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Remote Worker Support

successful_manAccess to documents remains a barrier to many remote workers and travelers who rely on people in the office to retrieve files from file cabinets and fax or email those documents.

This inefficient approach ties up people chasing paper and sending and waiting for emails instead of helping customers and generating revenue.

Programs like Citrix’s GoToMyPC solve the issue by providing access to a PC from anywhere. Other programs like SharePoint allow access to shared files on a server. Yet these programs lack essential document management functionality that most businesses require to effectively create, manage, audit and retain business documents in a company-wide, controlled, remotely accessible filing structure.

Many companies today have employees that work exclusively or part-time from an office at home. These workers, as well as workers who travel need to be able to efficiently and securely access and work with documents and document information. Some businesses also have a need to permit their customers to access certain documents on a “self-service” basis. Companies who provide workers with secure access to documentation are more efficient, provide better customer service and are better able to control cost compared to traditional paper-based and scattered electronic file folder approaches.

According to key findings in a report by the Telework Research Network, “Forty-five percent of the US workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least part-time telework, with regular telecommuting growing by 61% between 2005 and 2009.” The way companies deal with remote workers is more than likely changing very rapidly. A number of business realities are behind the growth of the remote workforce. First and foremost is the fact that remote workers tend to be more productive than their office-bound counterparts. Of course, not every job can be done remotely. And even those people who do work remotely have found that they need to be in the office at least a couple of times a month to meet face-to-face with co-workers and build relationships. But that does not diminish the growing trend of people working remotely.

There are multiple factors involved with the transition to a remote work force:

  • Rising fuel and transportation costs – related cultural desire for greener business
  • Rising cost of facilities’ commercial space and infrastructure costs are increasing
  • Competition for workers’ ability to work remotely is a benefit to most prospective employees

Improved efficiency and reduced costs

With volatile fuel prices, many companies are implementing flexible work-from-home policies and providing the tools and technology to enable telecommuting.

Approaches to providing remote access to documents

Providing remote access to documents can be as simple as setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) and giving access to a server where documents are stored. Many companies already have this type of system in place today. Remote workers connect to a server and get to documents they need. Most companies start out by putting these documents into a filing structure using the Windows Explorer filing tree method.

For example, on the server drive there is a folder called ‘Clients’ which contains a folder for each client. Each client folder can contain subfolders and documents. The advantage to this approach is that it is an inexpensive way to get started with basic remote access and it relies on common and relatively inexpensive Microsoft technology. The downfalls to this approach are the lack of control and problematic scalability. Controlling the filing structure and how people go about adding and naming documents, even editing and deleting documents becomes a major challenge with this approach. And as the number of people using the system increases, this challenge grows. Without strong controls on the filing structure and user rights within the filing structure, the risk of losing or inadvertently deleting documents is very high.

Now extend this approach to document provisioning for customers. Many businesses store customer documentation that is occasionally required by the customer. The customer calls or emails to request certain documents. An employee retrieves these documents from a file cabinet or from a computer and faxes or scans and emails or sometimes even ships hard copies to the customer. What if a customer could access their documents on a “self-service” basis? The customer wins because they don’t have to wait to get what they need and the company wins twice. First, by saving on time spent providing this service to the customer and second, by providing better service to the customer. The challenge here is with security. How is a secure connection provided for the customer to retrieve documents?

The VPN approach is generally not acceptable in this case because essentially the customer gains access to the server and network. The best solution seems to lie in what is known as a Customer Document Portal. A portal provides a way for remote system users to access information. Specifically, a Document Management Portal enables remote workers and customers to access only the documents they have rights to access and typically permits View-Only capabilities. Portals are typically accessed via a web-browser over the internet so it is easy to support many remote people accessing a central document repository.

If the needs mentioned above align with the document strategy for your company, then the question is “where do we go from here?” The following information provides some of the key steps toward enabling remote access to documents for workers and customers.

Document Centralization

It is important for workers to have the ability to go to one “place” to work with the documents they need to do their job. This means that the company needs to find a way to centralize document storage into one or more electronic document repositories. Those repositories may be located on the internal network or may be hosted externally. The key here is to tear down the small document silos that exist and start moving toward a centralized storage approach. Some of these mini-silos include file cabinets, local hard drives, USB drives, shared drives and servers where different workgroups in the organization store documents.

Document Standardization

As a central repository is built and deployed, plan on providing remote access. It is also important to think about standardizing the way documents are named (indexed), their storage format, sensitivity levels, retention policies and whether or not they will be processed in some type of workflow. By pre-defining these variables in a template for each type of document, a standardized way of filing documents is provided. Templates also save time by creating document descriptions as documents are filed. This way naming conventions for documents will be applied programmatically by people who scan, create and file documents. Another significant advantage of using templates to name documents is realized every time workers search for and retrieve a document. People don’t have to guess how a file might have been named, because document naming has been standardized.

Beyond the standardization of naming, there are other document variables that should be standardized to better support both remote and on-site workers. Document format is most important to consider for scanned images. The most commonly used formats for images are TIF and PDF. Consideration should be given to the best format for use in the organization. Another variable is sensitivity. Who will have the right to view, export, or delete specific documents? A document’s sensitivity level should determine which users have those rights. Roles and rights management are discussed in mo

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