The Document Jungle

The world of the knowledge worker is document centric.  As a group, knowledge workers spend significant time creating, managing, reviewing, and editing documents.

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Danger lurks in the document jungle

[For the purposes of this discussion, we define a document as written communication created using word processing software, a typical example of which is Microsoft Word.]

A recent Basex survey of 300 knowledge workers revealed (not surprisingly) that 95% of them create and review documents on a regular basis.

The prevalence of word processing tools and e-mail have made it easy, some would say too easy, to send documents anywhere and everywhere for input from colleagues, business partners, customers, and suppliers.

A mere twenty years ago, document review was very different.  Fewer documents were being generated overall so there were fewer to review.  The review process was paper based, documents were typically stored in file cabinets, and, since making corrections and revisions often meant retyping a document, people only made important corrections and tried to get it right the first time around.

Today, the typical knowledge worker creates one to two documents a day comprised of one to two pages each.  He also receives three to five documents that are between three to five pages long for review each week.

Why the disparity in size and quantity between documents created and documents received?  People who create longer documents also create more of them and are more likely to send them out for review.  In addition, 22% of documents are not sent to anyone for review and a similar number are sent to only one colleague.

What happens when a document comes back to its creator with these edits and comments is also interesting since most documents come back with multiple edits, changes, and comments.

Despite the tools available both within word processing software and externally, the typical knowledge worker uses a fairly inefficient process to review documents, 60% of knowledge workers say they e-mail the documents as attachments to several reviewers at once.  46% report that they then compare edits and comments manually once they have received them back from reviewers.

As a result, almost 40% of knowledge workers say they miss edits and comments in the documents they get back from review.  Fewer than half of the knowledge workers surveyed say they get documents back in a timely fashion.  Another 25% of knowledge workers say they intentionally leave people out of the review process for fear of slowing it down.

All of these inefficiencies come with a significant cost to the bottom line.  Errors in documents that are overlooked can result in lost sales and lower profits.  The multiple hours a typical knowledge worker spends each week trying to manage the review process could be put to far better use.

The future for document review and revision is far from dismal.  Software companies ranging from start-ups to industry giants are tackling the problem.  Nordic River, a version management company based in Sweden, offers TextFlow, a browser-based tool that generates marked-up review copies of a document based on changes and comments made in individual versions of a document.   Microsoft, in the forthcoming Office 2010 suite, will introduce Co-authoring, a set of tools that allows for multiple users to edit a document at the same time.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

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