Fig 1. The components of CAESARS
Communications Administration Execution Storage and Retrieval System (CAESARS)
The Starting Point
- If you ask a software company to design a computerised Document Management System, they will typically respond by providing an application, the first priority of which, is the storage and retrieval of documents. As an added bonus they may provide for the storage of both digital and hardcopy documents. In the case of hardcopy documents, they will usually be scanned and, as a further bonus, they may include an optical character recognition system that will read the document and then store into a database all of the instances of common nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and common phrases. In that manner, when doing a search, the various scanned documents containing those words or phrases will be displayed in a prioritised list and, by clicking on one of the items displayed in that list, the user will be presented with the image of the scanned document.
- But a document management system could do a lot more and, in doing this, the system would achieve large gains in productivity in the office. Such a system is called CAESARS. But CAESARS is actually more than just a document management system.
- As a starting point, it comprehends all forms of communication; written and verbal. Next, it doesn't just store and retrieve documents, it actually helps communicators with communication. Lastly, whilst helping people to communicate, it measures their productivity; accounting fully for the time they have expended and, where appropriate, allotting that time to legitimate activities within they organisation to which they belong. This enables the cost of all projects and activities to be accurately calculated; something that is generally not possible in most Government Departments of the present day!
- CAESARS stands for Communications, Administration, Execution, Storage and Retrieval System. The title itself is instructive:
Communications. CAESARS deals with both written and verbal communictions. In order to achieve this, as well as handling written corresondence in hardcopy and digital form, the Voice Communications Systems of CAESARS have the ability to record verbal communications through the use of a low-cost, PC-based telephone exchange system that offers Voice over IP to the users desktop.
Administration. The term, "Administration" in the global sense relates to all actions that are necessary to control the creation, promulgation and storage of all communications. Included in this is the scheduling of workload for staff involved in creating and responding to communications of all natures. Through the use of a job control module CAESARS provides the means by which staff productivity and staff utilisation can be determined and monitored. This provides a useful means of informing management about matters relating to staff development and training as well manning requirements.
Execution. Execution refers to the creation of written correspondence. One of CAESARS key functions is to assist authors in the creation of documents in a format that accords with the writing standards and conventions mandated by the particular organisation or company CAESARS serves. In this manner, CAESARS provides a powerful means by which the productivity of staff can be significantly increased and accuracy of information transmission improved.
Storage. Storage involves storing all communications so as to facilitate their retrieval and guard against their accidental loss. CAESARS allows the specification of a standard registry schema which is represented by a series of drop down lists. In this manner, a communication is classified using these lists when a document is initially created or when engaging in a verbal communication. Communications are thus filed consistently across an entire organisation. When a communication is being stored, there is the provision for keywords to be specified. In the case of documents, proper nouns and phrases are captured as well. Within the limits of the need to maintain confidentiality and/or security of certain records, CAESARS typically will achieve this through the use of backups and archives, in some instances, in separate physical locations.
Retrieval. The ease with which documents can be retrieved is dependent to a large extent on the standards used to store the documents in the first instance. Through the use of a standard filing schema, communications are stored consistently and this facilitates their later retrieval. Where the cataloguing of a communication has not allowed a user to locate it, the system will allow searching storage folders through the use of keywords, phrases or individual words.
The Structure of CAESARS
- The prime objectives of CAESARS are:
- To reduce the effort necessary for one party to communicate with another.
- To reduce the time that is necessary to train a person to be competent in a staff role.
- To ensure communications comply with specified standards which, in turn, are designed to:
- minimise the chances of ambiguous meaning or erroneous transmission of information, and
- facilitate the comprehension of the information by the recipient by presenting it in an easy to read, standard format.
- To monitor matters related to the time that is necessary for staff to perform their daily tasks to an acceptable standard and from that be able to determine:
- staff productivity,
- training requirements, and
- personnel requirements.
- To enable scheduling of staff work and the proper loading of staff so that the workload, is as much as possible, equally shared and managed in a controlled fashion. In this manner, deadlines have a greater chance of being met and staff are less stressed, resulting in work of a higher quality and less attrition of personnel for health reasons.
