We live in the digital age—or at least many of us do. Today’s IT-savvy users expect to be able to access any data, form, or record from any device at any location and at any time. However, some organizations seem to be perpetually stuck in the dark ages, relying on antiquated paper documents and physical filing cabinets for document retention. Other businesses may have documents in electronic form but lack any method for organizing them beyond just saving them to a basic filesystem. I’ve even known business professionals who store critical records in archive folders in their email package because they lack any other method for document organization. Electronic document management has never been more essential, and organizations that fail to provide adequate document support either will not be able to compete effectively against businesses that do or, even worse, will fail to meet compliance objectives and lose customers due to an inability to provide adequate support services.
Document management as a practice is actually a subset of content management and is primarily focused on the electronic creation, conversion, storage, and tracking of files and documentation. A document management system employs automation and analytical tools to logically store and organize documents in a digital format. The more advanced the document management system, the more effective your organization will be at recording and accessing files and information. The business value of adopting a document management system is quite extensive but can be organized into the following key categories:
- Document Lifecycle Management – There are three key phases that together comprise the lifecycle of document management: document capture and creation, document management, and document distribution. A document management system should track documents from initial creation though revisions, editing, approvals, and any other process essential to its completion and publication. Similar to a change management platform, this process ensures the correct individuals are involved in completing their assigned tasks through every phase in the publication workflow. Automatic checks should be performed on forms to ensure they contain correct and complete information (such as signatures). Once completed and approved, the distribution of documents can be managed through the system to ensure they are sent only to authorized recipients and only in a format that prevents alterations.
- Document Portability – As workforces become increasingly mobile, the need for remote access to business data and records is rapidly increasing as well. Only from an organized, digital archive are workers able to easily locate and retrieve files from their portable workstations (such as laptops and tablets). Data portability also speaks to the ability to access documents through applications that have direct integration with the information repository, and more portable documents are more easily injected into project workflows.
- Document Sharing and Collaboration – Multiple users should have the ability to collaborate on common documents through a document management system that authenticates users and authorizes editing privileges. Versioning features allow individual users to check out and check in documents to be revised and also to resolve changes that may have been made to the document simultaneously.
- Indexing and Searching – To aid in the rapid identification and retrieval of documents, each file is indexed into logical classifications and should be searchable using text strings or document attributes. Metadata—including information about the document, where and when it was created, and the user who saved or edited it—should be automatically stored with each document to aid in searches and organization.
- Compliance Achievement – Control over access to documentation is a core focus of most regulatory compliance processes (e.g., HIPAA, SOX, COBIT, Six Sigma, etc.). A document provides essential control over the location, access, and distribution of documents. Additionally, built-in access accountability and the ease of identifying archived documents greatly simplifies auditing processes and provides valuable proof of compliance.
Since the availability of data is at the core of information technology, the administration of business records is essential to the operation of every modern-day business, and a document management system should be adopted by any organization that retains records. Clearly, it is impractical to manage any of these practices through purely manual processes. The time, effort, and costs involved would be staggering, and the high potential for human errors makes the processes unreliable. Only with the assistance of automation can document management processes be continuously supported and maintained.
Learn more about the document management lifecycle.