The new manufacturing illness: IMDS

Are you suffering from IMDS (information management deficiency syndrome)? Beware, as Harald Rossman* reports, the more symptoms that an organisation manifests, the greater its inefficiencies.

Are you suffering from IMDS (information management deficiency syndrome)? Beware, as Harald Rossman* reports, the more symptoms that an organisation manifests, the greater its inefficiencies.

WITH all the information being created, shared and stored by manufacturers, problems inevitably arise in the managing of that information.

Whether driven by regulation, technology or customer demand, these problems have become so pervasive that an identifiable organisational malaise has taken hold across several different markets, one that we have labelled Information Management Deficiency Syndrome (IMDS).

This sounds like a sickness and it’s meant to, for two reasons: it affects the “health” of the organisation, and it has symptoms which managers – or even a “company doctor” – could spot.

Are you suffering from IMDS? The more symptoms that an organisation manifests, the greater its inefficiencies, the greater its indirect revenue loss, and the more it has to gain by getting on top of its business problems.

Ask yourself these questions:

How much time do staff – at least those we’d call “knowledge workers – spend on average searching for corporate information? If this time could be cut then staff would be employed in more productive actions rather than acting as file clerks.

Have you ever observed the confusion caused by staff working on different versions of the same document?

It’s a clear symptom of information management failure when staff invest time and resources into work that ultimately goes to waste.

Organisations can lose face in front of customers and easily lose business over the misunderstandings that can arise- especially if the document in question is a contract, for example.

Is your organisation dependent to any significant degree on paper processes – those in which paper moves from one department to another?

Examples might be to agree a business change, fulfil a service request, approve an application for a product or service, manage some kind of “case”, even just to pay an invoice.

If it is, you are likely to see processes that are slow, error prone, unreliable, the source of internal friction and unnecessary cost – and then frustratingly hard to measure, analyse and improve. To cap it all, you have a building mountain of past paperwork that you need to hold onto but have no better place to put it than…..more paper files!

Do you keep much of your information in shared folders, with uncontrolled or inconsistent access policies?

You are not alone. Surveys suggest that a high percentage of managers believe that information is so easy to steal, that it is impractical for employers to protect it.

Have you ever accidentally deleted or written over a key document?

Did you know that email has undisputedly become the number one business tool – if used improperly it can become your number one liability.

Are your staff replicating the same work over and over and over again?

At any given time, 3-5% of an organisations’ files are lost or misplaced, (Survey, Information Week).

And crucially, is paper consuming a bigger share of employee time and company real estate?

According to a survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers, a company’s paper filing doubles in size every five years. Physical paper storage used to be a very necessary backup solution. Today, the most pressing problem that paper dependent organisations will encounter is that of physical space to store it all.

In fact it is paper that is largely to blame for all this. According to studies by the University of California, Berkeley, new information created on paper within organisations is growing at an average of 36% per year.

All firms struggle to improve mechanical, paper-driven, labour-intensive processes, and the struggle continues to get more difficult as compliance and documentation means the creation of more and more documents and paper trails.

Solutions are available

Though the picture is somewhat depressing, there is no cause to be unduly pessimistic.

Solutions do exist to protect information from being read by unauthorised persons, from being copied, from taking up valuable space, from being lost or copied over, from being secretly altered, and from being surreptitiously removed from corporate filing systems.

Electronic document management systems are now so sophisticated and widely deployed that remaining paper dependent is no longer a sensible solution for large firms. With all information stored in a robust, central repository, information can be shared and protected across the organisation, internally and externally as required.

The value of having all staff on a single system should not be underestimated. If staff have to switch between several systems just to do their job they waste huge amounts of effort merely ‘interfacing’ with technology, instead of using it to boost their productivity.

All too often, staff across a company cannot access documents siloed in an email system kept by just one key person. Furthermore email generates 400,000 terabytes of new information every year. Management issues can only get more acute.

IMDS easily creeps up on many email-reliant companies. Suddenly a member of staff is away- documents are not found where they are expected and projects become avoidably delayed.

IMDS, then, can be recognised across many organisations, and in many ways both large and small it adversely affects business performance by slowing processes and costing money in inefficient activity. The problems it represents will undoubtedly increase as information levels increase and the demands companies make on that information expand and become more complex.

As touched on previously, IMDS is frustrating and costly but is not inevitable or unavoidable. The larger an organisation becomes and the more documents it relies on to properly function, the more it will reap benefits from an all encompassing solution that stores and manages access to up to date versions of documents from all software applications and stakeholder sources.

Senior management, if it recognises these symptoms, will have two very good reasons to address the problem: it is likely to be very significant, and it is directly addressable.

The goal is information being readily available, flowing to those who need it at the right time and staying secure throughout the whole lifecycle, and that goal is attainable and affordable right now.

Solving it will, similarly, require two key elements:

A partnership between IT and the main business process owners – without the committed, active, ongoing engagement of both, it will fail – without doubt

A commitment to a unified solution that, whilst it may accommodate the organisational silos that exist, will also provide a corporate wide resource, capable of supporting process across the value chain and intellectual capital to all whose access to it would benefit the organisation

And, with happy symmetry, two guiding principles will ensure its successful deployment:

It will be targeted at known business problems or, to use the optimist’s vocabulary, “opportunities”.

Those who deploy it must remember that the mission is to make it easier for people to work faster and more effectively, not to deploy clever new technology.

From the acorns of these simple thoughts the strong oak of competitive advantage can grow!

IMDS will effect every organisation at some time, to a greater or lesser degree. Mature businesses may have unchanged processes which did not evolve to match evolving business and customer needs.

Rapid growth businesses will find they have “cottage industry” systems and processes that have failed to scale as people teams got bigger and more dispersed.

The more symptoms that an organisation suffers from then the greater its inefficiencies, the greater its indirect revenue loss arising from these symptoms- and the more it has to gain by getting on top of it’s information management problems.

* Harald Rossman, Solutions Consultant, Open Text Corporation.