If you're confused over what document management really means, don't worry, you're not alone. It's a very broad category that refers to converting paper files to digital form, which makes all files searchable by type and keywords. It also lets you sync files when you make changes to a document and makes it easy for authorized employees to access documents at any time and on any device.
A document management system (DMS) can refer to any technologies needed to do any or all of these parts. Therefore, you must be careful in comparing and selecting products because the "document management solution" label doesn't tell you everything you need to know.
How to Prepare for Document Management
The first step in document management is to decide which documents you need to manage. And, no, that doesn't mean you should start by scanning all that paper bulging from your file cabinets or stacked to the ceiling of your storage container. Instead, proceed in manageable and less overwhelming chunks.
"Managing pools of documents that are categorized by the functional area of the business is a great use," says Joe Bachana, president of NYC-based DPCI, a content technologies solutions provider. "Also managing the version control of certain 'living' documents is a terrific use. Scanning records is helpful but sometimes onerous for administrative staff, so have a good business reason for doing so."
In other words, pick a category of documents that is most critical to your company, and start digitizing those. If they're already in digital form, look for ways to make them more manageable and useful. Also, remember that not all of your documents are on paper. Email is another source of documents, and so are files that you store in the cloud-based services such as Dropbox, Salesforce, or Office 365.
Once you know which documents you want to manage—and where all the documents reside—choosing a document management solution to handle it all becomes infinitely easier.
What to Look For In a Document Management System
Jeffrey Segarra, senior director of imaging product management at Nuance Communications, offered this checklist to help determine what you need from a document management system. Consider these 10 questions before you buy:
- Do you need mobile or cloud access to these documents?
- Consider your level of hardware/software expertise—do you have in-house capability or do you need a trusted IT vendor to handle it all?
- Do you want to spend money upfront for a total solution or would you prefer to pay over time?
- Do you need desktop tools such as scanning, PDF editing or publishing (PDF/A)?
- Do you have security protocols that you must follow—HIPAA, for example?
- Is full text search important or is simple folder or file browsing acceptable?
- Do you need to connect to a database, customer relations management (CRM), or other sources for data look-up?
- Do you need a completely internal system for employees only or do customers and/or suppliers need to participate too?
- Is collaboration (real time document sharing, collective editing, change tracking and management) an important component to the system?
- Do you require industry-specific capabilities—manufacturing, legal, healthcare, or insurance, for examples? Many specialty DMS system target specific industries.
"As you answer your DMS strategy questions, categorize your requirements into 'must have,' 'nice to have' and 'unnecessary,'" said Segarra. "Assess features that fit into the 'nice to have' category to determine whether the offering can demonstrate clear time savings and/or productivity gains to the business. That will move those items into the 'must have' category."
But there are a few more considerations worthy of adding to your checklist.
"Several other features are also crucial when choosing a cloud document management solution," says Aaron Weiss, director of Marketing for the HP LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions Business. "Solutions should offer encrypted data transfer, encrypted data at rest, and password protection. These features will help SMBs keep documents stored securely."
Weiss went on to say list more features that small business may want to consider, especially if they're looking to cloud-based systems. "Some cloud document management solutions offer optical character recognition optical character recognition (OCR) technology, document indexing, search engine capabilities and full audit trail, which allows employees and SMB owners to see who's accessed and modified a document from creation to deletion."