Brave New World of Capture

clip_image002Hopefully the salesmen who have tried to sell me Capture solutions over the years aren’t reading this blog; if any are, I’m sorry. I have been telling those guys for years that:

We don’t use forms and we really don’t have a need for hardware or software to scan into SharePoint.”

I lied. OK, I really didn’t lie, I just couldn’t properly imagine the truth – we do have a need for a scan-to-SharePoint. Well, actually we don’t but we will for a while.

Sorry for the confusing lead-up to this post, but it has been very confusing for us as well. Despite the fact that we are an insurance company, we really don’t use hardly any forms in our business process. What we do need a scanning solution for is backfilling some important document libraries. We could simply take the approach of having a network scanner, or even desktop scanners  (since we have so few insureds) but I don’t think that will work. What makes me say that? Well we’ve had desktop scanners and high-speed Multi-function copies on our network for the entire time that we’ve had SharePoint but very little content has been added to SharePoint via those devices. The reason for that result is something that Marc Anderson mentioned recently and Steve Weissman has been saying forever – simply having the technology scanners or SharePoint) in place is not enough.

If technology is not the answer, then why am I excited about the arrival of these MFC’s and the configuration of the scan-to-SharePoint options next week? The answer is technology is only part of the answer this time. This time, we are going to attempt to address the business process side of the equation and the human side of the business process.

The copiers that we just replaced were “capable” of scanning to SharePoint, but only if you gave the copier Full Control the SharePoint sites that you wanted to scan to. That meant that people could scan documents into libraries that they couldn’t actually reach from their desktop. We trust our employees, but that’s dumb. The dumbest part of that would occur when someone accidentally scanned a document to the wrong library – then they couldn’t even delete it. In addition, the copiers needed to be on the Internet so the vendor could access the copier for maintenance and meter readings. Call me silly, but that sounds like a potential security risk. With that feature never activated, we were left scanning to a network drive and getting documents in the form of “Scan_20080616121254.PDF” – very helpful. Of course, there were better capture options around when we bought those MFC’s but we didn’t need them; remember? We also couldn’t afford them – we still can’t.

What we can afford is the following combination of hardware, software, workflows, training and administrivia:

The MFC’s communicate with server-based software that can map user rights and privileges back to the menu system of the copier.

The MFC’s are capable of rendering the scanned documents as PDF or PDF/A into the desired library and they are capable of producing metadata from barcodes or other scanned artifacts.

We are capable of creating SharePoint Designer workflows to process the scanned documents upon arrival in the library. In some cases, we may have the scanner deliver documents to a staging library so that the workflow can perform other operations first. For example: our policies are what are known as “continuous form” policies, meaning that we renew by endorsement. In non-insurance speak, that means that each year, we have to add 10-12 pages to an existing document / PDF. These MFC’s in conjunction with software from HarePoint and Muhimbi can stitch the incoming PDFs onto the back or front of an existing PDF.

Once we can demonstrate these capabilities, we can ask department managers to accept the assignment, on behalf of their staff, to make backfilling a requirement during the lease-term of these copiers. If our Policy Management software can be made to print to PDF in those libraries, we can eliminate the need for the scan-to-SharePoint option with the next generation MFC’s (see, I didn’t lie).

By the way, just to prove that “we get it,” rather than make people login at the copier using an on-screen keyboard, we paid extra for a reader that can accept the proximity badges we use for our security system as input – how cool is that?

The copiers just arrived. The software has not been configured. The workflows haven’t been written and the people haven’t been trained. But we have engaged a training partner to help us get our coworkers up-to-speed and we are starting with “Content Management Fundamentals” – We are going to start at the beginning, cover all the bases and build solutions that will help us treat “Backfilling” like the important business process that it is in real life.

Shared, Public and Private

imageContinuing with the theme of “what may seem like an oversight might actually be a good thing,” our project brought us to the finer nuances of the SharePoint calendar this week. As I mentioned last week, we discovered that a calendar was a good way to represent the access paths to the content we are storing. This is because much of the content is associated with an event. Using the calendar not only lets us tag content with the event it belongs to, but also lets us answer questions like “what did we prepare for these guys last year?” The calendar works, but as is often the case with SharePoint, some people want more than they should have. In our case, the primary users were requesting a level of calendar integration with Exchange that we either couldn’t or didn’t want to provide. Note: I added the two options because it seems that if you need to do something that SharePoint doesn’t support out-of-the-box, there’s always a way to get it done. That’s usually a good thing, but not this time.

Calendars were perhaps the first collaboration communication mechanism. I’m not just talking about SharePoint; we have had public, community, team, company and project calendars since farmers first began planting crops based on the appearance of the night sky. While you might think that with today’s modern capabilities, we could all just have one calendar; that would be a disaster. In fact, it’s not even clear when we want to switch between the three types of calendars implied by the title.

