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Data accessibility: What you need when you need it

  1. Mobility of data

    ffox UKBF Regular Free Member

    Posts: 568 Likes: 92
    1 |

    Chris Watkins, director of ffox Software, provides help and support to a small number of businesses in the field of automated workflow. Here he looks at the mobility of data and what it means for your business.

    In my previous article, we discussed the need to store the mountains of data generated in the running of a business in a way that allows information to be accessed from any device and at any time.

    When a business stores customer details, sales history, materials lists and other data in the cloud it can be made available when decisions need to be made. No need to ask Joe or Mary for the latest figure, the figures are there… or are they?

    It’s one thing to store data in a mobile-friendly way, it’s quite another to grab that particular grain of information you need from the mountain of data available. In most situations where there is a ‘need to know’ that need is there in the moment. If it takes minutes to find the answer, the moment has passed and so has the opportunity.

    So, that elusive nugget of information needs to be made available in seconds, not minutes.

    Find by location vs. find by search

    Systems of cataloguing and indexing have been around since the 14th century. What these systems do is deliver a framework for users to place information in a location, and record in an index detail of what that information is about and the location of where the full text of the information is stored.

    Computer file storage is no different. You store files and documents in folders that are named specifically to reflect the folder contents. So, an Invoice for Joe Bloggs Inc would be stored in Account > Invoices > Joe Bloggs Inc

    Using Google Docs or OneDrive live, both of which are free, allows a user to store files in specific locations. Every letter that is sent to a customer, every invoice that is generated, every outbound email, can be stored in locations created by the user just for the purpose of storage and later retrieval.

    The Google view



    The Microsoft view

    The two versions are very similar to one another. Don’t forget that both are free and you can use both at the same time if you want to. However, a point to note is that they aren’t one hundred percent compatible in terms of document format. Create a letter in Google Docs and it may not look quite the same in Microsoft Word on-line.

    At this stage, we have discussed outbound documents and files only. But, that is never the whole story. We also have to look at capture and storage of inbound files and documents. This is quite simple when documents are received electronically and arrive as computer files. In this case we simply store them appropriately.

    What do we do though when we receive paper documents?

    The paper conundrum

    In order to store a complete record of all business communications and exchanges with the outside world we need to capture the content of paper documents.

    To start with a simple example, let’s look at motor vehicle fuel receipts. This is a common issue as in many businesses there are lots of them, they are all relatively small value, but cumulatively they represent a considerable cost to the business.

    Fuel receipts are normally recorded on an expense sheet and the actual paper receipt is filed away somewhere in the hope that if it is ever needed it will be found. This is often a vain hope.

    Even so, the act of fishing receipts out of a wallet, entering them into an expense sheet and then filing the paper securely is a manual time burden that can be avoided.

    Instead, you can scan or photograph the receipt and file it in an appropriate place in the cloud filing system for later retrieval. This can be done on-the-fly and takes no more time than the later recording of the purchase in the traditional way.

    Back in the office, letters and other posted paper documents can be scanned and filed in a similar fashion.

    This is simply using a well organised electronic filing system to save time, money and stress.

    Using search to help manage records

    The keen eyed reader will have noted from the above images of Google and Microsoft filing systems that both contain a Search box.

    No one has doubts the power of Google search engines and Microsoft are also very capable of account-based search across large amounts of file and document content.

    Earlier this article suggested a possible way to handle the storage of paper document images using scanning and photography. However, scans or photographs of paper documents are stored as images and the printed word on these are not searchable. This means that the only way of locating a photograph of a receipt is by knowing its location.

    This can be easily resolved. Simply insert the image into a Google Doc or Word Document and add a few typed words to describe what it is. This can be something like the date, the supplier, who the cost was incurred for if applicable, the registration of the vehicle, the amount of fuel and the cost. And, this is called meta-data (that is data about data).

    These typed words are searchable and for the effort of the few seconds of entry look what you have gained:
    1. You can search on date
    2. You can search by supplier to compare fuel costs per unit
    3. You can search cost heads to identify if there should be recharge to a customer
    4. You can search by vehicle
    5. You can search on quantities of fuel used
    6. You can search on fuel costs

    All of this has been achieved by smart use of an electronic filing system and has incurred no software costs.

    This example of the use of meta-data describes the additional information being embedded in the content of the document. The search functionality of both Google Docs and Microsoft Word Online is angled towards content search, so this is entirely appropriate.

    However, embedding meta-data in document content is only one of many ways in which meta-data can be used. A more detailed explanation can be found here.

  2. ISL Recruitment

    ISL Recruitment UKBF Contributor Free Member

    Posts: 40 Likes: 5
    Does anyone have experience of any of these very new automation tools, such as SharpSpring or DotMailer? We've used tools like MailChimp in the past, with some success, but this next generation of automation services seem to be in another league.

    Just wondering if they could be of benefit to us?
    Posted: Mar 27, 2017 By: ISL Recruitment Member since: Jan 10, 2017