I first wrote about the Digital Mailroom in 2000 as a means to increase the Time Value of information by capturing images of the mail center's inbound paper mail stream and electronically delivering the captured information to users across the enterprise regardless of their geographic work location. Although implementation is gathering steam, most solutions currently focus on impacting mail center operations and delivering image-based documents to back-end processing systems. Now, reading the trades and observing the industry, I believe uncertainties still prevail about Digital Mail's obvious advantages to further leverage user productivity, reduce operational risk and manage electronically stored information (ESI) in an unstructured information environment to meet increasing compliance and e-discovery realities. Going beyond delivery', let's examine the gaps and their closure.

GAP: Organizational Velocity
The mail center's traditional definition of physical delivery does not contribute to organizational velocity because departments and users must often perform sorting, opening and decision-making tasks before actionable work can be performed. Consequently, delivery must be redefined as point of information usability. Mail centers adopting an Electronic Slingshot approach will more than offset digitizing process time by precisely delivering information to users in the more definite context of their business cultures, priorities, and workflows regardless of their work location geography. Now, mail centers will more directly contribute to organizational cost reduction, productivity and responsiveness.

GAP: Information Value
Currently, the traditional delivery of physical mail provides no opportunity for the organization to gather knowledge of the information characteristics contained inside its physical mail. This is a very significant missed opportunity to amplify information value! An array of artificial intelligence, classification and content extraction technologies can be used to extract and maintain information characteristics that may be readily mined to, for example, proactively track and report who received what information when' and trends, threats and other indicators that could adversely affect the organization.

GAP: Proactive Discovery
Responding to subpoenas, information requests and internal audits is time-consuming and expensive; particularly when searching through information in physical form. Instead, once converted, digital mail content will join the ESI stream to become readily accessible and searchable by designated users with appropriate permissions. Early Case Assessment tools can provide simplified and efficient method to cull matter related information.

Going Forward
The achievement of these advantages will come at a price. First, CEO/CLO/CIO executives will have to form a team that can define and reach a future vision consensus as well as validate its qualitative/quantitative results. Furthermore, the role of the mail center will have to be re-engineered to become involved in the information user community. Finally, significant study of users and how they use information in work processes will be required. Even if implemented incrementally, these investments will reap significant return on investment to accelerate the velocity of business and increase the proactive value of ESI.

David Genereaux is a consultant specializing in Digital Mailroom, Cultural Change and Workflow Management. He may be reached at dwg123@charter.net.