Workshop Job Control Analogy
Seemingly different software applications actually often have a lot in common. For example, an accounting system requires a list of all customers and suppliers. For reasons of program administration, this list (often called a "Card File" because in a manual system these details were kept on cards held in a box next to the accountant) will also include the names of all users and will, for reasons of personal convenience, also contain personal contacts and the names of associates that do not fall neatly into being either customer or supplier. A Strata Plan management system will, like an accounting system, also have a comprehensive Card File as will, of course, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Indeed, most business applications will require a card file.
In a similar vein, any application that has as one of its objectives the improvement of productivity in the workplace has to, somehow, measure the productivity of the workforce, the value of that output and the resources being consumed in producing that output. In this way, it is possible to determine if the enterprise is making a profit. Often resources in, and product out, can be resolved down to a monetary value. This means that any business software intent on improving productivity in the workplace will have an accounting system. Central to an accounting system is a ledger and a Chart of Accounts; the latter being necessary so that receipts and expenditures can be categorised and then grouped for the purposes of analysis.
- There is little point in just measuring input and resultant output for its own sake. Management seeks to minimise the former and maximise the latter. This means that there is a need to have a software module that controls process. That's where a job control system comes in. Every enterprise that is based on there being inputs resulting in a desired output can be viewed in the same context as a workshop. It does not require a great leap of imagination to draw a parallel between a workshop and a hospital casualty ward, for example, but it seems that, given the lack of such a facility in the clerical sphere, it may be stretching the imagination of bureaucrats to draw the same simile between a workshop and an office that processes paperwork and produces policy. But this is indeed the case. It does follow that the same software, employed in controlling workshop operations, can, with comparatively little adaptation, be used for controlling an office.
Viewing an Office as a Workshop
Workshops make and repair things. They do this in accordance with procedures that not only specify how a job is to be performed but the various standards that must be satisfied in doing the job. For example, to repair a tyre, the instruction not only describes the processes to be followed to effect the change but also the torque necessary to tighten the wheel nuts. Central to controlling work in a workshop is the concept of a hierarchy of project, jobs and tasks. In some instances, projects are "standing projects", that is, they exist for as long as the workshop's role remains unchanged. Other projects are transitory. (Sometimes projects are referred to as a manufacturing or repair program.) Within projects there are jobs. Planning a job involves determining all the resources needed to carry out the job and that is achieved by listing all of the tasks and then determining the manpower, facilities, special tools, spare parts, materials, technical documentation and other services that will be necessary to complete the task. Scheduling the job involves determining its priority amongst all of the other jobs and then allocating the resources, identified by the planning phase, to the tasks such that they are available in a manner that is not disruptive to the work process.
- Let's now draw a top level simile between a workshop and an office. An office will create paper documents, often Memoranda, Minutes, Offical Letters, Demi-official letters, Discussion papers, Briefs, Reports, and so on. They will do this in accordance with agreed writing conventions. This is the equivalent to manufacturing a new item in a workshop. Consider now the act of conducting an investigation into, for example, an accident. An investigation is akin to a project. The action of producing a document for an investigation is that same as executing a job that is part of a project. Likewise, an interview could classed as a job and the conduct of the interview plus the creation of a record of the interview and subsequent papers building on that record would be tasks associated with the job of going through the process of an intervew. Similarly, if an office is asked to comment on and amend a document, that is the same as repairing an equipment.
- When a person writes a paper that consumes labour, this expenditure should be recorded. Similarly, when a person is asked to read and comment on a paper, that too, is a job and the labour and resources consumed should be recorded and billed against whatever project is appropriate. By adopting this practice, the true cost of projects is known. At present these activities are simply, often unfairly, spread across all of the projects with which an office is associated. This, in turn, could cause management to conclude a particular venture is unprofitable when, in fact, it is simply being dragged down by other projects that are more interesting to the workforce or more politically attractive.
