Thursday, October 25, 2012

Managing Paper in the Enterprise

Today, we observe the World Paper-Free Day to remind ourselves that we all are on a mission to get rid of the paper waste in the enterprise. I am a strong proponent of reducing the use of paper, even if I sometimes struggle. I read most of my books and magazines on my iPad, I use tools such as Evernote to take notes, and I have pretty much never any cash on me. If you look around my office, you’d probably score me as an 8 out of 10 on being paper-free except for my bookcase full of books. I really like books...
Many of our customers, however, struggle going paper-free. Indeed, flipping the switch from one day to another might be a little daunting. In reality, this transition has to be made easy to be realistic - this is more often a paper evolution than a revolution. That reminds me of some of the scenarios where our customers manage paper in the enterprise today:

1. Inbound
This is the most obvious situation where our customers deal with paper. This is the front-line in the war on paper. Many of our customers still receive paper-based information via snail mail and fax. They use our capture software to scan the paper documents right in the mailroom and to automatically extract as much information out of the scans as possible via optical character recognition (OCR) and data extraction which recognizes important data in the document (i.e. address, date, PO number etc.) to extract the metadata. Same thing happens with faxes that are captured using our fax software where the same OCR technique can be applied.

2. Outbound
At the tail end of many business processes is a new piece of content that has been produced to communicate to the stakeholders. This communication comes in two forms:
- Publishing - which is a form of communication using the same content asset(s) for a given target audience (more than one person). Publishing can occur online, on a portal, via mobile devices, email, etc. but it can also happen using paper - for example as a book or a marketing brochure.
- Customer Communication Management (also known as Output Management) which is a communication that has been personalized for a single individual. An example of such communication can be a utility bill which contains data about your monthly charges but it can also include useful, personalized tips on how to lower your next bill. This type of communication can again occur via a multi-channel delivery, one of which is often paper.

3. Physical Records
Managing records involves often the capability to manage physical records as well. The physical records - usually pieces of paper, but sometimes also objects such as police evidence - need to be kept the same way as electronic records, except that they don’t fit into a digital content repository. With physical records, the cost of storage is a major issue and records disposition usually means freeing up physical space on a shelf in a warehouse where those boxes of physical records are stored. The physical warehouse space is a major cost factor and many customers are approaching us today with projects to convert existing physical records stores into electronic records en masse.

4. Paper Processes
Yes, I know that the main idea of business process management (BPM) is to route information quickly from step to step and task to task - which is ideally done in an electronic form. But a few of our customers have to live with the paper-based process for now and yet they find inefficiencies in using BPM to track the status of each process instance. The workers complete their tasks on paper and then they “check off” the task in the BPM system to alert the next person that a task is coming. I know, I know...this is not the kind of BPM I usually recommend to our customers but I’ve seen it happen. Actually, this approach still delivers many of the BPM benefits. The manager can monitor the status of all the workers and processes, the processes can be optimized, the bottlenecks can be identified and the work teams can be re-aligned as needed. Those are some really cool benefits of BPM. Still, the plan is usually to add the capture software to get rid of paper altogether!

These are some of the use cases where our customers deal with paper - often as an intermediate step on the way to a paper-free enterprise. The paper-free vision is a great one but we will be probably dealing with paper for a long time. Any step that moves us in the right direction deserves a credit.

Here is to a Paper-Free World! 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

These Filler Words

We marketers live by making up names - names of markets, products, and technologies. In the English language, names are easily created by chaining words together. New terms can be created very easily: mountain standard time (MST), automated teller machine (ATM), and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are just a few examples of how nouns and adjectives can be strung together in English to create smart sounding new terms and names. Acronyms such as NBC, CIA, NFL, LAX, JFK, SAT, BTW, CEO, and USA are part of our everyday language.
Technology marketing often resembles the Alphabet Soup. (Source)
The problem is that technology marketers like to fall in love with three letter acronyms. Consequently, the terms and names they coin have to consist of three words. Random Access Memory, Content Distribution Network, Subscriber Identity Module are just a few examples of such three word names. Consequently, we have three letter acronyms such as RAM, CDN, SIM that dominate our technology language. We love it so much that we even have an acronym for the term ‘three letter acronym’: TLA.

