Enterprise IT: From paper trail to online footprint

This week’s readings discussed at length content management and information design. With the rapid changes and growth in the use of digital technologies, both of these areas have changed drastically. These changes include:

  • How we store information (paper vs electronic)
  • How we design information (memo vs email vs social media messages)
  • How we collect information ( paper surveys or comment cards vs tracking IP addresses)
  • How we interact with users of the information (one-way transaction vs synchronous engagement)

Going back to my internship during college in the early 2000s, I realize now that I was involved with an early form of capturing data electronically. I worked for a global heater company that had endless numbers of user manuals for all its brands of heaters, even some they no longer made, but still serviced. One of my first projects as an intern was to scan the manuals into PDF form and save them to a folder on the shared server. It was tedious work, but, looking back, I can see how beneficial it was for them to have me do this. At the very least, they wouldn’t lose those user manuals if the building started on fire!

Today, I work for a company that operates a specialty retail pharmacy that is required to keep paper records for seven years. Despite the 10+ years that have gone by, it feels like a step backwards in the world of enterprise IT. However, with all the changes in healthcare (most notably EMR/EHR implementation at hospitals and clinics), I wonder how long it will be until other healthcare facilities (like a pharmacy or nursing home) will be required to go digital with their records as well.

It’s not just the pharmacy that can be dubbed a tree killer at our company. Our #1 marketing activity to bring in new business is direct mailings. Most recently was a postcard mailing to over 1000 allergists on the East Coast. The postcard was to advertise a webinar so the information delivery will be online and paperless, but any follow-ups to those that participate will very likely involve mailing paper documents, including a 100+ page manual that outlines the specific allergy modality that we promote. Is this a waste of paper? I think you have to weigh the pros and cons. This manual is not something that we mass distribute; it only gets sent to those truly interested in our services. If we were to allow access to it online, would we be able to prevent its dissemination to those we don’t want to have it, like competitors?

I am happy to report that our company has made at least a few efforts to reduce the amount of paper we use – the customer portal that I mentioned in last week’s post is one of them. One of our goals for implementing this website was to give clients access to a number of the patient education materials that we normally print and mail to them. We actually just had to review which ones we needed to reprint as our inventory was getting low on a number of them. We ended up deciding not to reprint a number of them. We want customers to get them online instead.

portal image

Customer portal
Rott, L. (2013). Snipped from portal website.

This online portal acts as more than just a way to reduce paper cost – it also acts as a type of content management system as it gives us a place to organize,  store and communally update a large amount of information for clients, but it also allows us to track usage and activities on the admin side, which I think this week’s readings showed us is just as important as the storage and organization of the content. From Moore (2011), one step he recommended for B2B enterprises (like the one I work for), is to “mine community content to extract insights to enhance the business” (p. 7). With our portal site, I can see when users log in and track what areas they are visiting most often. This can be helpful for updates to the site because we can see what people use and like. It’s not as sophisticated as how Google tracks our online footprint, but it works for us.

Speaking of content management, I also work with an online customer relationship management system called Salesforce CRM, which some of you may be familiar with. Salesforce is a fully customizable, on-demand program that I have been able to mold into what the company needs to track sales and customer growth. It truly embodies the definition of content management. It gives us a turnkey solution for “handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted, and styled for delivery” (Hart-Davidson, 2010, p. 130).

Salesforce CRM Rott, L. (2012). Created with SnagIt.

Salesforce CRM
Rott, L. (2012). Created with SnagIt.

From a generic framework, I added custom fields, inserted formulas and stages to predict closes on new sales, built new pages and sections, and created reports. We now use Salesforce to not only record all basic account information, but also as a reminder system to stay on top of daily, weekly and monthly activities. It also helps us monitor marketing campaigns and the progress of specific growth strategies. Additionally, it has document storage capabilities and allows us to build email and letter templates to create a uniform method of communication delivery. Finally, we have been able to build both basic and in-depth reports to help with sales analysis and communications. For example, we can run reports to see how many leads are in the sales pipeline, or create mailing lists to customers that have signed up to receive our quarterly e-newsletters.

Essentially, this program allows us to mine data on current and prospective customers, stay on top of our communications to these audiences, and plan future communications, whether it is a mailing, email blast or marketing push. It is the backbone of the account management, sales and marketing departments.

Like one of the CIOs said in the Moore (2011) article, “We are grappling with this” (p. 6). In some areas, my company has transitioned into the new era of enterprise IT quite well, but, in others, we are still figuring it out. I long for the company to be more technologically adept, but, in the grand scheme of things, I think we’ve made a lot of great strides, especially considering the small size of the corporation. It also made me feel better to read how many companies are struggling with this transition, so we are not alone. Overall, I think that as long as we keep trying to move in the right direction, we’ll be okay.

Posted on October 26, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. evelynmartens13

    Hi Lori:

    Nice discussion! I’m kind of jealous reading your post because I feel like I need some hands-on training for some of this material I’m reading about. I wish I could have actually seen a demonstration of you building new pages, adding custom fields, etc. We just transitioned to Drupal here at my school, so I’m thinking I might be able to talk someone here into giving me an inside look at what our IT folks and “content manager” are doing.

    Your paper vs. paperless dilemma is interesting. Your hard copy manual could, of course, get copied and distributed inappropriately, too, but the liklihood of abuse seems much greater electronically, so I see the dilemma.

    I was doing some copyediting for Taylor and Frances books up until a couple of years ago, and they would send me the manuscript hard copy rather than electronically. I wonder if that’s still the case.

  2. Hi Evelyn,
    You are absolutely right that our hard copy manual could also get copied. Of course, it would take an extremely motivated individual to do so since it’s over 100 pages! But, hey, those people are out there.

    That example aside, let’s look at some of the other paper materials we provide, most notably, the patient educational materials we recently put on our customer portal. These include a lot of one-page handouts. We avoided providing these as electronic versions for the longest time (i.e. emailing them to people) not just because we were worried about people forwarding them to others (like our competitors), but because those other people could manipulate the documents but still leave our brand on them. We wanted to protect our brand and prevent misinformation.

    We’ve actually had competitors steal our information despite our efforts, so I think we are less worried about this now. It’s going to happen regardless, so we just need to be prepared when it does. For instance, this competitor that I just mentioned stole our language that we use on our website and our sales brochures. I mean, it was word-for-word. We sent them a cease-and-desist type letter, but, we also ended up updating our brand and language to make sure we were clearly differentiated from them. We needed to update our materials anyway, so they just gave us the push we needed!

  3. I work for a moderately sized company, and while we are supposed to be paperless, we send out a decent amount of printed letters to our customers. I don’t see this changing for a long time because the majority of the customers in my business segment are senior citizens. Many of them don’t have an email address, so printed mail is really the best option to reach them. We don’t have a 7 year rule for keeping paper records. I think we operate on a 60 day rule, and everything is scanned and archived. Everything we receive has to be worked within about 2 weeks, so 60 days is a long enough span if the paper copy needs to be retrieved and reviewed. I can’t even imagine the warehouses we would need to house all of those documents if we needed to keep everything for 7 years.

  1. Pingback: It always comes back to your audience | Communication Strategies for Emerging Media

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