How well we manage documents and information has a great deal to do with how well we manage our businesses and organizations. And as the line between traditional printed documents and modern digital information continues to become less and less distinct, the challenge of designing effective document strategies has become even more difficult. The evolving role of documents, the complications of technology, and changing business demands all conspire to make the task seem overwhelming.

All organizations are in the document business

Most organizations do not consider themselves to be in the document business. Nevertheless, documents are really a second venture for nearly all organizations. Whether on paper or in pixels, documents drive the fundamental functions of every organization. Pick any process and you can bet that documents are at the heart of the activity. So it makes sense that we design workflow and processes around those key documents that drive the business with the aim to improve and bolster things like cost control, efficiency, customer service and compliance.

Using a document strategy model

Once you decide to implement a document strategy, the question becomes: How do I go about developing one? The answer doesn’t lie in the newest technology or in advanced systems. What is needed most is a process to guide the development of your strategy so that it is meaningful, practical and ensures worthwhile and lasting results.

  When it comes to a document strategy, no one size fits all.

Characteristics of the process

When it comes to a document strategy, no one size fits all. How can you move forward? Consider the following characteristics as a foundation to help demystify the design of a strategy tailored to your particular organization and set of requirements.

Comprehensive, yet manageable. The process of designing a document strategy must be comprehensive enough to ensure that nothing important is overlooked, but also manageable enough to avoid the risk of a project so large and slow that nothing ever gets done. Strike a balance by focusing efforts on those areas that are the most important and the most likely to bring about worthwhile improvement. Consider the “80/20” rule: it is likely that 80 percent of improvements can be found by concentrating on 20 percent of the overall scope.

Linked to company goals. Ultimately, the real test of a document strategy will be its effect on organizational performance. Does your strategy decrease operating costs and increase opportunities for revenue? Does it increase customer satisfaction? Does it serve executive vision? For a document strategy to have meaningful benefit and gain executive support it must bring about benefit and improvement in those areas that are of fundamental importance to the firm.

Clearly demonstrated measurements. The adage “you can improve only that which you can measure” holds true. Measurements that help validate your efforts bring advantages and benefits, indicate where changes and adjustments are needed, and ensure that your strategy is producing results. Once your plan has been put into place, measurements help demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the results of the improvement efforts and justify continued investment and support.

Addresses corporate culture. One very influential factor that is often overlooked is the influence of corporate culture on the design and outcome of a document strategy. Internal politics, lack of support and resistance to change are all difficult factors. The questions are: How do you sell your document strategy? How will people react to the changes you propose? Will the culture of your organization help your efforts or hinder your progress?

Facilitates implementation and evaluates results. The best strategies are of little value if they are not executed effectively. For a document strategy to be of practical value it must facilitate specific actions to achieve specific goals. Once those actions are put into place, evaluation and re-measurement are vital because the success of your strategy is recognized only if it can be demonstrated.

The Document Strategy Model

With these basic characteristics in mind, consider the Document Strategy Model as one approach to the design of a document strategy. This model is a useful guide and has five elements as a framework.

The Document Strategy Model is not intended to be linear. The overlapping circles of the model demonstrate that the steps will often overlap. You might find that you don’t need to follow every step in detail or there are times when you must retrace your steps back to square one. The framework can and should be adapted to suit your particular situation, organization or requirement. The model helps to provide focus, avoid pitfalls and save valuable time and energy.

Baseline assessment

The process starts with a baseline assessment that establishes a baseline about the direction of your strategy and the hard numbers that measure its success. A baseline assessment also explores the most pressing problems that challenge the organization and the most advantageous opportunities for improvement. Ask questions like:

  • What needs must be satisfied? What pressures and constraints must be managed?
  • What are the most important measures of your performance?
  • What are your most important objectives?
  • What are the initiatives underway to achieve those goals?

A baseline assessment also explores the most pressing problems that challenge the organization and the most advantageous opportunities for improvement.

Documents, technology and people

Documents are created with technology to be used by people, so it makes sense that these three factors surface as guiding beacons for a document strategy. You can keep your efforts manageable by viewing them through three basic frames of reference: Documents are the subject of your strategy, technology is how you produce them, and people are why they exist. Ask questions like:

  • Which documents are most vital to the success of the organization?
  • What technology is used to create them?
  • Who are the people who use and care about these documents?

Chart a meaningful course by compiling a list of target documents, assessing how those documents are produced, and understanding the needs of the people who use and care about them.

Problems and solutions

It is impossible to determine appropriate solutions until you understand and define the problems that exist. Do this by comparing how the current process performs versus the desired state. Once you have defined the problems that exist you will be in a position to select the best solutions to solve those problems and improve the processes. Ask questions like:

  • How does the document process really perform?
  • How should the process perform in order to meet the needs and requirements?
  • What problems prevent the process from performing adequately, and why do they exist?
  • How will you solve the problems you discover and make improvements to the process?
  • What is the best solution among the many available?

Selling your strategy and managing change

Your ability to engender support for your strategy and manage change will significantly influence your document strategy. It is important to explore the roles people play in a successful change initiative and consider the natural and emotional reactions that people have during times of change. Ask questions like:

  • How can you “sell” your document strategy to those who must approve and sponsor it?
  • How will you get the support of your co-workers?
  • How will people react to change?
  • What is the prevailing culture of your organization?
  • How will certain cultural characteristics influence the success of your strategy?

Project planning and implementation

Project planning and implementation is where all of your assessment, analysis and planning must come together. Do so using a project plan that is clearly understood by everyone involved and guides your efforts to a successful implementation. Ask questions like:

  • How will you implement your strategy? Who must do what, how, and when?
  • What must you deliver in order to be successful?
  • What are the risks associated with your plans, and how will you mitigate those risks?
  • How will you assess and demonstrate your success?

Moving forward

A document strategy is a topic that is often talked about, but less often achieved. While a great many technologies and systems exist, the fact is that designing an effective strategy remains a complicated and indistinct undertaking that requires more than simply installing a new software or buying a new machine. Documents are varied, technology is complex, and people play the biggest and most diverse role in the document process. As a result, it is important to devise a clear roadmap to guide the design of an effective plan.

Use these fundamental characteristics and the five-phase model as a foundation for the development of your document strategy. Chart your directions using a clear understanding of the current process, what opportunities exist for improvement, and specific measures to gauge your effort and success. Look for partners and providers with the right mix of capability, expertise and vision to make the most of your document strategy.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel.

is a guest contributor and the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He is the managing director of Craine Communications Group.