Document management: What is it and why do I need it

by Jerry Foley

With the exception of backups, I can think of no topic in the business world that so many people agree they need. This topic is the importance of Document Management Systems (DMS).

Often times this scenario plays out. A senior person in your organization cannot find a document they swore was saved in a particular directory or they cannot find the proper version with the latest edits. In the haste to address these issues, an organization edict declares that from here forward ALL employees will use proper DMS. There are many pros and cons of document management, the trouble is, not everyone has a clear understanding of DMS or how to implement one.

What is proper DMS?

While the list of what it isn’t is shorter, let’s talk about the specific needs of ALL DMS. First, let’s create a workable definition:

Document management “is an automated way of organizing, securing, capturing, digitizing, tagging, approving, and completing tasks with your business files. Although most document management systems store data in the cloud, it is much more than just cloud storage” (eFileCabinet, n.d.)

Key components of better DMS include storage and collaboration, sharing, approvals and signatures, security and compliance, efficiency and integration, customer support, and compatibility. Let’s discuss each component.

Storage and collaboration involve the ability to:

  • Store documents in a wide variety of types, JPEG, WAV, PFD, PPT, EXL, DOCX, etc.
  • Provide tools that will enable ‘smart searches’ for required files. This would include the ability to tag file names or specific context and content for searches.
  • Provide some amount of online storage. This is not particularly important as you will need to expand storage capabilities as needed.
  • Have collaboration ability to view incremental changes (versioning), share documents, and be able to edit docs with other users simultaneously.
  • Integrate business apps. This is critical, especially if your organization relies on how your business software interacts with DMS.

Sharing, approvals, and signatures

Since most docs are created to be shared, the process the DMS handles such as sharing is very important. Document trails are particularly important should you need to address compliance or legal issues. The DMS must have the basic level of functionality that would include the routing of the docs to specified personnel for review, completion, and/or sign-off. Research the DMS for the ability to create and implement e-signatures that match the compliance your organization will need. Versioning is a cornerstone of collaboration. The user should be able to check out and check in a document to avoid version contamination.

Security and compliance

A major factor for all DMS should be security. Most organizations are hamstrung by a variety of compliance issues based on their business realm. Among the most stringent compliance, laden industries are banking, healthcare, government entities, and schools. Enterprise authentication tools such as (MFA) Multi-Factor Authentication, permission capabilities, and audit trails are sometimes considered advanced features but really should be looked at as mandatory. The DMS must provide a mechanism within the software to prevent permanent file deletion.

Efficiency and integration

The ability of your DMS to automatically scan in a document, run through an (OCR) Optical Character Recognition process, and file to the proper directory structure makes the DMS a workflow enhancer, by avoiding double entry. Coordination mobile apps are critical in today’s business model. Many times they limited or nearly full functionality. The DMS must employ robust System Administration elements. The case can be made to restrict certain persons from being able to delete files or even allow them to see files in particular directories. This should be coupled with the ability to change permissions.

Customer support and compatibility

The DMS provider should provide live telephone support at least during your organizations business hours. The use of ‘chat’ windows has quickly become the tool of choice for quick, efficient customer support. Email support request would be for the less critical support issues. Compatibility includes API support, file format support, and browser compatibility. Ensure the different mobile device IOS is compatible with both IOS and Android.

In closing, I think you can now see that DMS is a very valuable tool to enhance your business model and is a process that requires input from top to bottom. The key ideas here for the DMS is scalability, user-friendly, and business functionality compatibility.

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