Many companies still lack proper document management systems. Instead, they depend on paper-based processes and route documents from person to person for approval via FedEx, UPS, intercompany mail, or in-baskets. Once documents are finally approved, they need to be filed, and storage rooms quickly fill up with filing cabinets. Companies may implement a manual check-out process, but these documents can still go temporarily or permanently missing with shocking frequency. As a result, such companies become unmanaged document environments.
On the other hand, companies with document management software have streamlined their paper-based processes. They’ve taken their unmanaged documents and turned them into indexed, quickly locatable, useful business information instead of simply filing them and then loathing the process it takes to find the documents again. These companies have become managed document environments.
You can transition your documents from an unmanaged to a managed environment by implementing a document management system in five key areas.
1. Documents on File Servers
File servers are a relatively easy candidate for the first round of document management implementation.
Here’s a hypothetical scenario.
Your documents are stored on a file server in subdirectories. There may be hundreds or thousands of directories named by order number, client name, part number, job number, etc. Relevant documents are stored within each of the folders, and if there are duplicate document names (due to file revisions), they may be suffixed as _Version1, _Version2, and so on. Each revision spurs a new version of the document, leading to many copies that are, in fact, the same exact document. At the same time, users may accidentally modify an old version and save over the top of that version.
While many of the basic tenets of a document management system are in place—such as naming files accordingly and creating file directories—the consistency of naming, adequate revision control, and security are typically bypassed since standard Windows directory security is used for directory authority. Managing hundreds or thousands of network folders quickly becomes impossible. Plus, it's not nearly as easy to search across multiple directories to locate files as it would be with a document management system.
In this scenario, it’s a fairly straightforward transition. The file directories can be imported into a document management system with ease once the folder and file naming structure is understood. Significant values, such as the directory named by customer number or name, become searchable key index fields. Users will no longer need to care about file names because the actual file name is generated automatically.
2. Email Messages
Microsoft Exchange is often confused with a filing system, with users collecting email messages either in folders within their Exchange mailbox or in shared departmental email accounts. We commonly see inboxes used in purchasing, accounts payable, order processing, and for digital mailroom handling. While inboxes are great for receiving and handling inbound message content and attachments, it's a much better process to extract and index incoming email content into a centralized document management system.
A document management system reduces mailbox storage and declares an email message or message content as a properly managed record. In today's world, attachments, body, subject, from, to, cc, bcc, and so on can all be utilized as elements for email indexing or for routing purposes. An entire Exchange (or other email) message can also be stored in its native format so that it can be viewed from the document management system by using email client software, like Microsoft Outlook.
3. SharePoint Documents
Many companies have tried to implement SharePoint as a document management system. While SharePoint does have some tenets of a document management system—such as version control and the ability to search metadata columns to locate documents—SharePoint is more of a development and collaboration platform than it is a document management system.
Companies use SharePoint to create websites, upload and share documents, house database information, kick off workflows, and more. The document library components of SharePoint emulate document management. Document security is usually set up at an individual document library level and as permissions are manually assigned to each SharePoint document library, security can become unmanageable. Workflow routing can also be established, but new workflow processes typically have to be created via programming efforts. As a result, SharePoint performs best as a document collaboration system and a temporary repository where in-process document content can be stored, indexed, and checked out as needed for additional collaboration.
SharePoint can be easily integrated with a true document management system where finalized document versions can be captured and stored in a secure central document management repository. By coupling a document management system (that stores documents of record) with SharePoint (that manages document collaboration), a company empowers employees to do their jobs efficiently by providing maximum flexibility.
4. Cloud Drives
Many departments and businesses have implemented online file sharing services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and more. Each of these services typically allow a document to be created on the desktop and then automatically synced to the cloud and other desktops or mobile devices, such as Apple and Android devices.
The cloud drive products offer a great way for individual users to keep files in sync, but they don’t make sense for businesses—can you imagine storing all of your archived business documents on Dropbox to be replicated to every PC or mobile device that logs in?
A more appropriate use of cloud drives in a corporate environment would be for temporary storage. For example, you might have a PDF document that needs to be signed and then returned for archiving in the document management system. With a cloud drive, you would place unsigned documents into the designated folder, where they would be synced with the signee’s mobile device or PC. The signee can use Adobe Acrobat or other signing software to capture a signature on the document and then save the now completed document back to the cloud drive for final archiving, storage, or to start an electronic workflow or approval process.
Permanent storage is where a proper document management system shines. With document management software, you can appropriately archive your important business documents and easily find them whenever you need them.
5. Website and Social Media Content
A few years ago, the term "content in the wild" was often used to describe social media and website content that needs to have snapshots captured and archived in a similar fashion as the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine, where website snapshots are captured at specified intervals. Your "content in the wild" is most likely easier to manage than the 452 billion (and counting) pages supposedly archived by the Wayback Machine, but it's still a moving target in terms of what information should be captured when and stored for how long.
A real-life example of "content in the wild" is online car ads placed by car dealerships. I spoke with one dealership who talked about the need to keep copies of all their digital car ads in case they were sued over a purported feature of a vehicle that was inaccurate. They were planning to capture all of the photos, copy, and other information for every vehicle sold and archive it forever—even as their digital car ads grow exponentially.
Website and social media content continues to be a developing area of document management. It is tricky to navigate because website content is constantly changing. In order to track it, you might need to capture regular snapshots. With automation tools, you can crawl website content and aggregate the content into PDF or other formats that can be archived, indexed, and retrieved from the document management system.
Make sure that you look at the true reasons why you need to capture “content in the wild” before diving in and starting a major project in this area.
Undoubtedly, you have an unmanaged document environment somewhere in your company. Perhaps it’s in accounting, human resources, or customer service. While becoming fully managed is a daunting task, your business can make a start by evaluating each department and all of their paper-related tasks, and then attacking the issue one department at a time.
For example, accounts payable departments can begin to automate by simply scanning and categorizing all invoices as they come in, then indexing them by vendor, purchase order, and invoice number. Though they may still initially enter vouchers or invoices into their AP system, the job of retrieving those documents when a vendor calls in with questions becomes monumentally easier.
In an unmanaged document environment, you would have to physically go to the filing room—which could be next door, down the hall, in the basement, in a warehouse, or in a cargo container outside of the office— retrieve a document, copy it, and place it back into storage.
In a managed document environment, a properly indexed document can typically be retrieved in a matter of seconds—without ever placing a vendor or customer on hold.
How many times have you witnessed a similar scenario? Undoubtedly, too many. Unmanaged document environments are everywhere—and we can help you diagnose them, department by department. Transitioning your documents from an unmanaged to a managed environment may seem a daunting task, but we’ll work with you along the way to develop the solution that fits your needs. All you have to do is take the first step: