How to prepare for a document management purchase -- what to expect and how to run a successful implementation
Document management introduction
If you threw open the windows in your office on a windy day, what would happen? If your business is like so many others, there'd be chaos as paper flew everywhere. Even employees who use computers for most work would have trouble getting anything done as important records fluttered away. Perhaps it's time for you to stop the paper chase and consider a document management system.
Simply put, document management systems can transform the way your business operates. Whether you're solving a paper problem or simply improving the way you handle electronic files, the right document management system can provide a wide range of benefits for businesses large and small.
If you have employees who spend most of the day filing or retrieving documents, or if you spend good money every month to warehouse old paper records, you should investigate a document management system.
As you start investigating your options, one distinction to be aware of is between document imaging systems and document management software. The essential difference is that document imaging systems include tools to help you convert paper records into electronic files, while document management software is used to manage your electronic files.
The software is similar in both cases: you'll still need security, tracking, and searching. But document imaging requires software and hardware to scan and index paper documents, while document management software is better suited for capturing email and web content.
Who uses document management systems?
The benefits of document management systems hinge on their ability to improve your business processes without changing them too much. While one reason to choose document imaging - that you're drowning in paper files - is fairly obvious, there are benefits to be had across a wide range of situations and industries.
Reasons to turn to document management systems
More and more industries are falling under the influence of legislation that requires specific procedures for record keeping. Financial services companies need to be able to prove that information is unaltered to comply with Sarbanes-Oxley; medical practices have to prove that their records are safe from prying eyes to comply with HIPPA. The legal industry also has specific requirements related to discovery, including full-text searching of massive amounts of documents.
For businesses in these more regulated industries, document management systems are by far the best way to ensure compliance with strict security and record-keeping rules. It's important to note that such systems only help your company become compliant, they don't guarantee it. But, the right procedures and behaviors do. No matter how secure your electronic records are, if an employee prints sensitive information and takes it to lunch, you're not in compliance.
Because they benefit business units shared by almost all companies, document management systems are used in a broad spectrum of businesses. Human resources and accounting departments, traditional heavy users of paper files, are huge beneficiaries of document management. In addition, the Patriot Act's requirements of immediate government access to records apply to a wide range of businesses, and ISO 9000/9001 certification efforts can also benefit from document management. Manufacturing and government are two sectors that pursue document management for these broader regulatory reasons.
Any organization that wants to put more processes in place can benefit as well. Document management systems are used to enforce naming conventions, ensure strict approval processes are followed, and generally add consistency to existing procedures.
Electronic document management benefits
Document management systems provide several different types of benefits: some obvious, some more subtle.
One of the biggest hidden costs that paper-intensive businesses face is the time it takes to work with paper files. Say it takes a $20/hour employee five minutes to walk to a records room, locate a file, act on it, re-file it, and return to his desk. At just four files per day, that's over 86 hours per year spent filing - around $1700 in wages. At ten files per day, that shoots up to 216 hours per year - over five weeks' time, or $4300 - and that's only for one employee. A system that lets employees find and work with those documents without ever leaving their desks can instantly slash those costs.
Document management systems also eliminate the "lost document" cost - the time it takes to recreate a document that's been destroyed or misplaced. Some suppliers estimate the cost of replacing each lost document at $250.
Additional cost savings come from the office space that can be freed by eliminating most paper records. With real estate costs at $15 to $40 per square foot in many major cities, converting records rooms into usable office space can save considerable amounts of money. In other cases, you may be able to eliminate warehousing costs for years of old records.
SecurityIf you're not taking data security seriously, you should be. Threats from outside (competition, identity thieves) and inside (disgruntled employees, employee theft) threaten the integrity and value of your most important information. Document management systems can provide several layers of security:
- Multiple levels of password-protected access for groups and individuals
- Encryption of document contents
- Audit trails showing who has accessed or updated documents
Whether your existing documents are paper or electronic, chances are you don't have adequate disaster recovery plans in place. Document management systems protect your paper records by creating electronic copies that can be backed up in multiple ways. They also can include off-site data backups and other steps to ensure that a fire, flood, or break-in won't cripple your business.
Even as the Web makes it easier and easier for employees to work remotely, paper records remain a serious roadblock to distributed organizations. The right document management system allows your employees to access vital records from wherever they are. Simply allowing more than one employee to look at a file at the same time is a significant improvement over paper files. In addition, multi-layered access allows employees to see and change only the documents they're authorized to handle.