A highly effective document management system can support improved performance throughout your organization.
However, the vast majority of businesses find themselves with an underperforming system that leads to waste, error, and loss.
We’ve created this guide to help you:
- Evaluate your current document management system
- Optimize its current performance
- Determine the specific benefits of an upgrade
- Evaluate your best options based on your unique needs
What steps can you take to optimize your document management? By the end of this comprehensive guide you’ll have everything you need to make that distinction and understand exactly how to go about performing such optimizations.
What Is a Document Management System?
A document management system is the classification, organization, and management of your organization’s documents. It includes everything from the point of their creation to their ultimate destruction, and supports your business in the governing of information, regulatory compliance, and management of any associated risks.
Today, certain organizations still utilize traditional paper document management systems, while many have opted to transition to an electronic system in an effort to further streamline and automate their document management.
Document Management Problems
Not all document management is effective. Unfortunately, a poorly organized document management system can cause a wide range of problems.At DocLib, we call this an “unstructured” electronic system.
This means the system is basically a large hard drive with many documents that can be outdated or are difficult to find, causing users to abandon them since they can’t find them.
Take, for example, a company who decides to put all of their documents on box.com. Their system is electronic, but there’s no plan on what will be stored, where it will be stored and how they will handle revisions.
Ineffective document management may make for regulatory noncompliance, security issues, and inefficiency in the workplace. For this reason it’s crucial that you develop a strategic system based on the needs of your organization and your overarching business objectives.
Optimizing Your Paper-Only Document Management
Today, embracing technology is one of the easiest ways to optimize your internal systems. However, if your organization currently maintains a traditional paper system, there are still ways to improve its performance.
Record Retention Schedule
Because paper documents require significant amounts of space to store, creating a retention schedule for your documents is one of the most effective ways to eliminate excessive files that would otherwise clutter your system and make it more difficult to use.
Create a timeline on which documents are scheduled to be destroyed or moved off site as they are no longer necessary. That means that each document should have a designated date on which it will reach that step at the time it is created or initially stored.
Even when maintaining paper records, some organizations choose to keep backups of their documents electronically. They may not be a part of the overall document management system, but they are scanned and stored as a form of security.
This way, digital records can still be recovered in the event of misplacement, theft, natural disaster, or any other problem that causes a file to be lost.
Due to the massive number of physical documents required to be maintained in a traditional document management system, it’s easy for weaknesses to appear and errors to fall through the cracks.
Establish a schedule of regular audits to evaluate when and where these gaps appear and how to go about resolving any issues you might encounter during the process. This also helps to maintain any mandatory compliance that your organization may be responsible for. Make someone accountable for those audits and optimizations in order to ensure they get done as they become apparent.
As we mentioned above, technology provides a wide range of benefits and presents new opportunities to optimize the performance of your document management system. Evaluate your current methods for storage, backups, integrations, etc., in the following sections in order to determine where your system can be improved.
One of the most immediate benefits your organization can realize from transitioning to electronic document management is storage. The physical space required to store files is dramatically reduced.
However, organizations can find themselves transitioning to electronic storage without the ability to easily find and access the documents they need when they need them. You may find that a cloud-based platform (more in an upcoming section) may allow for a smooth transition to electronic storage while making finding the necessary documents far easier than ever before.
Every business is vulnerable to loss. Whether you’re maintaining a paper system or have transitioned to electronic document management, conducting regular backups will help to minimize the risk of loss, no matter the threat facing your business.
If you operate an internally hosted document management system, that means establishing a schedule for regular backups. Otherwise, choosing a cloud-hosted system will automated the process of backups for you.
Be sure to backup your complete database. That means backups for older documents too. Anything that doesn’t get backed up should be destroyed.
Just like with a traditional paper document management system, your electronic system should be audited regularly. Once again, make someone accountable for those audits and optimizations in order to ensure they get done as they become apparent.
DocLib has an Audit History feature that tracks everything that happens to a document from the time it was entered and even after it was deleted.
Evaluate Technologies to Automate the Process
One of the most important considerations you’ll need to make is whether or not a manual (or largely manual) document management system is the most efficient use of your resources. When it comes down to it, automating your document management system provides the vast majority of organizations with significant benefits including:
- Immediate and Long-Term Cost Reduction
- Improved Speed and Efficiency
- Employees Focus on Adding Value
- Improved Accuracy (Fewer Errors)
- Business Processes Defined and Streamlined
- Improved Employee Experience
- Increased Scalability
- Improved Reliability
- Increased Visibility (Easier to Track and Optimize)
This recent article breaks these benefits down in greater detail, so be sure to read it to help you evaluate how your organization would benefit from automating your document management system.
Below, we break down exactly what to look for in an electronic document management system and how to evaluate your potential options. Explore the difference between self-hosted and cloud-hosted, as well as the different ways they’re used to support your business objectives.
What Is an Electronic Document Management System?
An electronic document management system is essentially a digital filing system, replacing physical filing cabinets and consolidating your documents into a single platform. They work with scanners to convert your paper documents into electronic versions. Because all of your files are digital, they can easily be accessed and it eliminates the need for paper document storage.
