Electronic Document Management for Beginners

How well are you managing documents?

Welcome to Electronic Document Management for Beginners. Here you'll learn useful information about five key areas of electronic document management. 

Read this through from beginning to end. Or jump from section to section using the links below.

  1. What is Document Management?
  2. How Does a Document Management System Work?
  3. What is Forms Management?
  4. How Do Digital Signatures Work?
  5. What is Document Capture Automation?

What is Document Management

What is Document Management?

Document management is the process of capturing, managing, and distributing electronic documents.

There are external documents you create for and receive from customers. And there are internal documents created for and by employees at your organization.

Sometimes these are original electronic documents. Other times, these are paper documents that are scanned as document images.

Simple enough, right?

But document management is a lot more complex than that. For starters, document management is a process with many names.

Document management is also known as:

  • Document management system (DMS)
  • Electronic document management system (EDMS)
  • Document imaging
  • Enterprise content management (ECM)
  • Electronic content management (ECM)

There are some nuances between these terms.

DMS and EDMS typically require version control, audit capabilities, and check-in/check-out processes.

Document imaging is basically scanning paper documents into electronic document images. This is typically one component of a DMS or EMDS.

ECM (both enterprise and electronic) is sometimes differentiated by security controls and the ability to manage unstructured content.

But, for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to document management.


Do People Still Use Paper Documents?

Yes and no.

Just when we’ve begun to think we’ve made it to the digital age and the sought-after paperless office, the opposite happens. There’s an explosion of paper documents.

But there’s a difference in how the paper documents are created today versus years ago.

In the past, paper documents (like purchase orders or invoices) were printed and then distributed. Today, they’re distributed electronically—then printed. After all, you can’t stop people from printing documents they receive. Old habits die hard.

In an ideal world, no one would ever need to deal with paper documents again.

What is Document Management (article 1 - part 2)

Why Does Document Management Matter?

Documents are constantly growing. Just ask any organization—especially businesses experiencing higher volumes of transactions.

Automating business processes is a top priority for most organizations today. And that means automating your processes for managing documents too.

That’s why document management matters. It offers the best way to automate the entire document lifecycle—capturing, storing, and distributing documents. 

Ignoring document management is risky. If you choose to do this, you’ll probably:

  • Lose or misplace documents—and, as a result, lose business
  • Reduce employee productivity, because finding documents takes too long
  • Risk human error when documents are recreated
  • Compromise the accuracy of information there isn’t visibility over changes to a document
  • Waste space on storage devices, because there are too many versions of the same exact document
  • Be exposed to risk when you can’t find documents
  • Find it impossible to accurately track and manage invoices


Document Management Makes a Difference

Organizations look to document management to do three things.

1. Streamline Document Processes

Capturing documents in one central repository is a must. Otherwise, you risk losing them. Document management can make a difference by streamlining the process of capturing documents. That means you can rest assured your documents are being captured and stored in one spot—and that you won’t need to chase them down.

2. Keep Documents Safe

Meeting security and regulatory requirements is really important—especially today. Document management can make a difference by protecting your documents from threats. That means you can rest easy that information isn’t being stolen or shared without permission.

3. Make Documents Available

No one has time to waste searching for information. Document management can make a difference by making your organization’s information easy to find, so you can act on it. That means answering customer questions on the fly, paying invoices on time, and shipping products in a snap.

How Does a Document Management System Work?

How Does a Document Management System Work?

A document management system (DMS) is a system for storing and tracking documents. It originated as a way to convert paper documents to digital documents. As a result, a DMS is sometimes called an electronic filing cabinet. But it’s so much more than that today.

A document management system is a way to automate manual processes. And that makes it a key part of a digital transformation for any organization.

But how does a document management system work?

It captures documents. It stores documents. And it distributes documents.

How Does a Document Management System Work? (article 2 - part 2)

Here’s how.

1. Document Capture—from Any Source

Document management systems need to do document capture from any source.

Document capture is the ability to save documents so you can find them later. This usually means indexing. Indexing is essentially a way to classify a document. You add terms to the document’s metadata, like order number or customer number. These indexes make it easier to find documents later on.

Done well, document capture ensures you can find any document tomorrow or ten years down the road.  There are several ways you can capture documents.

Capture for Paper Documents

High-speed scanners have long been used to capture paper documents. But scanning documents on its own isn’t enough.

A document management system should take documents from the scanner. It can then add indexing by order number, for instance.

