Published in TDAN.com July 2001
Documents play a significant role in nearly every business strategy or initiative. Therefore, documents should be given the same attention in strategic planning as other important aspects of
business such as marketing, finance, human resources and information technology. A document-centric focus that is sensibly linked to organizational objectives can mean the difference between the
success and failure of other important business plans. It is no longer enough for organizations to plan and implement strategies in isolation from the Document. The challenge, as Peter Senge puts
it, is to “think systemically and act holistically,” and organizations must adopt a more inclusive view of documents by recognizing them as a vehicle to bring alignment and success to their
entire agenda of business strategies and objectives. Otherwise, the lack of this type of strategic alignment will give rise to problems that will affect the overall profitability of the firm.
Consider these three major strategies within an organization:
- Corporate strategy
- Information Technology (IT) strategy
- Document strategy
These strategies are highly interdependent and important in the overall success of any enterprise. Their misalignment can result in increased costs, decreased profits and unsatisfied customers.
Since before the Industrial Age, the bottom-line corporate objective has been to make a profit. But making a profit is no longer the only aspect of doing business that is important. Today,
organizations must also take into account additional factors of how they do business. As a result of the Total Quality Management movement, many organizations now regard the satisfaction of their
customers as the measure of success that will ultimately determine their profitability. Others have learned the importance of efficient and effective workflow, and that efficiency is not always
guaranteed by the purchase of the latest technology. Forward-looking firms also recognize that information is a vital asset and key to finding real return from investments in technology, facilities
While profit will remain paramount, these additional aspects of corporate strategy play a crucial role in determining the proper alignment between information technology and document strategies.
In the 1970s and 1980s, information technology (IT) strategies were single minded. They focused on simply gathering, processing and outputting data. With the advent of high-speed laser printers,
however, data processing professionals unwittingly entered the world of document processing – a world hitherto inhabited only by typesetters, graphic artists and pressmen. A gap developed between
the advancement of information technology and the cosmetic appearance of corporate documents. Even today, countless documents continue to be issued that look scarcely different than if they had
been typed on a typewriter.
How could this happen in light of the tremendous advancements in printer technology? The answer lies in the misalignment between corporate, IT, and document strategies. Until only recently, IT
objectives could be summed simply: produce the right data at the right time. The effectiveness of the documents produced was not a concern. Does this mean that data processing professionals were
insensitive to the needs of the organization? No. Effective documents simply were not part of the paradigm of the computer department. This is perfectly reasonable given the traditional IT
perspective, but who is looking things from a document perspective?
What single aspect of business is critical to profitability yet “owned” by no one? The answer is: the Document. After all, most organizations have an IT director, but how many have a “document
director?” The result is a proliferation of documents that do not effectively foster corporate objectives. How often do you receive a statement that doesn’t make sense, a bill that is inaccurate
or misleading, or a letter that is confusing? How often do you find yourself searching for information in multiple places, using duplicate forms or sifting through obsolete files? When you open
your mail, are you made to feel that your patronage is important or the products that you buy are of good quality? The trouble is that no one has responsibility for what these documents look like
or how effectively they communicate.
To see the consequences of this situation, imagine an overall corporate strategy that includes these three basic elements:
- Increase Revenue
- Decrease Costs
- Increase Customer Satisfaction
If documents going to external customers are daunting or confusing, and communication is unclear, what will be the effect on these basic corporate objectives? One result is that customers may
either be late with their payments or not pay at all. The result: revenue will decrease. Instead of paying, customers may call the company for clarification. The result: costs will increase.
Eventually, customers may become frustrated and angry about the way the company does business. The result: satisfaction will decrease. What will be seen in the end is a total reversal of the
fundamental corporate objectives.
Consider the consequences when looking at internal processes. In this case, corporate strategy may be:
- Decrease Effort
- Increase Productivity
- Reduce Labor (headcount)
If internal documents are misleading, hard to find, outdated or inaccurate, what will be the effect on work processes? Workers will make mistakes, waste time looking for needed information and
require additional supervision. The result: more effort will be required. Instead of being more productive, employees will be continually re-working their tasks. The result: productivity will
decrease. Eventually, additional staff will be needed to maintain the business. The result: headcount will increase. This is, again, a total reversal of corporate objectives.
In most organizations today the IT department continues to focus solely on processing data and delivering output. Even trendy business-to-business and Web-based initiatives tend to focus more on
technology than on communication. When viewed from a document perspective, however, the negative consequences to a corporation can be clearly seen. Most corporate strategies, however, have
traditionally overlooked documents as a factor that drives daily business. As a result, vital documents may perform exactly opposite from their intended purpose. What is needed is a document
strategy to properly align corporate and IT strategies around the key objectives of the firm.
Alignment of Strategies
The essential questions are: What is your corporate strategy and how can your document strategy support it? What are the IT strategies needed to enable both?
Like any fundamental business strategy, a document strategy must be addressed at several levels. As far as customers are concerned, the factors that determine satisfaction and perceived quality are
most apparent through external documents. As far as workers are concerned, routine interdepartmental documents enable efficient workflow and provide “corporate knowledge.” Both of these aspects
are of fundamental importance to corporate profitability.
How we manage documents has a great deal to do with how we manage business. A document strategy can help make documents part of the success of a business rather than one of the problems. Yet, only
25 percent of companies have a document strategy. “Designing a Document Strategy” describes a much-needed method for putting one into place.