When you see or hear the word “content” what comes to mind? Do you think of all the various forms of information and documents you work with daily? Are you aware of how much information you handle in each day? I have a challenge for you. At the end of your work day, take 10 minutes and reflect on how much content you created, shared or touched to do your job. This includes emails you read, sent or searched for; PowerPoint presentations you created, updated or shared; and other spreadsheets, reports and the like you depend on. Think about how you used or shared that content and how much mental effort that consumed. How many different formats did you need to manage? Was some on paper and most in a digital format? Was it stored on your desktop, in certain applications like email or an accounting system, or buried in a local or network folder somewhere? Did you need to use your mobile phone or tablet to help find, access or process it?
Now take a breath. You probably touch a lot more information each day than you realized. Are you exhausted from thinking about how much of your day was spent working with content? Or worse, are you saddened by the amount of time spent overcoming the friction and obstacles that make working with content so difficult and complex to manage? Now in the next minute think a little deeper about how you interacted with all that content – can you guarantee that you handled that content in a way was consistently secure and compliant with any company policies or regulations?
I recently joined Nuance in their Imaging Division with the opportunity to lead the Product organization, but earlier in my career, I worked to identify solutions that solved the findability and discovery changes related to work content. Then it was known as the Enterprise Search Market, which overtime morphed into the Big Data market. During my tenure in those markets, my sole focus was helping individual workers find the right content at the right time to make their life easier and make their work more productive, while making content handling secure and compliant. Today, as I sit here 10 years later, this is still a core challenge for organizations! In fact, content that isn’t being used to enhance a business process is a fundamental impediment to getting work done. And, like anyone who uses knowledge to work, we all struggle against different systems, applications and file formats in effort to do the right thing – complete a task while handling content securely and in a compliant manner.
While most organizations know that gaining control over their content and workflows is critical to optimizing their business and driving strategic initiatives like digital transformation, they struggle on where to start.
Here are seven steps to help an organization start their journey in designing and building secure, compliant and frictionless content-centric workflows:
- Focus on Improving One Business Process at a Time – Survey and identify the teams that express the most acute problems related to information quality that is dependent on semi-structured and unstructured content, like the examples mentioned above. In many cases, these teams still rely paper documents and manual information extracting/data entry to kick off a process. Think about processes such as invoicing, new sales orders, customer on boarding, or accounts payable approvals. When you identify the group, narrow your focus to identify what content dependent process creates the most challenges. Is it a volume challenge, where there’s not enough staff to complete the work accurately and efficiently? Think about how digitalization can improve the overall process by delivering higher quality information more rapidly and consistently. Also, consider what unintentional security or compliance gaps these inefficiencies have created.
- Observe Current Execution to Discover Behavioral Patterns – Now that you have identified the team and process, observe the behavior of the team. Watch how they collect content. Is it by scanning a paper record, snapping a mobile image or extracting from a third-party data repository? What do they do next with the information to potentially identify key elements, like customer number or amount owed, and then where do they record and move that information?
- Identify inefficiencies – Look for steps that seem counterintuitive and redundant, like storing the same document in multiple locations or entering data into multiple systems from the same document. Do they take any special steps to restrict access or hide privileged information to adhere to security and compliance regulations? Observe for several days across different workers so you can best identify behavioral patterns. You may also find how some workers have overcome challenges with their own hacks or ad-hoc processes.
- Honestly Assess Impact – Be clear about why these processes are so important, including the positive outcomes they drive, and the negative consequences if they are not implemented. What happens when they fail? What keeps the staff up at night thinking about the problems they face in this process. This information will provide the foundation and motivation for making a change and adopting a well-built solution in the future.
- Map Out the Ideal Content Workflow with Automated Tasks – Now collaborate with the team. Share what you observed and take a step back to start with a blank sheet and ask, what is our objective in handling this business process and what is our desired outcome? What systems do we want to interact with? Are there steps with the right tools we could automate and remove manual intervention? Are there security steps we should be taking to ensure compliance is met and not left up to the individual to adhere to?
- Test the New Process Flow – Once you have mapped out the ideal content workflow it is time to test it in a real-world scenario. This phase can take some time as you may need to bring in new tools to help facilitate – especially the automation piece or the extraction or processing of the right content. As you test, ensure that you work in tandem with the business process leads to drive the right processes along with the right IT team to drive the system integration and automation pieces. Take in everything you learn during the initial test and update the process flow to accommodate for this new information.
- Observe, Measure and Refine – This is often the most critical step. Transformation rarely happens with just one change. It is the constant refinement and iterative approach that drives the most value. From the first point of deployment, you need to have a repeatable plan for ongoing observation, measuring the improvement areas and refine with time. This information provides the necessary insights to know if the expected return on investment is realized or if additional changes are required. This process also helps identify situations where new regulations arise, like GDPR, that require a new approach or adjustment to security and compliance. This means refine, refine and refine, and with each refinement expand into additional content-rich processes that need optimization.
This is a high-level recommendation to drive improvements around more content-centric workflows, with several steps within each of these major initiatives. But the major goal of this process is to be purpose-driven as you identify those processes that are content rich and ultimately negatively impacting the way your workforce operates. The necessary platforms, tools and methods exist and are well tested around the world. The first and most important step? Decide where and when you start.