Finding Clarity in Integration

0316Craine-Art_0316There is a lot of discussion and concern about “integration” these days … and for good reason. The amount and variety of content, systems and processes we must manage in business today is becoming ever more complicated. Simply keeping track of many moving pieces is a challenge, but making the entire environment work together seamlessly and optimally can often seem impossible. What is needed is an overarching strategic approach to the document strategy that will guide the various activities in ways that make a difference and help reign in the complexity.   

Elevate Your Perspective

How can you get your arms around the challenges and complexities inherent in integration? One way is to elevate your perspective. In other words, “bump it up a notch.” Rather than focus on the technology per se, focus on the way that it must function in the process. Instead of fretting over all the complexities, consider instead how everything must work as a system. How should everything perform together in order for the process to perform better? How can information be used in ways that bring increased value to the organization?  And how should the systems and processes work best for the people involved? By refocusing your attention and elevating your perspective you will begin to view things from a much more strategic perspective that can help you move beyond the complexities and details to address the real needs of your organization.

Documents, Technology and People

One way to demystify the process is to concentrate your efforts on three specific areas of inquiry: documents, technology and people. These three elements are essentially the “what, how and who” of your integration strategy: what documents are important, how they are produced and who cares about how they perform in the process.

Documents are simply a construct to provide a roadmap for your efforts. Start by first determining the ones that are most important to your organization. Which vital few documents have the most influence on the performance of your organization?  Which relate directly to core functions, important initiatives and troublesome problems?  If you could pick only a handful of target documents, which would you choose? And remember, you don’t have to re-engineer every document, only the most essential.

Questions to ask: 

  • What are the documents used in your most critical business functions?
  • Which have the highest potential return on your effort?
  • Which have the best probability for success?

Technology enables the document and content management process. Computers, databases, networks, and all their associated systems and programs are the technological means by which content is created, produced and processed. These systems can often combine into a confounding mix of hardware and software, so stop and assess: What technology is used to produce your target documents? What are your current capabilities? What available innovation in technology might influence or improve your process?  Gathering this information will provide a technical basis for your integration strategy and direct your recommendations regarding equipment purchases, software upgrades and system changes.

Questions to ask: 

  • What are the technologies and processes that produce your most important documents?
  • Are your existing capabilities underutilized or overworked?
  • What new and developing technology is available that might improve your process?

People are the reason why all of the systems and content are acquired, produced and used. It seems reasonable, therefore, that the people who populate the process in your organization are the best people to describe and improve the process. Who are the people who make up your “process constituency?” And who are the executives who care about how well they perform in the process?  From clerical and production personnel, technical gurus and executive stakeholders, each have specific, varied, and often unstated, interest. The needs and interests of your process constituency are important beacons to guide your strategy.

Questions to ask: 

  • Who are the people that create, process and care about how your documents perform?
  • What are the needs and requirements of this constituency?
  • How well are their needs currently being met?

Three Legs of a Strategy

An old farmer’s saying once warned, “You can’t milk a cow with a two-legged stool.” Documents, technology and people are like three legs of your integration strategy. Remove one, or shorten it, and you’ll lose balance, stability and perspective.

Determine the “Vital Few”

Consider there may be hundreds, if not thousands, of documents within your organization. Some are more important than others. Some are obsolete while others have a lifetime of importance. Some documents drive critical business functions while others live a life of their own because “we’ve always done it this way.”  Regardless, documents are a pervasive element of everyday work and their sheer numbers can seem overwhelming. Determining your most vital documents will provide a manageable target for your document strategy.

High-Tech Mix

Technology is also pervasive and complex. Depending on your company, everything from legacy mainframe systems to the latest cloud-based or mobile solution can be part of the mix. Indeed, content may mutate between paper and digital incarnations in seemingly random and incomprehensible ways. Understanding your current technology, as well as the range of possibilities presented by new and developing technology, will lead you to informed decisions and valuable recommendations.

Know Your Constituency

People have the biggest and most varied role in the integration process. As such, they should be featured prominently within the design of your strategy. The population of your process constituency can be widely varied but vitally important. Each will approach things differently and have at times conflicting needs and objectives. Let these people point the way as you chart the course of your activities.

Use a Fluid Approach

Using documents, technology and people as three legs of your approach can help demystify the daunting task of integration and help ensure that your decisions and actions are tailored to your particular organization and set of requirements rather than pander to the latest trends and technology innovations. The framework, however, is not a linear process. The interaction between documents, technology and people is fluid and will overlap, so your integration activities should use a similarly fluid approach. In other words, as you learn more about your documents you will learn more about the technology used to produce them. As you become familiar with the people who have a stake in your documents you will begin to understand which documents matter most to your organization. As you learn more about your current capabilities you will be better able to ascertain how trends in technology might improve your process in the future.

Documents are created with technology to be used by people, so it makes sense that these three factors surface as guiding beacons for your integration efforts. Mapping the course of your plans with these perspectives will help direct the latitude of your activities and ensure that your design process is comprehensive yet manageable. As a result, your integration decisions will be more pointed, practical and profitable.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Workflow.

Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group. He is writer, podcaster and technology analyst, as well as the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He was named the No. 1 ECM Influencer to follow on Twitter.