A substantial component of a communications administration, execution, storage and retrieval system is therefore concerned with job control. The creation of communications, their cataloguing and storage and their possible later retrieval are subsets of this system of job control.
The Broad Types of Communication
CAESARS deliberately uses the word "Communications", not "Correspondence". That is because CAESARS seeks to facilitate all forms of communication, not just written. Communications broadly take two forms, written and verbal. Thanks to the "digital revolution" written communications take two forms; "hard" and "soft" copy. More and more, the world is moving to digital communication in order to reduce the use of paper, facilitate storage and retrieval and to reduce the costs borne by all parties involved. Communication by hardcopy still exists however. Ironically because of the ease with which people can communicate digitally, important correspondence is often sent by hardcopy. In a similar vein, parties that do not have a close association will more than likely communicate in hardcopy for a variety purposes ranging from advertising to electricity and water bills; albeit all areas of hardcopy communication are experiencing a considerable reduction.
So, with respect to CAESARS, there are three broad areas of interest. These are:
These three types of communication have to, at times, be stored and retrieved. Hence they all sit within a common storage and retrieval system which, in effect, is a generic database engine such as PostgreSQL and lot of graphics, data and text files that are uniquely named. The database contains information pertinent to the uniquely named, stored files; such things, for example, as the date created, the author, the addressees, whether the document has been read, whether it has been replied to, the project the document is connected to, the times expended, and so on.
The methods used by CAESARS for each type of communication are quite different:
- Voice Communiciations. In the case of voice communication, CAESARS provides full VoIP telephony services from the desktop with a functionality that is far easier to use than a normal telephone.
- Written Digital Communications. When creating a digital written communication, CAESARS provides a wizard to help the user create a document in accordance with the writing conventions of that organisation as well as help the person with the actual writing of the document.
- Hardcopy Communications. Processing of outgoing and incoming hardcopy (where digital is not possible) requires scanning, optical character recognition and cataloguing by a filing clerk such that the document is stored in accordance with an agreed organisational file registry schema.
The Role of Email
- Email is the primary means by which communication occurs these days. It has evolved over the years from being a crude means of plain text messaging to a highly sophisticated system for communication involving HTML and graphics that rival a document produced by a word processor or publishing package. Designed primarily to satisfy the needs of private individuals communicating on a personal level, email has found its way into business to the point where it is the chief means of written communications within most modern companies. Being so and if it were properly administered, email would provide an effective record of how decisions were arrived at and "who directed whom to do what". Unfortunately, email has never properly evolved to suit the more formal needs of business. For the purposes of formal communication, it is usual practice in most businesses to:
- write a document using a word processor such as Microsoft Word;
- print the document;
- have it signed by an authorised person
- scan the signed document; and then
- attach the scanned document in Portable Document Format (PDF), or any number of graphics formats, to an email for transmission purposes with the email acting as a covering note.
CAESARS takes the next logical step, in that:
Instead of writing the document in a separate word processor, the email application has a comprehensive text editor built into it and the document is created in an eXtended Hyper-Text Markup Language (XHTML) such that, when opened by the recipient, the email has a highly polished appearance; exactly the same as if it had been produced in a word processor.
The document is formatted according to the writing conventions of the company; these writing conventions (called styles in "publisher-speak") being defined in a separate file that every email application possesses or has access to. Using this technique, the transmitted document is as compact as is humanly possible because all of the formmating is done by the recipient email application utilising the style sheet file it already holds. This means that the CAESARS email system requires minimal bandwidth in order to operate. By way of example, the styles file could cover document formats for:
The email application provides a "wizard" that helps the author create the document through asking a series of questions and providing the author a number of options to choose from. In this manner, authors require minimal training in that organisation's or company's writing conventions. By relieving authors of this burden, they may concentrate more on the content of the document rather than being overly concerned with its presentation. This has the potential to greatly improve the quality and consistency of written communications.