It seems that sometimes we even add an unnecessary word just to make a name consist of three words. For example, I think that Enterprise Content Management could do without the word ‘enterprise’. Since there is no Consumer Content Management (unless you count Picasa and iTunes), we could easily get by with just Content Management. Similarly, I don’t see much difference between Business Process Management and just Process Management. Indeed, the words ‘enterprise’ and ‘business’ are often being added without much reason. We say ‘business ethics’ where just ‘ethics’ would do perfectly fine.

But there are even worst transgressions of this kind. When I hear Advanced Case Management, I have to chuckle. ‘Advanced’ as opposed to Retarded Case Management? Or, how about Extended Data Processing? ‘Extended’ as opposed to Limited Data Processing? And then, there is the omnipresent word ‘Management’. Marketing Automation Management? Hmm... Marketing Automation would probably do. Customer Experience Management? I vote for Customer Experience!

Don’t take me wrong, I am not saying that all three letter names are wrong. Supply Chain Management is a perfectly good term and none of the three words can be dropped. Similarly, there is a difference between Asset Management and Digital Asset Management. There is definitely a place for three and even four letter names. But what I am suggesting is that we should examine the meaning before we get carried away by the language rhythm, melody, or whatever it is that makes us construct sometimes ridiculously sounding names.

Yet, there is hope. I see examples of new industry terms that consist of just two or even one word. Cloud Computing, Virtualization, Analytics - here are some very new industry terms we have settled on without messing them up. I’m sure that we could have coined Advanced Virtualization Management or Extended Information Analytics but we didn’t. Simplicity and logic have prevailed.

I know, it’s too late to reverse the course of history. The 10-year old terms such as Enterprise Content Management or Business Process Management will hardly be changed at this point. Although, if you follow my blog, I usually write just ‘content management’. Yes, with lower case characters because back in school I learned that only proper names should be capitalized. (Sigh...) Anyway, let’s create names and terms for new technologies that are simple, easily understandable, and free of redundant words!

Here is to good marketing!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Abstinence is not a Solution

Facebook just announced 1 billion active users last week. One BILLION is an incredible number. There is hardly any other product in the world that has 1 billion customers. OK, maybe Coca-Cola but I don’t drink coke, I do Facebook...
We all know that Facebook and other social media revolutionized the social interactions between people. Social media enabled us to be much more connected with friends and create relationships with new people. Facebook makes things possible and easy that were not possible before. The announcement, however, prompted me to think about a neglected factoid: There are 7 billion people on the planet and if only 1 billion are on Facebook, what the heck are the other 6 billion doing?

Yes, sure, among those 6 billion are many babies and other folks who are not using any computer. But still, there must be at least 3 billion people that have so far resisted Facebook. WHY???

I have many such Facebook abstinents among my friends and no amount of encouragement has moved the needle so far. Usually, they tell me that they don’t want to waste their time on frivolous conversations about what people had for dinner tonight. Another common argument is the narcissistic nature of many of the Facebook posts - it is more about advertising yourself than any other cause. Yet, the most frequent argument against Facebook is security and privacy. Disclosing any kind of information in such public forum will ultimately compromise your privacy and security. Won’t it?

Well, I have some news for you, dear Facebook abstinents. One of the greatest security threats that you can expose yourself to is not being on Facebook. Surprised? I’m serious!

If you don’t claim your own identity on Facebook (and other social sites), you expose yourself to someone else doing it in your name. It is really easy today to join Facebook as John Smith with a validated email address on Gmail or Yahoo Mail. The bad guys can establish a pretty decent profile with pictures, engage with your colleagues from remote locations, and collect a lot of personal data about you from others. Before you know it, they can pretend to be you. This is social engineering in the social media world.

With Facebook Connect, it gets even scarier. Facebook Connect is increasingly the preferred method of authentication to many other sites and services. Now, the perpetrator who has stolen your identity on Facebook gets access to many other sites on the Internet - as you!

The moral of the story is very simple. As much as a you may not be a fan of Facebook, it is important to establish your own identity online. Because if you don’t do it, someone else might do it for you...