Indexing can be done by hand (by you or anyone else). Or indexing can be done through enterprise resource planning (ERP) screen integration, zone optical character recognition (OCR), or barcoding. Or you could even capture indexes using smart processing software.

Capture for Email

Email messages—and their attachments—are a key part of conducting business today. Receiving important documents—like invoices—by email is commonplace.

A document management system gives you a way to capture these messages—and invoices—instantly.

Capture for System Generated Reports

Business systems generate reports. These reports could be on everything from inventory levels in a warehouse to sales trends.

A document management system gives you the ability to capture these system generated reports automatically. And that helps you make them available to your warehouse managers and sales teams faster.

Capture for Any Application

In addition to system generated reports, you might have other applications producing documents. Applications for customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) are usually among these.

A document management system gives you the ability to import these documents instantly. And that makes it easier to route them (if they need approval) or share them.

2. Central Document Storage

Document management systems need to have central document storage. This is crucial for managing and retaining documents that come from all over the place. 

This is important for several reasons.

Central Access

Today, employees need immediate access to documents from anywhere at any time. After all, business documents and reports are used to make decisions every day.

A document management system gives employees the ability to access documents wherever they are. This can be done on-premises. Or it can be done by utilizing cloud-based document storage.

Central document storage should be used for both static content and dynamic content. Static content means the documents your organization typically creates every day—like invoices and purchase orders. Dynamic content means documents like forms, webpages, and emails.

Document Security

Document security is just as important as central access. And a document management system gives you security in two main forms.

First, it incorporates version control. For some documents, you’ll need the ability to make revisions by checking a document out. But you’ll also need the ability to revert those revisions if they’re made in error. And that means tracking what changes were made when.

Second, document management systems include permissions so you can control access. This means you determine who can access what documents. You can define user rights to author, revise, view, route, or delete documents.

3. Document Retrieval and Distribution

Document management systems need to include document retrieval and distribution. This is important to make sure you’re able to utilize and share your documents.

Document Retrieval

Document retrieval needs to be quick and easy—or else it’s useless. When a customer calls in with a question on an invoice for a customer service rep, that rep needs to be able to retrieve the invoice in a snap.

Document management systems give you the search features to be able to retrieve a document on any keyword search. That’s because of indexing. Using the right index keys ensures you’ll be able to retrieve a document.

So, with a document management system, customer service reps can answer questions in seconds and make customers happy.

Document Distribution

Document distribution is a key component of any document management system. It’s the way you’re able to send documents to customers, vendors, and even employees.

Document management systems give you the ability to distribute documents any way you need to, like email and FTP. 

Process and Workflow Automation

Distributing documents is just the beginning.

Today’s document management systems need to be able to process digital business content, including workflows (according to Gartner’s Magic Quadrant).

How Does a Document Management System Work? (article 2 - part 3)

A document management system gives you the ability to automate manual processes and workflows.

Automating manual processes is simple. You just need to set the system up the right way. For instance, if you receive an invoice, it can be automatically routed to an accounts payable system. There it will be matched and paid. If the system detects a problem, it can send a notification. Otherwise, the invoice will be paid instantly. And that means you don’t need to chase an invoice through an approval process anymore.

Integrating your document management system with your ERP is another great way to automate workflows. When an order originates in your ERP, it can trigger a workflow in your document management system. This workflow will take the order through an approval process and on to fulfillment automatically.


Document Management Systems Should Make Your Life Better

Document management systems should make your life better. And they should improve the lives of everyone in your workforce along the way.

More Time to Do the Work That Matters

No one wants to do mundane tasks day in and day out. A document management system can take care of those tasks for your employees.

That means you’ll save time across the entire lifecycle of capturing, storing, and distributing documents. And it will give you (and your employees) more time to focus on the work that matters, like manufacturing a great new product or admitting new students.

Convenience for an Increasingly Mobile Workforce

Today’s workforce is increasingly mobile. So, your employees need to be able to work with documents anytime, anywhere.

A document management system will help you accommodate your mobile workforce with access to documents from anywhere. And that means when a customer has a question about an order, you can find the information in an instant.

Peace of Mind

Security is a top concern for organizations everywhere. Worrying about the security of your business documents could easily keep you up at night.

A document management system can give you peace of mind. With security controls, you don’t need to worry about your documents going missing.

Room to Grow

Your business is growing and so are your documents. Shouldn’t you be growing along with it?

A document management system can take the burden of mundane tasks off your plate. That means more meaningful work—and more opportunities to grow your career alongside your organization. 