Electronic Document Management System Functions
Your electronic document management system is responsible for storing all of your documents in a single database.That include everything from emails to purchase orders, word processing files to PDFs.
It also allows you to search your entire database based on a keyword or search term and quickly access any file, rather than having to manually look for them. Specific permissions can be attached to each file, folder, etc. in order to provide highly specific access to the people within your organization who need need it and locking out anyone who doesn’t. Plus, they’re able to access these documents via your internal network or via the cloud.
All activity can be monitored, allowing you to review who has accessed each file and when. Furthermore, you’re able to track who has made edits and when they were made or restore previous versions of documents if edits were made in error.
Finally, you can automate the document-retention process and schedule their destruction in order to improve security and eliminate excessive storage.
Cloud-based vs. Self-Hosted Document Management System
When it comes time to select a document management system for your organization, you’ll find that you have two categories to choose from, self-hosted and cloud-based.
Self-Hosted Document Management System
As the name implies, a self-hosted document management system is hosted exclusively on your internal network. That means all of your data remains on your servers and is never exposed to third-party storage.
You can store as many documents as your servers can hold and you will need to manage that storage effectively in order to avoid taking up excess space. You’ll find that most self-hosted document management systems come with an initial fee for the software, license fees for each user, an installation fee, and a yearly charge for support and upgrades.
The primary benefit in the eyes of most organizations is that you’re always in control of your data. Your system is completely internal and that appeals to those still concerned about the security of cloud platforms. Also, if your internet connection fails you still have access to your documents.
You’ll find that one of the most important disadvantages is the cost, especially the initial cost to get started. Also, you’re always in charge of backups, meaning that you’ll have to maintain a highly effective contingency plan for your data to keep it secure in the event of an attack, internal breach, or disaster. Finally, many self-hosted document management systems are only compatible to Windows or Mac, limiting your choices and the technology on which they can be used.
Cloud-Hosted Document Management System
With a cloud-hosted document management system, you’re a customer to your service provider. They handle all hosting, software maintenance, backups, and security.
Furthermore, you can access your documents from any computer with an internet connection, from anywhere in the world. Typically with these platforms, you’ll pay a monthly fee per user, and the cost can vary greatly based on the exact features your organization needs.
The greatest advantage a cloud-hosted system provides to your organization is the simplicity of the entire process. An IT employee isn’t required to set up or maintain your system, as everything is handled by the provider.
Furthermore, the remote accessibility of your documents makes it easy for your entire organization to utilize the system from within the organization and when outside of the office. Also, you’ll never need to backup your files because the redundancy process is handled for you, negating the risk of a multitude of threats experienced when keeping your data onsite.
When you’re a customer to your provider, you’re dependant on them to maintain a highly effective system. Most cloud-based document management providers are dedicated to providing the highest level of service to their customers because it helps provide them with a competitive advantage. However, there are providers that offer sub-par service to their customers, which is why it’s important to carefully evaluate your options.
If your provider has an issue with their servers, you may experience costly downtime, so it’s important to find a system with an uptime guarantee of 99% or higher. If your own connection fails, you’ll have to wait to get it back up in order to access your files.
Vetting Prospective Document Management Systems
When it comes time to select a document management system, there are a few key aspects that will be important to evaluate to determine whether or not your prospective system can accommodate your needs.
First and foremost, it has to be easy to use. That means a file structure that is highly intuitive and helps your people perform tasks quickly and without an extensive learning curve. You’ll need to be able to search through your documents based on both the file title or name, but also by the content contained within the document itself.
Be sure that it integrates seamlessly with your existing technologies. If your document management system doesn’t integrate with your email or CMS systems, it dramatically decreases the convenience of your systems and negates many of the other benefits we mentioned above. Moreover, it needs to work with a variety of scanners to effectively consolidate your physical documents into electronic folders.
Remember, just because a document exists doesn’t mean it needs to be uploaded into your new system. No matter which solution you use, establish a process for determining which documents will be stored before you begin uploading them. We often see a bulk of irrelevant documents clogging up newly implemented systems, so work to avoid unnecessary work in the future by screening your documents early.
Also, your system should provide you with strict security protocols that allow you to define who has access to specific data on an employee-by-employee basis. Furthermore, you should be able to determine exactly what actions people are taking and revert to previous versions in case of user errors.
When it comes to creating a highly effective document management system, you have several options to evaluate. Electronic systems certainly provide a wealth of benefits to organizations willing to adopt them, but completely restructuring your document management may seem like an undertaking that you’re not currently ready for.
If you determine that your business is indeed in need of the benefits realized by electronic document management, you’ll need to determine whether a self-hosted or cloud-hosted system is right for you.
Determining your needs and evaluating your options can at times feel overwhelming. Fortunately, we’re here to support you. Schedule a conversation with one of our experts and we’ll help you evaluate your needs from a strategic perspective and support you in making the right decision based how it will impact your organization’s business objectives.