Document Management for the Enterprise: Principles, Techniques and Applications

by Michael J. D. Sutton

This book review was written by Rick Barry and aimed at chief information officers and other information science and technology professionals. It was originally published in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science, Vol. 49, No. 1, January 1998 and is republished here with the kind permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. A different review of this book, also by Rick Barry, that was directed toward archivists and records managers appeared in the American Archivist, Summer, 1996.

This book will be a wake-up call for many senior executives, CIOs and IT managers, not to mention attorneys and auditors, who have yet to be stung in a courtroom by not fully appreciating the importance of, and requirements for, recordkeeping functionality in enterprise document management systems (EDMS).

Most EDMS products today are seriously lacking in such functionality. Developers of these products take their cues largely from CIOs and IT specialist in the organizations that constitute the marketplace for their products. It thus seems safe to assume those groups lack appreciation of recordkeeping and the risks of ignoring recordkeeping aspects of modern systems that produce electronic documents, the large majority of which constitute organizational records and evidence of the organization’s business.

Apart from being an excellent planning guide for operational managers and IT technicians contemplating or already in the midst of developing or procuring an EDMS, his book will also go a long way toward closing the knowledge gap in the area of document management in an increasingly electronic environment. The book is an 11 course meal on EDMS topics normally regarded as the fare of chief information officers or heads of IT. However, what separates this book from many others in the EDMS genre is that the author has integrated considerable archives and records management (ARM) coverage throughout. I use the term EDMS genre advisedly as searches of the reasonably current offerings of books with titles that include the words <document> and <management> appear to produce few when one excludes several that are in the main limited to document imaging systems. I was not able to find any others among these with coverage of recordkeeping functional requirements and related issues.

CIOs who recognize that EDM systems are producing discoverable evidence that may place the organization, including system managers at serious legal risk will be certain to ensure that ARM specialists will be well represented in their systems requirements and development teams. These professionals are now being invited to the table by some CIOs and are struggling to understand the information management and technology (IM&T) perspective and technical jargon, and to frame ARM needs and concerns in language that their IM&T counterparts will both understand and support. At the same time, IM&T specialists lack any foundation in recordkeeping, a form of document management that is more rigorous than that to which they are accustomed. This book offers an excellent guide for both groups, and for executives to help them catch up with the growing trend in the modern workplace toward the use of enterprise-wide knowledge- and information-based technologies that bring with them profound changes in the manner in which records are created and managed.

Archives represent records of continuing or permanent value to the organization and typically constitute around 5% of total records. The remainder must be systematically destroyed according to schedules agreed by the ARM function and operational managers responsible for the business areas that produce the records. Yet reality for most organizations is that it will not be practical to digitize the majority of information assets currently in paper form. Moreover, and often because of explicit IT storage administration policies, a growing number of electronic records are being routinely destroyed after 30-60 days with no regard for their continuing value to the organization and often before they should be according to established record retention schedules. The result is often that records that could be more efficiently maintained in electronic form, including email, are being printed and sent to paper file centers, significantly increasing the number of new paper records and adding to the subsequent conversion to microform or scan them back into digital form at considerable unnecessary cost to the organization. Thus, for most organizations there will be a continuing need to manage information stored in non-digital form and for these resources to be carefully linked to digital holdings managed in EDM systems.

The information management and information technology coverage is excellent. Texts on information management and technology often address only information technology. The author has provided an excellent balance between information management and information technology coverage. There is good coverage of de facto, de jure, and what Sutton refers to as de jour information standards. This coverage is more explanatory and descriptive than prescriptive. The IT coverage does not, however, include discussions of intranets, extranets and WWW technologies and related opportunities and risks, including opportunities to use this technology to deliver multimedia recordkeeping services. This is chiefly due to the fact that the emergence of intranets/extranets has taken off sharply since the book was written, as new as it is. This is also a comment on the growing frailties of traditional publishing techniques when dealing with technological subjects: a book like this is written in 1995, finalized and published in 1996 and reviewed in 1997 (if one is fortunate given the very long lead time for most professional journals). Nonetheless, the planning and implementation lessons found in the book are still very relevant.

The records management sections include excellent coverage of such topics as distinguishing between document and records management, controlled vocabulary/thesauri and legal issues – all topics that will be hotly debated between IM&T and ARM professionals in any interdisciplinary EDMS development team ( but maybe not otherwise). Apart from clearly identified recordkeeping chapters/sections, including on functional requirements for recordkeeping, Sutton offers considerable insights for the IM&T specialist on the recordkeeping aspects of meta-data/document-profiles/data-dictionaries, conversion of legacy documents, OCR/ICR, multi-media and version control. Of interest to both IM&T and ARM professionals is considerable coverage of other topics of growing concern, such as e-mail, business systems analysis/process management, workflow systems, cost/benefits analysis and interdisciplinary team building. The author clearly understands that EDMS is not purely a technical endeavor.

The book is spiced with excellent asides from the author’s consulting experiences. For example, providing best-practice lessons gained only through painful experiences: "Training should be delayed until one week before a business unit is set to convert. As a general rule, you can expect 50 to 75% of training to be forgotten within two or three weeks, especially if it is not applied. The last thing an organization wants is to train the whole staff when it will be five months before some trainees ever see the product." (p.311) This type of practical advice provides a good balance between the author’s theoretical and practical underpinnings and gives the reader a sense of his well deserved credibility.