When the email arrives at the recipient's location, the recipient clicks on the document listing as per a normal email client. The difference is that when the email opens, the recipient is presented with a draft or finished document, depending on the circumstances, not, as is presently the case, an email with an attachment that has to be opened using another application. If the document is a draft, it may be altered. A CAESARS module provides the means by which the document can be worked on by numerous persons at the same time, each person working at some remote location. The means of doing this would borrow heavily from Google's "Etherpad" application (which is Open Source). If it is a published document, it is locked and is read-only.
Because of the standards inherent in email communication (defined by Internet RFCs) a CAESARS email can be so constructed that, when necessary, it can be read by conventional email clients; albeit without the elegant formatting. Alternatively, where good presentation is desired, CAESARS can produce a separate email for those recipients who do not run a CAESARS client so that the email presents more elegantly. Additionally, it is also possible to encrypt emails and to utilise authentication techniques, well proven through everyday use on the Internet, to
ensure very high levels of security with email if desired.
Properly developed, email sits at the hub of CAESARS. It is the main means of formal written communication for the future.
technical and non-technical research and discussion papers, and
all other specific-to-purpose correspondence formats for that organisation or company.
Building an Email Application to suit Business Needs
- Conventional Document Management Systems consist of a collection of various applications that do not appear to the user as being one coherent application. For example, users have to deal with:
- a Word Processor, the purpose of which is to be as generic as possible, that is, to satisfy the broadest range of users;
- an Email Application, such as Microsoft Outlook, or Thunderbird or Evolution; and
- a Document Management and Retrieval System that is nothing more than a glorified "File Explorer" with (usually) a very poor search capability in order to find a particular document.
- CAESARS combines these disparate applications into one coherent application and then adds to it the ability to treat documents as if they were tasks in a workshop job. As previously explained, this is not an unreasonable thing to do. After all, to read a document takes time and in taking time, it consumes labour. Likewise creating a document, storing it and retrieving, answering it if you are the recipient, etc. Why shouldn't these actions be timed, charged against a particular project or duty statement item and accounted for. Once that is in place it is possible to determine the average time that should be taken to perform routine tasks and that then allows the scheduling of tasks, knowing how many staff are already loaded and the time that should be consumed with the new job or task. All of this can be accommodated in what would appear to a user to be an email client.
- At first glance, it might seem like a significant undertaking to build a email application. This is not the case because most of the work has already been done by others working within the Open Source community and this work is freely available. Within the standards that exist on the Internet, it would be possible to build a software application specifically for business email (described in "computerise" as an "email client") as well as a messaging system and server system utilising, to a large degree, Open Source applications that already exist.
- By way of example, if you click here, you will see a graphic that describes a system I conceived and created and installed with the help of Matthew Fisher, Michael van der Kolff and Wesley Young:
- In Step 1, a Team Leader fills out a form presented, in this case, by Microsoft Outlook but it could have been done using Thunderbird or Evolution as the email client. The form is constructed according to the CAFÉ standard so that it is easy to learn and easy to input data into. It also tries to reduce the probability of the person making an error. (To learn more about CAFÉ click Here.)
- In Step 2, when the person has completed the form, they click on the "Submit" button and it is dispatched by email, over the Internet, to a server. At the server, the attached data is decrypted and placed in a database.
- In Step 3, this data is presented to a Production Control Clerk in a list, just as one is presented emails in an in-box. When the Production Control Clerk clicks on an entry, just as happens with an email, the entry opens to display a form filled with the data that was input by the person in the workplace in Step 1. The Production Control Clerk checks the content of the form and adds to it as is necessary. Once everything is complete, the Production Control Clerk clicks on an option to upload all complete data to a remote server for input into the remote server's database. This is no different to a person filling out a draft Minute, sending it to their supervisor, the Supervisor correcting or adding to the Minute and when it is complete, distributing the Minute according to its Address Distribution List.
- This particular application was developed in around 9 weeks of work for a cost of around $15,000. From this it can be appreciated that to go to the next step of building a fully-blown CAESARS would not involve a great deal of expense. Of interest, a significant amount of the expense involved in developing applications such as this concerns documentation and initial user training. In the case of the example application, it has now been in action for around 2 years and has only required one service support call in order to enhance it in accordance with users' needs.