Friday, January 23, 2009

Simplifying Compliance with ECM and Metadata

Let’s face it, not everyone remembers to put all their tools away when they finish a project. Even with good intentions, I’ll leave a paint brush in the garage sink or forget a trowel in the garden. Nothing tragic really. Others aren’t usually impacted and I’m generally not putting my family at risk. OK – you could argue about the rusty trowel, but the risks associated with disorganization or protocol failure in business are a whole different story.

I suspect that the many thousands of hours spent by businesses on compliance training last year didn’t always achieve the desired results. The fact is, taking the extra steps to record how and what we’ve just done each time we perform a business task generally seems like its getting in the way of doing the job itself. If compliance procedures can’t be automated, or at least neatly integrated into business processes, even the most well-meaning employee can easily forget.

Now I know, that some readers are probably thinking, “Rules are rules. If employees can’t follow-them, then they should be punished…” OK, but is that really how you want to manage your business? Do you think that’s going to improve productivity or motivate your team to succeed? That’s why I was excited to learn about a new way to automate how emails are scanned, categorized and stored, so that employees don’t have to waste time scrutinizing messages attempting to stay compliant at work.

The solution consists of two key components, a couple customizations and a new Microsoft Office plug-in. The first component is a basic ECM system (Xythos EDMS) configured with a staging folder to capture email messages and attachments. The Office plug-in allows users to direct email to be saved in a staging folder or simply have all messages (and attachments) automatically stored there. Each message and file attachment is captured as a record inside the staging directory.

The second component captured my attention because it’s the part that can help organizations relieve employees from the duty of classifying their email and remembering to declare required items as official records. This task can now be performed by a product called Mindserver Categorization Engine, from Recommind. When records are added to the Xythos staging folder, Xythos sends a file link to Recommind causing it to parse the file contents and generate an XML data file, which it returns to Xythos. Xythos then reads the XML results and moves the record into its appropriate record category based on the content parsing results performed by Recommind.

Those of you familiar with natural language parsing algorithms understand that no system is perfect, although over time they generally improve. It’s possible that trained records managers may still need to review the contents of the Xythos records categories to ensure the system performs as expected. However, the real value delivered with this solution is its ability to substantially reduce the burden upon employees. Once they learn they can batch or automate the process of records declaration they’ll be more likely to perform the task consistently. That’s a hallmark of a successful compliance solution.

Regular readers of this blog may also recognize the importance that metadata plays in this solution as well. Just as Google geographic positioning data helps me better organize my photos, Recommind ‘s XML metadata is helping automate the process of records classification. Data inside messages and file attachments, as well as metadata like message sender and subject each influence the recommended outcome. While these categorization methods may not be perfect, I suspect that the more metadata is included in the decision-making process the more likely desired results will be attained.

So, how is your organization leveraging metadata to manage your content? Have you found ways to use this data to reduce business operating costs or risk? Please let me know.

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