Another key is ensuring that a company retains, and can quickly retrieve, the information that it accumulates. Gates calls this "corporate memory." And it isn't only employees who need access to vital information; customers, too, should have access to this information. This way, account managers and customers can refer to the same document when discussing an account or a billing issue. In the same spirit, all customer interactions should also be documented.
Think of all this as a complete digital archive that will allow employees and customers to locate a form or record in seconds. Gates also feels that most companies (including Microsoft) have too many forms, and he suggests that companies eliminate as many as possible. He also recommends that companies put all forms online and encourage feedback from users. Gates has a litmus test that helps companies evaluate their progress in this vital area:
Your corporate memory is not very good unless somebody who is working on a project can sit down at their PC and in less than 60 seconds call up any memos or documents that might relate to a similar project that was done in the past. If it takes more time than that, people probably won't go and find it. So in that sense, your corporate memory is not an asset.
Here are some ways to improve your organization's corporate memory:
MAKE SURE THAT YOUR CUSTOMERS AND SUPPLIERS HAVE THE SAME ACCESS TO INFORMATION AS YOUR EMPLOYEES. This will make all transactions that much easier. Such an approach may require a radical shift in mind-set, as well as a realignment of the ways in which your organization interfaces with key constituencies.
MAKE SURE THAT IT TAKES NO MORE THAN 60 SECONDS TO RETRIEVE ANY DOCUMENT OR FILE. If your organization cannot pass this test, the digitization of all those transactions and forms is of little use.