What is Forms Management?

What is Forms Management?

Electronic document management today is about more than just your documents. Your forms have a vital role to play, as well.

What’s the Difference Between Forms and Documents?

You might be wondering how forms are different from documents.

Typically, forms fall under the document umbrella. They’re a type of document, typically used for gathering information from customers or vendors. What distinguishes forms from documents is fillable fields. 

What is Forms Management? (article 3 - part 2)

Practically every type of business uses forms to capture information. Hospitals use forms to collect patient intake information. Banks use forms for customer loan applications. And any business with an online presence uses forms to collect payment information.

It’s no surprise that Gartner’s recent Magic Quadrant notes that forms are an important capability for routing and processing content.

And to get the most out of your forms, you need forms management.

What is Forms Management?

Forms management is the process for managing, distributing, completing, and processing forms. Traditionally, these forms were on paper and needed to be digitized. Lately, web-based forms are being used for capturing information from customers, vendors, employees, or even business partners.

The goal of forms management today is to get better data, faster turnaround, and lower costs. Lengthy forms processing times are a no-go. Information gathered on forms should be synced with back-end applications automatically.

Another crucial element of forms management is control. Organizations want to control how information can be captured. This is typically done through requiring certain fields on a form, or providing a limited set of options that people can select from to fill out a form.

Forms management software makes the whole forms processing process go a lot smoother. But older variations of forms management software—like OmniForm—have fallen out of support. So, if you’re using one of those, it might be time to move on.

Learn more about forms management software >

Forms Management in Real Life

Forms are everywhere—hospitals, banks, every human resources (HR) department.

There are many ways that forms management systems are used in today’s business world. But there are also many ways forms management systems are misused. And that typically happens if there’s still a paper component.

Do you remember a time when paper-based forms ruined your day?

Let’s say you need to go to the passport office to renew your passport. You get there and wait in line—just to find out they’ve run out of paper forms and you can’t renew your passport that day. You’re left feeling frustrated and annoyed—how could they be out of forms?

Your customers, vendors, employees, and business partners don’t want to feel that pain.

Forms management can prevent it. And it can save your business time. After all, even a modest savings of 10-12 hours a week adds up fast.

What Should You Put on a Form?

Some web-based forms are better than others. Using the right forms technology can make the difference between adoption and rejection by your customers, vendors, employees, and business partners. And it all comes down to how the form is put together—and what you put on it.

So, what should you put on a form?

What is Forms Management? (article 3 - part 3 (table 1))

Common Form Elements

Control Description
Back Allows user to go back a page without losing previous entries.
Reset Form Resets all data fields on a form to a default value (can be empty).
Submit Allows user to submit form when finished.
Text Area for free-form text entry.
File or Attachment Allows users to browse their local machine or network and select a file to include with form.
Username User’s log-in name (can build rules such as minimum required length).
Password Password entry (can build in requirements such as minimum length, inclusion of uppercase or numbers, etc.). Characters entered in this field should be displayed as asterisks.
Forgot Username or Password? Allows users to follow a pre-defined procedure to retrieve their username and/or password.
Checkbox Users can select or clear a checkbox.
Radio Button Allows users to select one option from two or more choices.
Table Allows presentation of information in a table form.
List Box Users can select from a list of choices.
Drop-Down List Allows users to select from a list, using an arrow on the side of the control to see more options.

What is Forms Management? (article 3 - part 4)

You should make your forms as easy to fill out as possible. For instance, don’t make the people filling out the form figure out what date format you want—mmddyy, mm/dd/yy, mm/dd/yyyy, dd/mm/yy, dd-mm-yyyy. Instead, let users select dates from a calendar to populate the date field. (Or, at least provide an example of what you want).

You should also put rules in place in case of errors. After all, if a user gets an error but doesn’t know where the problem is, how will he or she fix it?

How to Collect Accurate Information on Forms

How do you know if the information you collect on a form is accurate? Data validation.

Forms management should give you the ability to validate data against a database in real-time. And the more you can validate when data is collected, the better the quality of the data in your database.

This also enables you to sync data back into the system—without manual data entry.

What is Forms Management? (article 3 - part 5 (table 2))

Common Form Validation Tactics

Control Description
Required Field Ensures that user has input an acceptable value. This might allow alpha only, numeric only, or a combination.
Compare Fields Ensures that input used in one area matches another. This control is often used when users are asked to provide their email address twice to ensure its accuracy.
Range Check Ensures values entered are within a specified range.
Custom Field Validation Allows scripts to validate input content in the field.

