelling.
You need to dive deep into your infrastructure, taking a close look at all of your interconnected components, systems, and applications. You need to understand how they all fit together, how they’re all supposed to work together, and how one might be holding the others back.
In no uncertain terms: you cannot simply update one problematic component without giving the others a very close look.
Again, this is about so much more than just maximizing your IT investment. This is literally about creating a solid foundation that your business can build from to thrive and innovate for the next decade and beyond. Yes, this is going to require a significant change and a lot of effort will be involved.
But as the old saying reminds us, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” That’s why digital transformation begins where legacy software ends — because at some point, you need to break those eggs so that you can move on with the rest of what is to come.
Future-Proof with M-Files
M-Files intelligent information management addresses the problem of disconnected data silos. With the Intelligent Metadata Layer, all of the places where information likes to hide are connected in one, central location. It no longer matters where your files live, but what they actually take center stage and the content of your files is key to digital transformation initiatives. The file name and location become just semantics — as they should be.
While it’s absolutely true that no two digital transformations are created equally, maybe the most important factor for digital transformation at scale is that it begins and ends as true company-wide efforts. Without a clear understanding of the importance of the project — along with buy-in from any and all key stakeholders along the way — your efforts will be doomed to failure before they’ve even had a chance to really get going.
Regardless of the nature of your project, any digital transformation will require several factors to ensure its success. Not only will they help make sure that everyone is always on the same page and moving forward, but they will also be invaluable in terms of mitigating risk and avoiding a lot of the mistakes that cause serious issues as well.
Define an Ample Budget
Even modest digital transformations still require an upfront capital investment to be successful — which means the number one game-changing factor to help scale your own efforts involves preparing for these costs as soon as you can.
While it’s true that the costs of your efforts to embrace emerging technologies will obviously vary depending on a number of factors that are unique to your business, experts recommend that you should expect to budget around a 5% operating cost which itself will be determined by the marketing and your unique company.
But when you consider the money you could be leaving on the table by not making an effort to keep up with your competitors in a technological capacity, it’s easy to see why this investment is such an important one to make for most people.
The Importance of a Well-Defined Plan
Once you know exactly what results you want from your digital transformation, you need to define the steps needed to make that vision a reality. In other words, you need a well-defined plan and you need one BEFORE your digital transformation begins.
It may take a bit of trial and error to determine the exact course of action for your company, but doing so will make sure that everyone understands what is expected of them and why their role is so important. It will also help avoid confusion later on.
Choosing the Right Technologies: Things to Consider
Since technology itself is at the heart of digital transformation at scale, it stands to reason that you should spend a great deal of time thinking about which ones you’re trying to embrace and, more importantly, why.
But it would be a mistake to start with the technology itself and buy into something simply because it’s “new” or “state-of-the-art.” Think about what your business needs to accomplish that it currently cannot and make a list of those technologies that can help make that happen.
Are you trying to execute a digital transformation with an emphasis on cloud-based services to reduce your overhead and empower collaboration? Do you want to be able to employ artificial intelligence tools to derive more from your business’ data? Do you want to bring in automation so that you can offload a lot of those menial tasks, freeing up the valuable time of your human employees to focus on those matters that really need them?
If your business is constantly battling data silos and lost productivity due to poor communication and collaboration, for example, an information management solution like M-Files would absolutely be one of those technologies that can help solve these challenges. By connecting information across your enterprise into a single, secure repository, insight can finally flow freely across your organization for the first time. Everyone who needs access to information to do their job has it, thus making it easier to work together and derive superior results for your clients as well.
Along the same lines, you’ll also want to make an effort to implement these technologies with minimal disruption to existing operations. A solution like M-Files can help enormously to that end, as it works natively with a lot of the software you’re probably already using and won’t necessarily require employees to change their workflows or undergo a massive data migration.
Change Management Best Practices to Be Aware Of
Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing — but it can be if your employees aren’t engaged all throughout your digital transformation. This is why change management matters so much to your effort’s success — if employees are unwilling to change for the sake of your company’s future, engagement will suffer. This will put you farther away from your goal, not closer to it.
Always be transparent about what shape your digital transformation is taking and allow employees to prepare on their own terms to get them more comfortable. Make sure you provide training on any new tools and keep those communication lines open so that you can address any and all concerns someone may have.
Digital Transformation at Scale: Setting Benchmarks for Success
Finally, you need to understand that “success” in terms of digital transformation isn’t as clear-cut as you may think. There is no set amount of time for how long it is supposed to take, for example. The only metrics you should be paying attention to are those that speak directly to what you were trying to accomplish, to begin with.