Even the title of the book demonstrates the author’s insights into the treatment of information as an organizational asset. Though for a niche professional community it stands for ‘engineering document management systems’, normally the abbreviation ‘EDMS’ means ‘electronic document management system’. Although managing electronic documents alone is a daunting task to begin with, modern organizations – particularly those with a knowledge-management mandate – must manage all kinds of documents, or documentation to embrace the broadest concept of documentary objects, not just electronic documents. They must do that on a global organizational or enterprise level. Sutton makes an excellent contribution, setting the stage for this kind of global information management thinking by giving to EDMS the meaning ‘enterprise document management system’. He does this not just in title but in content as well in his commentary on conceptual, logical and physical architectures for EDMS.

Although one of its greatest strengths is its well crafted integration of records management considerations into the broader EDMS fabric, CIOs should not assume that the ARM professionals in their own organizations will agree with everything the book has to say about recordkeeping. That should not be a put-off however as there are both legitimate professional differences of opinion and differences in organizational needs with some of these topics. Moreover, it will be difficult to find other document management texts that seriously address these subjects at all. What is important is that the author provides an excellent check-list of topics for organizations developing EDM systems.

The author is fast on the draw when it comes to pointing out that ARM professionals have seen their role as passive custodian and do not keep up with important technological and workpattern changes. These are fair criticisms that are by now familiar to most ARM professionals. He is not so fast, however, in pointing out that senior executives, CIOs and IM&T professionals – even attorneys – also elevate organizational risk factors by making major technological decisions and investments without due regard for the recordkeeping and litigation risks associated with modern EDMS; or that EDMS specialists, including vendors producing these products, continue to take their functional requirements cues from RFP specifications written by IM&T specialists who have little if any understanding of recordkeeping requirements, including some that are dictated by laws or regulatory warrants. He does not point out that developers of EDMS remain largely unaware of the field of diplomatics (the study of documents and their relationships to their creators and underlying acts) and its implications for EDMS. Nor does he challenge all these groups for sharing in the risks that such ignorance has brought to many organizations.

Sutton uses the term life cycle on several levels – document, process, EDMS engineering and EDMS project. At the engineering level, the Sutton Enterprise Document Engineering Life-Cycle (SEDE) stipulates that "All documents...must be managed according to a document life-cycle – an object management technique for tracking and controlling document objects...stages are [to] define, analyze, originate, safeguard, promulgate, and retire...Value added at each phase is a prerequisite for triggering the next phase. The phases are sequential and temporal, so they have limited life spans." (p.42)

Similarly, some professionals will view the approach as too ‘docu-centered’ for recordkeeping, especially at time when archivists are increasingly turning to macro-appraisal and scheduling – at the system application or business process levels. Ironically, modern EDMS are likely to make macro-appraisal feasible. This may be more a matter of interpretation. Sutton espouses both a docu-centered and a the macro-view when he says: "Documents are the heart and soul of an organization. They are the lifeblood of business processes. A document is a process in motion, while a process is a document not yet at rest." (p.34) Document management is described as "the process of overseeing an enterprise’s official business transactions, decision-making records, and transitory documents of importance." (p.9)

IM&T and ARM professionals engaged in EDMS planning and implementation should concern themselves with the EDMS centrality issue. This is not simply a turf matter. It is a serious architectural question over which IM&T professional and librarians on the one hand, and ARM professionals on the other, may find themselves at odds in the EDMS design project. The former groups are typically accustomed to seeing documents and books as largely independent objects (‘composite objects’ in today’s multimedia world of compound and complex documents), and to addressing relationships within documents – parts (in the SGML sense), embedded objects, versions, etc. By contrast, ARM requirements necessitate their being seen as existing in the context of other documents and bodies of documents. Where ARM specialists place emphasis on archival description, information managers may be satisfied with minimal metadata contained in document profiles. Where ARM specialists are heavily vested in document classification by file schemes, records series/groups and index terms, information managers rely more on a combination of fuzzy/full-text search, thesauri and good document profiles as a less constraining, more robust approach that is better geared to modern organizational structures, processes and realities. Where IM&T specialists tend to regard the declining storage costs as a way to eliminate some recordkeeping problems by just keeping everything indefinitely, ARM professionals are concerned about the long-term ability of organizations to navigate through very massive textbases to find needed records, several decades hence. Moreover, they are likely to be more aware of legal problems that organizations have run into by keeping certain classes of records longer than was necessary.

Perhaps ARM professional need to be more open to the new possibilities afforded by modern technology. They should not simply react to new technology, but learn how to put it to work for the organization’s legitimate recordkeeping needs. Similarly, EDMS designers should more fully recognize the serious risks they open their organizations to by not properly accommodating those needs. Senior managers responsible for core business aims and processes need to better appreciate their own roles in ensuring greater integration of the document and records management interests of their organizations – a major challenge to those engaged in EDMS projects. This book will serve all of these groups well in these essential undertakings.

Document Management for the Enterprise: Principles, Techniques and Applications. By Michael J. D. Sutton. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996, 369 pp. Paperback. $44.95. ISBN: 0471147192.

Reviewer: Richard E. Barry.