From finance to banking to healthcare to day care, industry regulatory compliance is part of the business of doing business. Part of compliance – a big part – is records management, and many of those records are in paper form. Paper has a long and noble history, but it is a very labor-intensive medium, especially when a compliance audit demands supporting documents for your operations. If your paper documents haven’t been converted into searchable e-documents by a document conversion expert, your mission-related productivity will suffer while your team rummages through files.
OCR adds searchability
Locating a specific piece of information, even if a document has been scanned and filed in an electronic archive, is an arduous and time-consuming task unless the document was scanned via OCR (optical character reader) software. A standard PDF conversion is not readily searchable; to make a PDF searchable, it must be re-scanned through OCR software. Often the OCR software must be custom-formatted to understand certain areas within the document (account numbers, signatures, etc.), a task requiring expertise that may not be part of an in-house administrator’s skill set.
Metadata categorizes and adds history
Auditors may also inquire about a document’s origins: when a document was created, who created it, who scanned it and when, what kind of document it is, and whether it has any related documents or transactions. Tracking down a document’s history is quite time-consuming if there is no metadata. Most documents created on a computer have at least some form of metadata tags (date, file type, and creator, at a minimum), but scanned documents have almost no metadata tags. Metadata tagging can be speeded up through automation, but like OCR scanning, expert customization is needed to make the automation effective and accurate.
Clearly, in any regulated business, it makes good sense to build a searchable, categorized document database that supports compliance. But it’s complicated. And a less-than-expertly created database is unreliable, and often unnecessarily expensive. Follow the advice of Inc. Magazine to find a skilled, experienced vendor to take your enterprise through the document conversion process:
- Talk to a vendor’s former employees
- Talk to a vendor’s customers who have provided testimonials
- Look at employee reviews
- Think like a journalist doing investigative research
With a well-designed and compliant digital document database in place, you can spend your time making your business productive and profitable.
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We all got the memo about the value of big data. Digital consolidation makes an organization’s masses of information more useful, and more available, than having silos of electronic files and archived paper documents. Big data promises to let you find all the documents related to a legal case with one click on your keyboard, or compare patient outcomes with one query, or determine exactly why a product is selling well in Peoria – fast, easy answers that make our businesses more productive and more profitable.
The promise is proving to be true in many ways. However, the raw data often arrives via multiple channels ranging from paper documents to emails to websites. The quantity of data trying to enter the data capture funnel is threatening to overwhelm the people who have the task of inputting and harnessing the data.
Without input automation, data capture is very labor intensive. One example: The New York Times reports that physicians are spending more than 50% of their time entering data into electronic medical records (EMR’s). There’s no question that EMR’s are a vital part of healthcare management. Nevertheless, data entry is not the most productive use of doctors’ time.
John Mancini, president and CEO of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) recommends automating as much of the data input as possible, using intelligent technology that can handle data from any source, in any format. He lists the five steps to streamlining the movement of data from its origin through to the knowledge workers downstream.
- Ingestion – be prepared for data arriving from many sources
- Extraction – use multiple extraction techniques to get the greatest amount of data
- Classification – identify the type of data and direct it toward the end users
- Validation – check the data against standards and/or other validated data
- Connection – make the data accessible to the systems and knowledge workers who need it to make the business run better
Document conversion is a big part of data capture. When data exists only on paper, it is isolated from the big-data system. It is invisible to end users who don’t know it exists. As an informational asset, it has very little value.
But once a document is ingested and converted into a digital format, intelligent data can be extracted from it. It suddenly gains value, as knowledge workers apply the data in making better business decisions. It becomes a true business asset.
A properly planned and executed document conversion project automates much of the ingestion process, eliminating the labor-intensive bottleneck that so often stymies organizations’ efforts to reap the benefits of big data. Bottlenecks are bad enough on city streets; why have them in your business?
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Information is the foundation of the practice of law. The vast accumulated history of law transactions is what gives legal services its value. Applying all that information is what lawyers do. Managing the information falls on the shoulders of law librarians, often the unsung heroes of law practices.
That lack of recognition is beginning to change, however. Some firms feel their librarians’ work is so important that they have created a C-level position for it: Chief Knowledge Officer. And with enormous responsibility come equally large challenges. Beyond managing the current physical and electronic contents of a firm’s library, a CKO must consider the firm’s future information needs, forecasting how the firm’s strategic plan is going to shape the library’s contents.
This in turn influences the library’s spatial needs, and a CKO is fundamentally involved in analyzing space usage now and in the future. A library’s spatial needs presents unique challenges:
- Organizing/Categorizing – Is the practice’s library organized into cases, codes, and comments, or is it organized by category, perhaps on different floors: family law, intellectual property law, trusts? Organization dictates the quantity and arrangement of shelving and filing, and a mobile high-density shelving system will maximize capacity and reduce the storage footprint.
