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Avoiding Institutional Memory Loss

In a prior blog, implications of employee turnover were discussed with emphasis on retaining institutional knowle. This blog presents an example of where claims and legal case matter files were managed by an employee requiring input and oversight from other senior team members but the process and business records were siloed with little transparency. While the case study is focused on one person in the legal department at a single organization, the issues are representative of most organizations.

Employees are bound to leave for one reason or another and all of their work history may leave with them leaving companies at risk of not knowing where vital records are or where in the process the company is regarding a particular business transaction or process. It is in the best interest of organizations to institutionalize knowledge through: policy and procedure; business analysis functions including process analysis, design, and documentation; management, oversight, and reporting; and the adoption of information technologies. Most job functions and processes in an organization result in content that have historical, administrative, legal or fiscal relevance and should be captured appropriately as a business record. Not only the business record but also the process of producing the record should also be captured to the extent possible. Emails, audit trail, modifications to the document, time to completion and other bits of information all serve as supporting information that brings value to understanding business decisions and context. Another benefit in capturing this information electronically is that it can be leveraged in automatically initiating future pre-defined processes such as period review of contracts or procedural documents.

A robust ECM solution can provide the necessary functionality to facilitate business process and capture such vital information. Team members overlook the digitization of their work efforts due to being uneducated on information technologies. It is common for some work — large or small — to be manually performed, but there exists an alternative technology-based approach that immediately results in process improvements and efficiency gains. Unfortunately, a gap usually exists between the business group not knowing what is possible from a technology solution perspective and the IT group not understanding day-to-day business process.

Another relevant issue that is more sensitive and personal is when a team member obscures the process in effort to increase job security and perception of value within the organization. This scenario is referred to as “job security through obscurity” and results in not having a clear view into the team member’s work. Institutional knowledge is held lock-and-key with the individual. These issues are present in the following case example but were overcome through recognizing the problem and employing an ECM strategy with emphasis on legal case management.

Case example: Paralegal managing claims and case matter files

In a transportation company, a paralegal managed a variety of claims and matters including vehicle accidents, injuries, EEOC, litigation matters, property claims, etc. Initiation of the claims process started with an operations manager, HR or another role closest to the claim event. The first step was to notify the risk management department within legal who takes over the process, thus, the paralegal became the primary point of contact and managed the process from initiation until closure. A manila file folder was created for each claim to house all relevant documents, forms, and emails. On the outside of each claim file, a log was hand-written to provide a history and context to the claim file. All claim files were stored in filing cabinets in the paralegal’s office. Additionally, important emails and attachments were stored in the paralegal’s outlook folders.

While the paralegal was the primary coordinator of the claims process, input from other parties was needed — such as legal, HR, other risk management team members, operations, external parties to the company. The process would require the paralegal pull the file for review or notes be written on the file to denote what the latest update was. Other team members — mainly attorneys and other paralegals — became frustrated with the process as their ability to review critical files was subject to the timely retrieval by the paralegal. They would receive documents that they could not file without printing and going through the paralegal. The legal team recognized the inefficiencies, lack of transparency and siloed nature of the process.

Axyon was engaged to help digitize the process in addition to all legal matters and department records. This case example is just one of the legal processes. In actuality, all of the processes suffered from the same issues. The new implemented approach allows for various team members to have specific roles, responsibilities and ownership of content and processes, but the entire legal team now has visibility and flexibility to work on all legal matters. Specifically, for claims files, an electronic process was designed in a series of Axyon-led workshops and developed using standard OpenText Content Server functionality. A folder taxonomy was developed for each matter type that allowed all documentation to be organized in an intuitive manner for all team members. Metadata was constructed to collect valuable data elements describing the matter allowing for dynamic searches by active/inactive status or by matter type and reporting. The handwritten log was replaced by an electronic log in the matter file.

As all attorneys work in email, outlook integration allowed for easy document retrieval when attaching to outgoing emails and for depositing when filing emails and attachments from incoming email. Prior, most documents that were placed into the manila file actually started out as electronic documents or attachments in emails. Now, through making the process electronic, each team member is able to retrieve and deposit documents in the respective case and matter file. Also, all emails are stored in Content Server allowing all legal team members to see all emails regardless of recipient. The paralegal is still the main point of contact but now doesn’t hinder process which allows for transparency and business continuity by institutionalizing the process.

This isn’t all to say that an existing process is inherently bad or is completely broken. Existing process are in place because they ‘mostly’ work. They serve as a good starting point when the business has determined to take on the business process in attempts to standardize, digitize or improve overall performance. However, many processes are created from one perspective that did not include input from other touchpoints in the process. The fix would be to rework the process to consider benefits to all stakeholders and process participants.

This blog presented a real example of a legal claims and case matter management that was isolated, manual and risked business continuity if the process manager were unable to continue the role. Here’s a recap of the before and after condition and benefits gained through implementing an ECM strategy.


  • Isolated process managed by one team member
  • Physical files stored in manilla folders and in paralegals office with handwritten log of tasks, status’, and file updates
  • Paralegal became gatekeeper hindering ability to review case matter documentation
  • Risk of business discontinuity if the paralegal was not available


  • Organized all claims and case matter files electronically. Converted process from 100% physical to almost 100% electronic
  • Implemented taxonomy and metadata design approved by entire legal department facilitating search and reporting on matters
  • Legal claims and matter access through web, windows explorer and outlook integration
  • Paralegal still owns the process but other team members able to perform many tasks without going through gatekeeper
  • Processes and vital business records are now institutionalized ensuring business continuity
  • There is a continuing project to scan all manila folders and files to digitize all business records for a company-wide records management initiative

Wayne Day | OpenText Content Server Business Consultant, AIIM Taxonomy and Metadata Specialist, AIIM Records Management Specialist, AIIM ECM Specialist

Wayne Day | OpenText Content Server Business Consultant, AIIM Taxonomy and Metadata Specialist, AIIM Records Management Specialist, AIIM ECM Specialist