Shared Calendars – These are a great boon to collaboration. People on teams can easily tell when they can and can’t schedule meetings, and they can build around other information. For example, we have an employee who normally telecommutes from Chicago. Seeing that he is in CT for a meeting helps me to schedule things that would benefit from an in-person meeting. I don’t think SharePoint is a good place for shared calendars. Although I’m sure there are ways to make the sharing work well, calendar sharing is a transactional process and it works better in Outlook.

Public Calendars – This is what we are building into our latest SharePoint solution, and it’s a perfect use of SharePoint. Public calendars tell the world when things are going to occur, and lots more. Ours is also letting people know who from our company is going to be attending, who is sponsoring the event, and it will have links to all the content related to the event. In the past, we have used them to store agendas and provide links to the supporting material for each topic. The site we are working on is a collection of document libraries, and the calendar is like the calendar on the bulletin board of your public library. It makes it easy for people to see what is going on in this area, without having to check multiple shared calendars.

Private Calendars – These calendars, as well as the private events people put on shared calendars should be, as the name suggests, private. I don’t need to know when someone’s colonoscopy is scheduled, the fact that they’re out of the office is good enough for me. I had my Outlook calendar published into my MySite under SharePoint 2007, but that connection lasted about a week. Outlook is much easier to connect to than SharePoint, and I can see my Outlook calendar anytime, anyplace and from any device that I can see SharePoint from. I don’t know a technical way to prevent it, but there should be a penalty for putting personal items in a SharePoint public calendar.

Those may all seem like obvious conclusions, but we have had requests to accommodate as well as attempts and successful violations of all the above. People, it seems, need to be made aware of the purpose of each calendar that they encounter. Here’s my standing guideline for SharePoint calendars.

Every item on this calendar relates to the content stored on this site!

Once again, as Steve Weissman loves to say: “it’s not technology, it’s psychology

CIP – Attained

clip_image002In a recent conversation on LinkedIn, a member raised the question of whether or not a person could have too many certifications. Her concern was that one might start to appear as a “jack-of-all-trades”, and I assume she was hinting at the disparaging follow-on to that phrase “…and master of none.” Well, I can’t be accused of having too many certifications; in fact I just received my very first. AIIM’s Certified Information Professional designation has been on my wish list since I first heard John Mancini mention it at an AIIM New England Chapter event in Concord, MA, but it remained elusive until last week. I took the exam on Monday and I am happy to report that I passed.

Why? – I have never put much stock in Certifications, mainly because I’ve seen so many bad practitioners who hold many, and because I have been privileged to work with some exemplary professionals who hold none. Of course, there are many, many people that fall between those extremes, but I’ve always felt that having the certification was at best an interesting side-note. The other thing that bothers me about most technology certifications is that they are tied to a specific technology. Information management – a.k.a. the stuff I’ve been doing throughout my career – has been merely supported by specific technologies. That’s what I like about the CIP; it’s an affirmation that the holder understands a broad body of knowledge that is agnostic of specific technologies. The CIP feels like the certification that represents the work that I do. I like the idea that there IS an accepted body of knowledge governing this industry and I feel good saying that I understand the fundamentals – in other words – I’m not making this stuff up.

Why now? – I guess there are two ways to answer this question. The cheeky way would be to point out that the CIP is relatively new, and I took the exam as soon as I could. There is some truth to that answer, but the second answer recognizes that it’s important to send the message that you’re never too old to learn, and it’s never too late to improve that which you have been doing “well enough” for years. My goal was actually broader than those answers. I hope that I can use this experience to help others understand that “information management” is not a technology, is not dependent on any one technology and handling information well is everyone’s job regardless of the technology in use.

Why AIIM? – Because that’s where the certification is. Sorry but this reminds me of an episode of M*A*S*H in which Hawkeye was told by a woman that there was a well for water about 2 miles away. He exclaimed “how can you do that?” (Walk 2 miles for water) and she replied: “Because that is where the water is” – Seriously though – why not AIIM? Who better to decide what a represents a broad look at information than the people who do that for a living? I’ve disclosed on numerous occasions that I’m an AIIM Professional Member, a member of the Board of the AIIM New England Chapter and, as of 1/1/13, a member of the Board of AIIM International. You are free to draw lines between me and AIIM and the CIP and this blog post, but make sure you put the arrowheads on the right end of those lines. I have chosen to become more involved with AIIM because I support the mission of the Association and I appreciate the quality of the products and services produced by the highly talented AIIM staff. This isn’t like “I got my MCSE Certification because my employer requires it.” This is “when my employer asked me to take on this responsibility, I turned to AIIM for education. Now, I am proud to be able to say that I meet their standard.” In fact, I’ve been writing this blog for over 4 years, and that sentiment has always been in my profile – go ahead and look, it’s in there.

Should you get your CIP? – I can’t answer that, but I will say that I think it is going to be a meaningful certificate. It seems to be gaining traction. The Department of Labor recognizes it, and some employers have started to list it as a qualification. The more important question is “do you understand why there are document management features in SharePoint?” “Do you understand the difference between Content Management and Records Management?” Actually there are plenty of questions like that; 100 will be on the exam. Maybe you should see for yourself if this is a certification you would like to have.