- Archiving– Librarians have a strong hoarding tendency, and law librarians are no exception. Case documents need a home for years to come, and may need to be accessed again in the future. How large, and how quickly, an archive will grow over time determines the amount of storage that will be needed down the road. An expandable storage system gives librarians the flexibility to respond to both anticipated and unexpected archiving needs.
- Tracking – Paper documents have a way of migrating from desk to desk, and disappearing under stacks of other paper documents. When there are potentially hundreds of documents comprising a single case, it’s vital to know the whereabouts of each document. CKO’s can take a page from the retail and warehouse world, where automated inventory systems use RFID to enumerate and track assets. Specialized paper with embedded RFID fibers, and RFID tags for books and files, enable librarians to know how many documents they have, and where they are at any time.
- Scanning – Despite the demand for hard copies in the legal profession, e-documents are a burgeoning part of the CKO’s responsibility. A Hybrid Tracking/Content Management system allows library staff to create digital content from scanning projects, on an ad hoc or even an as-needed basis. For very active filing systems, back file scanning conversions let firms quickly and cost-effectively scan significant amounts of paper files. A Hybrid Tracking/Content Management solution then allows the introduction of scanned files directly back to the system that managed them in physical form. And with e-documents come physical media storage needs – drives and tapes must be stored and tracked just like paper. As with paper documents, a mobile shelving system allows for expanded storage capacity within a restricted footprint.
CKO’s and their staff have a lot of information to sift through, organize and manage. Just in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), over 350,000 cases were filed in U.S. Federal courts alone. When it’s time to consider a space plan, CKO’s don’t have the bandwidth to add storage products to their research tasks. They can hand off that work to a qualified storage consultant who will make recommendations suited to the law firm’s one-of-a-kind space utilization needs.
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It happens every year around this time – the season for end-of-year tax deductions. The Section 179 tax rule gives businesses an opportunity to write off as much as $500,000 in new and used equipment costs. Equipment or software purchased and put into service by December 31st is deducted from your business’s gross income – it’s as simple as that. And depreciation boosts the total tax reduction even more.
The tax experts at Section179.org provide in-depth information on this valuable tax strategy, and the calculator from Crest Capital shows the savings.
The key phrase in Section 179 is “put into service.” With only a month left in 2016, many kinds of business equipment simply can’t be delivered and put into service before the end of the year. The good news: There’s a wide variety of high density storage, RFID systems, and modular furnishings on a quick-order program. Talk to your tax advisor, then talk to your local storage professional to find out which new and efficient storage systems can help your business qualify for this attractive deduction. Don’t waste a minute!
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We reported on this trend a few months ago, and it seems to be gaining traction everywhere: Law offices are downsizing. The vast acreage of partners’ offices is being reduced to something more human-scale, and associates may spend as much time in shared collaborative spaces as in small private offices. Why the trend, and how are practice managers coping with the reduced storage space?
Writing in National Real Estate Investor, Robert Carr points to market economics that encourage the downsizing trend.
- Mergers – when two firms combine their operations, they can achieve economies of scale in their practice infrastructure, including libraries and staff.
- Fees – downward pressure from competitors such as online legal services is forcing many firms to reduce fees by lowering overhead.
- Connectivity – many tasks can be performed at home offices or via distributed support staff, reducing the need for full-time office space and on-site staff.
But when a law office is jumping on the downsizing bandwagon, its storage needs don’t magically downsize too. In fact, some practice managers find that there are more documents to file, and more back-up hard drives to be stored, than ever before. Many of them are expanding their storage capacity with high density storage systems. These mobile filing systems condense large quantities of paper or objects into a small storage footprint, right on the downsizing trend. If you’re a practice manager considering smaller offices, contact a storage professional for advice on high density storage.
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“Lean” has been a manufacturing buzz word for decades. Law firms, however, have been slow to adopt this proven management technique, but in the past few years, some savvy practice managers have been introducing the lean philosophy to their law firms. Lisa Pansini, writing in LegalProductivity.com, recommends putting these three lean ideas into practice to improve efficiency, increase output, and reduce the cost of repetitive actions.
- Assume nothing – You may think you know what your clients value, but if you don’t ask them first, you’ll find yourself wasting time on services your clients didn’t ask for or need.
- Track your projects – Productivity increases exponentially when you focus on the task at hand, and a kanban board organized into to-do, in-process, and finished tasks keeps you on target.
- Speak up – The firm’s culture should encourage suggestions that challenge the status quo and lead to continuous improvement.
By their very nature, law firms are conservative and tend to cling to old ways of doing things. But as a wise teacher once said, “Change is slow. Change is inevitable.” Taking small, consistent steps toward lean management will ultimately yield greater productivity.
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