To put it another way, your benchmarks for success will be unique to your business — but it’s important you set them now and measure them continually to help guarantee progress is moving along as it should be. Consistently monitoring and measuring key performance indicators relative to your goals will at the very least always help confirm you’re headed in the right direction. This will also help make sure that everyone stays focused, that people are ready to learn and adapt as new challenges arise, and it will also help confirm that the approach you’re taking is the right one. That last point may very well be the most important benefit of all.
According to Gartner, information contributes at least 20-25% of an average organization’s value today. Studies have uncovered countless ways to use data as an asset to help improve businesses by reducing costs, improving customer satisfaction, and managing risks. Along with the paradigm shift towards valuing information as an asset, companies also need to find opportunities to maximize its worth by focusing more upon data governance. The rapid escalation in the number of information organizations need to handle makes governance even more critical.
How Data Volume and Value Make Data Governance Essential
Data governance covers everything related to managing the security, accessibility, quality, and usability of information within an organization. For example, it includes steps taken to ensure businesses have reliable, protected, and accurate information to make better decisions and help serve customers. A governance plan generally includes policies and the tools to implement and enforce those rules.
As quoted on TechTarget, Gartner analyst Andrew White said that most of all, good governance don’t stand alone. Instead, businesses should consider it a core piece of their strategy to achieve overall business goals.
HubSpot created a simple but compelling infographic to illustrate how the rising tide of the volume, value, and even a variety of data underscores the importance of data governance. Some figures they published include:
- Out of all data created in the world, 90 percent has been generated within the past two years, an escalating trend that will almost certainly continue.
- Typical organizations spend 3.5 to 7.0 percent of their overall revenue on information technology. For example, a company with $100 million in revenue might expend up to $7 million just on managing information.
- Out of organizations polled, three-quarters viewed information governance as a critical factor to their success.
- At the same time as most of the information workers viewed information management as vital, less than half thought that top executives understood the importance of governance the as very important.
The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) contributed the statistics used in the infographic. They also noted a trend that the most high-performing businesses strove to integrate governance into their overall strategy, so that supports Andrew White’s point above.
More specifically, 42 percent of these high performers already had robust plans in place and another 24 percent had made plans to follow. Of the rest, 13 percent had begun their efforts with only some departments, 16 percent had policies that were still in incubation, and only five percent had no formal governance policies at all.
The Future of Improved Data Governance
Traditionally, businesses set information governance policies crafted to reduce risks. For example, these companies wanted to ensure they protected and managed their data to avoid compliance problems and to preserve high-quality information for reporting. According to AIIM, today’s high-performing companies would also add the additional benefits of improving customer service, responding faster to changes, and to make better decisions through analytics and high-quality data.
To improve information governance, AIIM suggested including three vital steps:
- Establish an IG team: Start with top leadership and include critical stakeholders and of course, the IT department. Make certain employees understand how managing, controlling, and protecting information will improve business and in turn, their own situations. Keep the door open for feedback on initial plans to all levels.
- Audit existing information: Organizations need to understand, classify, and audit their information to have any chance of assigning both value and risk. This process can offer you all sorts of value because you will know which sorts of data you should spend the most on protecting, storing, and accessing and which data you might invest less in archiving. Sometimes, you may uncover valuable data that you could use if you only knew it existed.
- Weed out what you don’t need: Information ROT refers to the kind of redundant, obsolete, and trivial data that can bog down your storage, systems, and processes. According to Veritas, a storage tech company, about one-third of all data stored will never be useful or used. Another 50 percent is considered “dark data” with no known value. Together, these provide no value and run up cumulative excess costs of trillions of dollars worldwide. Alternatively, you may find some of this dark data valuable and realize you need to invest more in protecting and using it.
Choose the Right Technology to Support Information Governance
At M-Files, we built our business around the importance of helping our customers control and manage information through its lifecycle. With automatic and even AI-enabled features, this system lets you manage records from conception to eventual deletion or archival. You can even set security and processing features that ensure compliance with your company’s governance policies and most efficient business procedures. At the same time, editing rules will maintain data quality and reduce human error. Even better, you can turn to one interface to find anything, no matter where it’s stored or even from which remote location you need to access it from.
You and your team can focus on the challenging task of creating good information governance policies and processes. After that, you can set rules within M-Files to ensure they’re enforced. Give us a chance to show you exactly how M-Files will improve your governance and overall business by contacting us today with your questions or requests for a demo or free trial.
What Exactly is Information Lifecycle Management (ILM)?
“Information lifecycle management (ILM) is the effort to oversee data, from creation through retirement, in order to optimize its utility, lower costs, as well as minimize the legal and compliance risks that may be introduced through that data.
“ILM involves storage optimization as well as strategies to improve data quality and security. Finally, a strong information lifecycle management practice will proactively control data retention and disposal in accordance with business policy.”
Why is Information Lifecycle Management Important?
