By Cary F. McGovern
Selecting the right tools for your business may be the most important decision you make. Why are tools so important and what makes the selection process critical? This article will discuss the importance of tools as they relate to records-management services.
The Importance of Tool Selection
Being a consultant for nearly 25 years, I have collected many stories about tools. Selecting the right tool for any job may cut the cost in half. My favorite story has to do with my father-in-law. Albin was a machinist all of his life, and his garage was filled with tools. One Saturday morning, after he had passed away, the men of the family met in his garage and each selected a tool, one at a time. After a couple of hours, we had selected a number of tools, but there were still perhaps 50 left on the floor. None of us knew what they were used for. Some were odd shaped and others really strange looking. I can tell you Albin not only knew what they were for but how to use them. Without the right tool, any job is more difficult. Sure, you may be able to unscrew a screw with a knife, but it can be very difficult.
I recently did an assessment of a file room at a major regional bank that had more than 200,000 files. The bank had just purchased an automated file-tracking system for more than $60,000, including the software and subsequent conversion of data to the system. The bank did not, however, have enough money in its budget to buy portable barcode readers. As a result, its employees have to type barcodes into a single location code, "the file room." The results are that files are still missing. My analysis showed that although the company had a great tool, it was being used improperly. The analogy I presented to the division manager was that the company had purchased a pneumatic nail gun, but was hammering nails with its handle. Clearly they had the right tool, but didn't understand its function.
I personally encounter poor tool selection and improper use all the time in my business. Sometimes it is because of overly cautious practices, other times it is purely from ignorance. Tools abound in records management. Its tools include start-up planning, business practices, marketing strategy, software and hardware, outsourcing services and strategic alliances. Let's discuss each of these.
Records management is quite different from self-storage. Although there is no better fit than records management in a self-storage facility, a very different plan is required. Where self-storage is typified by passivity, records management is typified by activity. Planning your business with the right tools is imperative. The feasibility study, strategic business plan and market assessment are all key to success.
Since self-storage requires minimal management intervention and records management requires close attention to detail, internal controls and more effective business practices change the staffing qualifications and requirements. Attention to detail becomes the most important factor. Managing your resources is key to the success of your records-management business.
Know your market. Know what you want to be. Position yourself and develop a strategy to reach your goals. Two important marketing tools are software products: prospecting tools, such as Imine BrowserTM and sales-management tools, such as Act 2000TM or GoldmineTM. Imine Browser automatically collects data from existing Internet Yellow Pages listings and sells for less than $100 (visit www.iminebrowser.com). Sales-management software effectively coordinates the sales cycle. These products are widely available at software stores and over the Internet for about $150.
Software and Hardware
Although there are many inventory-control software products available on the market, some are very inexpensive. Typically, you get what you pay for. At a recent tradeshow, a customer informed me he had purchased a product I would never recommend. He said he was satisfied with it. I suggested his satisfaction would not last long. There are only a few software products that are worth their salt in records-center operations. Eventually, the others will leave you behind. I could recount story after story about companies being left behind by poorly managed software vendors. If your product does not include Internet capabilities, you have relinquished great leverage with your customers and cost yourself a great deal more labor in the future. Labor is an ongoing cost where software is not.
The greatest tool developed for business over the last 20 years has to do with outsourcing non-core business functions. Careful planning of your facility will allow you to outsource activities to others who offer those services as their core business. In many cases, outsourcing a function enables you to have more control and reduce cost at the same time. This tool must be utilized wisely, however, or you may find yourself in the same analogy as the pnuematic nail gun mentioned earlier.
Smart business people know what business they are in. If an activity is not "core" to your business, find the right resource partner to provide that set of expertise or services. The best example I know of is a general contractor. He will employ sub-contractors for plumbing, electrical, framing, mechanical, etc. Why? Because he is good at project management and his framer is good at framing. Since records management is a discipline more than 50 years old, you can find content experts to do just about anything. Each is experienced in what he does. Know what you are good at but when you can, hire those who are better than you at various tasks.
Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and the principal of File Managers Inc., a records-management consulting firm specializing in implementation assistance and training for new, commercial records-center start-ups, as well as marketing support for existing records centers. For more information, call 877.FILEMAN; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.