What is Forms Management? (article 3 - part 6)

Capturing information is great. But what do you do with it after you capture it?

Many organizations use this information to build and assemble documents—like invoices. You don’t want bad data to go from form to invoice. And that leads to the other side of forms management—document automation.

What is Document Automation?

Document automation is the process of using data (often the same data collected on web-based forms) to create documents. It can also involve assembling supporting documents as attachments.

Many companies use document automation to create purchase orders, invoices, ship notices, and even checks. Good document automation software automatically populates data into these documents. Then, you can use workflow automation to route them for approval. It should alert you if approval isn’t received within a specified time, so you don’t need to worry about manual follow-up.

Using document automation helps companies speed up processes. And it improves customer service, because key documents—like invoices—can be referenced in an instant.

5 Quick Tips to Get Started with Forms Management and Document Automation

1. Eliminate paper-based forms.

2. Make your fillable forms easy to follow.

3. Sync your web-based forms with your back-end systems.

4. Use back-end data to prepopulate your business documents (e.g., invoices).

5. Automate your document approval process.

How Do Digital Signatures Work?

How Do Digital Signatures Work?

Signing documents has come a long way in recent years. It used to be that to approve a document, you needed to carry it from point A to B to get a signature. And if you needed it to be saved electronically, you’d have to scan it.

Today, digital signatures are the norm. But many organizations still have questions…

What are they? How do digital signatures work? Are they legal? Why should you use them? And, more important, where (and when) should you use digital signatures?

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a Digital Signature?

Simply put, a digital signature is the electronic equivalent of a handwritten signature.

There are typically two types of digital signatures used by businesses. The first is a wet signature, which is an individual’s signature captured digitally. The second is a pin-based signature, which is a series of numbers you enter to verify your identity.

How Do Digital Signatures Work?

In practice, using digital signatures is fairly straightforward.

Digital signatures are unique to each signer, just like handwritten signatures. That’s because they’re based on public key cryptography. 

How Do Digital Signatures Work? (article 4 - part 2)

Cryptography is a mathematical calculation that makes a document or message unreadable during transmission. An algorithm is used with two related keys, private and public. The private key is used for creating the digital signature. And the public key is used to verify the signature and make the document or message readable.

Here’s an example. You deliver a shipment to a customer. The customer needs to sign. And you need to bring that signed document back to your warehouse to be retained.

Digital signatures and document management can accelerate this process. The customer can sign on a tablet or smartphone. And that signed document can be instantly saved in your document management system. There’s no need to carry paper around.

Are Digital Signatures Legal?

Digital signatures are legal, just like their handwritten counterparts.

Legislation like the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (UETA) and the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGN) made the use of digital signatures legal years ago.

You can learn more here >

Where Should You Use Digital Signatures?

There are many business documents—both internal and external—that require signatures. For starters:

  • Purchase orders
  • Invoices
  • Expense reports
  • Loan applications
  • Contracts

One of the best uses of digital signatures is in an approval process. By using digital signatures and routing documents electronically, you can shave hours, days, or even months off an approval process.

Why Use Digital Signatures?

You should use digital signatures to reduce paper, save time, and keep documents secure.

Many industries have already embraced digital signatures. Financial institutions use digital signatures for loan applications. Retailers use digital signatures to accelerate transaction processing times. Delivery companies like FedEx and UPS collect signatures digitally on the spot—and instantly confirm deliveries. Pharmaceutical companies use digital signatures to speed up regulatory approval processes with the FDA.

When You Pair Digital Signatures with Document Management Systems, You'll

Reduce paper

Get approvals faster

Free up employee time

Retain documents—and keep them secure

What is Document Capture Automation?

What is Document Capture Automation?

Document capture automation is the process of capturing documents from any source—paper, email, FTP—and saving them automatically.

In today’s era of digital transformation, document capture automation is more important than ever.

88 percent of respondents to a recent AIIM survey claim inbound digital correspondence is on the rise. Less paper is being created and used in processes—which is a good thing. It also means that organizations are looking for more automation in document capture.

It’s safe to say that document capture isn’t just about scanning and storing documents digitally anymore.

Document Capture Automation and Document Management

Document capture—including mobile capture, recognition, and scanning—remains one of the top capabilities of electronic document management systems.

And document capture today should take document management to the next level of automation. After all, more business documents are created and processed electronically than before. And that means that automation can be employed to capture these documents.

How Document Capture Automation Works

Organizations are growing, and so are documents. And processing more documents means higher costs when done manually.