Most organizations don’t leverage their information effectively. There are varied statistics out there but one assessment says that 60-73% of company data goes unused. It lies dormant in some repository, forgotten about, taking up space that costs money and may even violate compliance requirements.
Ultimately, the information your organization creates is one of its most important assets. A good strategy must carefully manage and protect that information, particularly when customers have entrusted it to you. The past decade has seen the advent of evolving regulatory compliance and privacy requirements — like GDPR and CCPA — which now sit at a crossroads with an upsurge in digital data volume.
Companies must sustain good governance policies over rapidly increasing quantities of information. This is not an effort that can be delayed. The most prosperous businesses of the next decade will be those that can locate, categorize, and enforce control over their information.
The consequences of doing nothing (or very little) can have vast and amplified effects on the organization at-large over time. When it comes to enterprise information, they need to secure it, deduplicate it, and dispose of it at the proper time. Serious consequences include:
- Legal and regulatory exposure. Many regulations specify how long data must be kept. There’s no benefit to keeping it longer and, in fact, could present risk if sensitive information is still discoverable past its useful lifetime.
- Cost. A Veritas study estimated that poor information governance will create 1 billion of avoidable storage and management costs worldwide by 2020. Unnecessary data storage costs money.
- Access. Obsolete or irrelevant information mixed in with critical information slows down access and creates the potential for confusion and errors.
Information Lifecycle Management Visualized
Our friends at Iron Mountain published an infographic which succinctly lays out a 5-step information lifecycle management path. Businesses are creating a massive volume of information, but what happens to those documents? Are they handled appropriately? Are the disposed of or taking up costly space on a server somewhere?
Take a look at the infographic and follow the path:
The concept that Iron Mountain visualized is that documents and information should have a defined lifecycle with five steps — encompassed by awareness of compliance measures.
- Create. Create information and classify it with metadata according to organizational standards.
- Use. Make information available to certain individuals and applications in support of organizational goals and obligations.
- Retain. Protect information by storing it in secure repositories according to retention policy.
- Preserve. Safeguard information to meet legal, regulatory, operational and archival requirements.
- Dispose. Destroy or archive information at the end of its useful life according to formal procedure.
Simplifying Information Lifecycle Management
Regrettably, many organizations — even large ones — depend on manual processes for information lifecycle management and that makes the process slow and inaccurate. M-Files can automate much of the process to free up staff time to work on more strategic projects. It can also save time and headaches in the event of a discovery demand or regulatory request.
The M-Files intelligent information management platform has a role in all five phases of the information lifecycle, simplifying every process, and here’s how:
At the inception point of a document, it can be classified with metadata — even with the help of built-in AI — and governance rules can be applied with workflow rules to flag that information for proper archival after its useful lifetime.
With customizable, dynamic permissions, access rights are controlled tightly, and usage policy is inherently well-defined.
M-Files offers a cloud, on-premise or hybrid deployment allowing for flexibility and security in data storage — aligned with any compliance or governance policies.
If information needs to be retained in accordance with regulatory requirements, M-Files can safeguard that information for any specified length of time.
A simple governance workflow can automatically destroy or archive information at the end of its useful life — or notify an information manager to act on that data.
If you’re a student of sales and/or marketing, then you know that you must provide value to your customers. And you must do it in terms of how your customers think about value and not how your company thinks about value. What you think are the greatest features and best use cases are nearly irrelevant. So, when we think about our bread and butter sectors here at M-Files, where our document management solution has significant impact, professional services and specifically, business consulting rises to the top. We sought to answer the question: Why do business consulting companies love information management technology?
And so, to frame the answer in terms of value, it’s important to consider value from the business consultancy’s point of view and not ours. A cool prompt for that angle comes from Bob Apollo at Inflexion Point. He presented at an M-Files Sales Kickoff and I always remember the slide he put up on the screen about how customers think about value.
Solutions like information management technology must answer a few of the following questions for buyers:
- How will this help me to increase revenues?
- How will this help me to reduce expenditure?
- How will this help me to avoid risks?
- How will this help me save time?
- How will this help me achieve my goals?
For business consulting companies we’ve worked with — like advisory firm Horne — the answers are not difficult to ascertain.
How will information management technology help me to increase revenues?
Buyers want a collaborative relationship where information is readily available about their engagement. M-Files turns client engagements for business consulting firms into streamlined experiences.
How will information management technology help me to reduce expenditure?
M-Files reduces expenditure at just about every juncture — respond to audits 5x faster, secure cloud storage versus expensive on-premises storage, and reduction in resources needed for information governance, just to name a few.
How will information management technology help me save time?
According to research, 46% of workers say it’s challenging and time-consuming to find needed information. M-Files drastically reduces the time spent searching for documents by providing a 360-degree view of needed information across disparate repositories.
How will information management technology help me to avoid risks?
Consulting companies have data littered in multiple, disconnected systems — ERP, CRM, laptops, network folders. A multi-repository information ecosystem increases risk, as it compounds the challenge of ensuring that information doesn’t leak out or fall into the wrong hands. Information management technology solves this problem.
How will information management technology help me achieve my goals?
Information management helps business consulting companies reach their goals by allowing them to do more with less by reallocating resources to high-value work, like serving customers or developing new products.
There is way more story to tell on just how information management technology impacts business consulting companies and addresses these five questions.
No single thing probably drove the early growth of the internet as much as email did. In that way, it’s considered a driver application for internet tech, like cryptocurrency sparked interest in developing blockchain tech. Email gave us an inexpensive (sometimes free) and instant way to communicate all over the world. In addition, email lent itself to automation, collaboration, and integration, which sparked development to incorporate those ideas into other kinds of software that worked better for specific tasks.
That was OK then. But we have graduated — or at least we should have. Today, using email for more than mere communication generates avoidable problems and inefficiencies, particularly in an era when you can rely on better tools that will help improve efficiency and overcome email’s challenges. In particular, businesses that rely on email too much to share files and collaborate will certainly struggle with the many hazards of information sprawl.
Understanding and Overcoming Today’s Challenges with Email
Look at just a few problems information sprawl causes when email becomes the de facto collaboration tool. Even more, understand how smart document management systems can eliminate these kinds of inefficiencies and errors.
In a previous article on problems with using email attachments for collaboration, we brought up the specific example of a CEO who wanted input about next year’s business plan. She attached her draft to the email she sent to her five vice presidents. Each of them made some edits and forwarded their versions to their own department heads. As the day for the CEO to present the plan approached, she found her own inbox full of dozens of versions of the plan, all edited, corrected, and commented upon by different people.
In the end, that CEO found himself trying to consolidate all of these versions — a difficult and error-prone process. Even if some of the executives and directors did not make a single change, he still had to account for each of them to make sure they approved it. If not, he needed to write a follow-up email to nudge them.
Is this really the best we can do in an age with tons of easy solutions to the problem?
With an intelligent information management system, she could have simply shared the document link with each stakeholder, alerted them as their deadline for edits or approval approached, and each person would be contributing to a single authoritative document version. The CEO would then have had one version-controlled and consolidated document. Not only could he view all edits in one place, he could also easily see exactly who generated each change and exactly when they did it. This made it much simpler for the CEO to verify information, accept the right changes, and produce his final business plan.
Today’s businesses don’t just keep information in text documents. Various media may consist of graphics, videos, and sound files. If everybody relies on emailing and downloading these as email attachments, it can bog down both the performance of the email system and the capacity of storage devices. Instead, smart document management can keep track of the single storage place for these files and various versions and simply send everybody a hyperlink to access it.
Security and Compliance Problems
Even with small documents, having multiple copies stored on various cloud accounts, employee’s laptops, and of course, as email attachments generates more security vulnerabilities. Just as bad, storing private or sensitive information may create compliance breaches. With a good document management system, the owners can set rules for files that only allow the right people various types of access. Not only does this keep information secure, it also allows the company to demonstrate their compliance with regulations governing the kind of information they have.
Let’s say the CFO just had the latest version of the company’s financial report stored on his hard drive the day before he caught the flu, needed medication, and was in no shape to remember to tell other executives that he had updated the last attachment he had received from the accounting department. Even worse, let’s say that CFO suddenly left the company and had his server account deleted, along with the latest report.
Thinking she could simply bypass the CFO, the CEO asked the accounting department to email her the figures, with neither party knowing the CFO had the most current document on his own computer. Again, a central store of this information would show the most current version and a history of changes. A high-level user could also set and change ownership permissions with a few clicks, so the person who needed to take over for the CFO would take responsibility for this document.
Business Process Inefficiencies
Using the example of the business draft, the CEO wanted to ensure she gathered approvals from everybody who received her first version of the business plan. In turn, she needed to know when the draft had circulated to all stakeholders and then been returned back to her. With email, she would have the clunky process of sending out reminders and then having to check off names as replied hit her inbox. Instead, she could have set alerts within her document management system both to let the stakeholders knew she had a task for them and in turn, to let her know when they finished it.
How Enterprise-Quality Document Management Eliminates Information Sprawl
Nobody doubts the importance of email. It helped grow the internet and revolutionized communication. Still, as noted on HubSpot, many businesses still relies on email for more than its core function — simply out of habit. It’s not that surprising that even top executives still rely on the tool they’ve probably used their entire career. At the same time, once they’ve been introduced to the benefits of smart information management, these same business leaders are pleasantly surprised to find a comprehensive tool to collaborate, track versions, manage audits, automate business processes, and avoid errors.
See how intelligent information management can beat email collaboration with a 30-day free trial.