Published in TDAN.com July 2000
Most organizations do not consider themselves to be in the document business. Nevertheless, documents are really a second venture for nearly all organizations. Without mounds of envelopes leaving
mailrooms daily, most corporations would cease to exist. Without the unsung forms of forgotten departmental functions, core business processes would halt faster than a mouse-click. Without
booklets, brochures, manuals, checks, statements, invoices, ID cards, and the rest, corporate business would simply see no business at all.
Documents are also the pavement of the information superhighway. Web pages, e-mail, electronic commerce — all rely on documents as the medium that translates information into action. Whether
printed on paper or viewed with a PC, documents are the chief mechanism that prompts people to act. Documents provide the impetus for customers to buy, borrow and pay, and are the foundation of
business revenue. Documents are the tools that help run a business every day and are the means by which business processes begin and end.
When it comes to conducting business the in post 20th century information age, organizations that have a document-centric focus will be more likely to have an advantage. And now that concerns over
Y2K have subsided, I believe that many firms will refocus their attention on designing a document strategy. A document strategy is imperative in order to mine the value of the information contained
within an enterprise, and reduce the cost and increase the effectiveness of corporate communication.
But designing a document strategy is not easy and as yet there has been no clear or available road map to guide strategic design efforts. Existing approaches tend to be either purely technical in
scope or primarily conceptual in nature. While jargon and theory can bring to light aspects that one must understand or consider when designing a strategy, they do not bring the would-be
implementer any closer to actually doing anything to put theory into practice. For many, the lament becomes, “I know a document strategy is important, but how do I develop one?”
Documents, Technology and People
One way to demystify the design of a document strategy is to focus your efforts on three specific areas of inquiry: Documents, Technology and People. These three elements are essentially the
“what, how and who” of your document strategy: what documents are important, how they are produced and who cares about how they perform in the process.
Documents are, naturally, the subject of your strategy. They are what you are aiming to improve. In order to increase the strategic value and tactical effectiveness of your documents, it stands to
reason that you should determine which ones 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? You don’t have to reengineer
every document, only the most essential.
Technology enables the document process. Computers, printers, databases, networks, and all their associated systems and programs are the technological means by which documents are created, produced
and processed. These systems can often combine into a confounding mix of hardware and software. What technology is used to produce your target documents? What are your current capabilities? What
trends in technology might influence or improve your process in the future? Gathering this information will provide a technical basis for your strategy and direct your recommendations regarding
equipment purchases, software upgrades and system changes.
In the end, people are the reason why documents are produced – without cavemen there would be no cave drawings; without people there would be no documents. It seems reasonable, therefore,
that the people who populate the document process in your organization are the best people to describe the process. Who are the people who make up your “document constituency” –
the people who create and produce your documents and care about how well they perform in the process? From authors to readers, to production personnel, technical guru’s and executive
stakeholders, each have specific, varied, and often unstated, interest in your document strategy. The needs and interests of your document constituency are important beacons to guide your strategy.
Issues to Consider
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 dampen the spirits of the most enthusiastic document strategist. Determining your most vital documents will provide a manageable target for your document
Technology is also pervasive and complex. Depending on your company, document processing can involve everything from legacy mainframe systems to the latest Web-enabled solution. Documents may
mutate between paper and digital incarnations in seemingly random and incomprehensible ways. Understanding your current document technology, as well as the range of possibilities presented by new
and developing technology, will lead you to informed decisions and valuable recommendations.
Perhaps most importantly, people have the biggest and most varied role in the document process. As such, they should be featured prominently within the design of your strategy. The population of
your document constituency – authors, readers, producers and stakeholders – are 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 strategy.
Use a Fluid Approach
Using this approach will help demystify the design of a document strategy, but this framework is not a linear process. The interaction between documents, technology and people is fluid and will
overlap, so the design of your strategy should be done using 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 a document strategy. Mapping the
course of your plans with these perspectives will help direct the latitude of your effort and ensure that your design process is comprehensive yet manageable. As a result, your directional
decisions will be more pointed, practical and profitable.