Document capture automation is a step beyond simply scanning and storing documents electronically.

What is Document Capture Automation? (article 5 - part 2)

After all, documents drive business processes. And capture is often the first step to efficiently managing information in your organization.

But there’s more to automating document capture than simply capturing documents. Here are the six steps any good document capture automation project should cover.

1. Capturing Documents

Sure, you might still need to deal with the rogue paper invoice. But the vast majority of documents are created and delivered electronically today.

And that means that automation can be employed to capture documents the second they hit your organization.

One of the main reasons for this is that it’s much more secure to capture and route documents digitally. Say an invoice arrives by email. Your AP specialist needs to route the invoice for approval to pay it. If your AP specialist can put this invoice into a digital workflow, s/he’ll maintain visibility over the process. But if s/he needs to carry a paper invoice from point A to point B—and leave it on someone’s desk—the invoice won’t be secure.

2. Sorting Documents by Type

Once a document is captured, it needs to be classified. This used to mean manually keying indexes on a scanned document. But it’s different today.

Automation techniques, like optical character recognition (OCR), can be used to automatically sort documents. In this situation, the technology reads the text on the page and automatically classifies it.

Consider the digital invoice. When it arrives, OCR scans the page and identifies a customer number. It can then associate the invoice with the original purchase order—and that makes the invoice approval process much more efficient. No additional information needs to be hunted down.

3. Extracting Information from Documents

Once documents are classified, the information on them needs to be pulled out—so your employees can act on it.

Say you’re in the process of routing the digital invoice for approval—and the vendor calls. They want to confirm the amount due and the anticipated payment date. Because that invoice is captured and integrated into your systems, you can pull up that information in an instant.  

4. Verifying Accuracy Against Back-End Systems

You want to make sure the information on your documents matches up with your back-end business systems. Document capture automation can make that connection for you.

When that invoice arrives, the information—like customer name and amount due—can be verified against accounting software like Great Plains. It can also be verified against your purchase order.

That means you can verify that information is accurate—and keep your systems up-to-date at the same time.

5. Routing Documents to Appropriate Parties

Remember, capturing documents is just the beginning. You also need to route them to the appropriate parties for reviews, approvals, or simply notifications.

That means that the capture of a digital invoice can trigger an approval process. The invoice will be instantly sent off to the AP specialist—and anyone else who needs to approve the invoice before it can be paid.

6. Saving Documents in the Document Management System

Once a document has been captured and processed, you need to retain a copy for your records. Luckily, that process too can be automated.

So, once your invoice is approved, it can be automatically saved into your document management system. Due to document classification and integration with your systems, it should be stored alongside related documents—like purchase orders.

And the Best Part About Document Capture Automation…

All of those stages take place without any manual effort from employees.

So, document capture automation offers a whole new way for organizations to save on time and effort in their document-related processes. 

What is Document Capture Automation? (article 5 - part 3)

Benefits of Document Capture Automation

There are endless ways that companies can benefit from document capture automation. But the benefits tend to fall into three core categories.

Save on Costs

When it comes to capturing paper documents, the costs stack up fast. There’s the actual paper and storage costs. But there’s also the cost of employee time and manual processes to consider. Document capture automation can help you eliminate these costs.

Improve Productivity

There’s no need for employees to print, route, scan, and save documents manually anymore. That means you can save on the cost of their time. Documents can be captured and run through their processes automatically. There’s no need to babysit the documents.

Make Customers Happy

When documents are captured automatically, there’s no waiting time to find them. And that means when a customer calls with a question on an order, you can find the answer in seconds. In fact, one-third of those using document capture cite faster customer response times as their biggest benefit (AIIM).

Document Capture Automation Helps You Automate More

Document capture automation can also be a springboard to greater process automation initiatives.

After all, if a document is captured automatically, it’s much easier to automate the other processes it needs to go through.

Maybe you want orders from trusted customers to be routed to your order entry application. And maybe you want orders from less-trusted or new customers to be reviewed by your credit department first. If you automate document capture for these orders, it’s easy to add rules for routing them, too.

By using document capture automation, you can also boost your visibility over the document lifecycle. If a customer calls to ask where his or her order is, you’ll be able to find the answer in seconds.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The opportunities to automate further are endless, once you’ve tackled document capture automation.

How Well Are You Managing Documents?
Find out. All you need to do is answer nine quick questions about how you're managing documents today. Then you'll get actionable advice for improving your processes today.