A document management system is a software solution that allows for the digital management of documentation. Today most documentation managed by document management systems is business-related.
What Do Document Management Systems Do?
Document management systems:
Let’s Take a Deeper Look
To put it simply, document management systems are designed to make tasks related to the management of documentation faster, easier and more efficient. Let’s take a deeper look into what a document management system can do for any company or organization.
1) Make Light Work of Heavy Loads
Hard-copy paper was at one time a great invention in itself. Compared to rock, slate tablets or drawing on stone walls, papyrus was a big step forward! However, even paper became a heavy burden as businesses and organizations faced the need to store and process large amounts of documented information. Columns of stacked paper and lost documentation became common in many industries.
Scanning technology invented in 1957 came into play in the 1980s when software developers utilized scanning technology to create the first document management systems. The first task was simple in theory: scan hundreds, thousands and even tens of thousands of documents into a secured digital environment and factor in the ability to search the digital documentation. For many companies, this meant no more searching in cold document secure rooms and through rows of filing cabinets. Instead, it meant finding documents by simply using a laptop, business console, or more recently, via a mobile device.
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2 ) Produce Secure Documentation
Hard-copy documentation was never easy to store. It’s easy to lose, difficult to search and keeping it safe was and is expensive. Locking down hard-copy documentation in environmentally-controlled storage rooms simply wasn’t something that most companies and organizations could afford. Most businesses simply used filing cabinets or cramped storerooms. Because of these unsophisticated processes for document storage, it was inevitable that the mountains of documentation made management a difficult endeavor.
In the 1980s, however, document management software entered the commercial scene. Companies began purchasing the new solutions and old filing cabinets and storage rooms were thrown away, cleared out or used for other purposes. Some businesses and organizations who purchased document management systems, per industry regulations, were still required to keep the hard copy files for a specified amount of time but even for these companies, the fact that the documentation was always secure and available in a digital space (in addition to a physical space) was a valuable assurance and convenience.
Companies considering the purchase of a document management system may wonder how they can find the safest and most secure system. There are, in fact, various digital security certifications and information security management techniques used by the developers of each document management system. One system that works for a particular company may not be right for another. Would-be purchasers should perform their due diligence. For example, start with a Google search for “document management systems for [ENTER INDUSTRY NAME HERE] companies” and then research the results, focusing on client testimonials as well as the security certifications and management techniques used by the various solutions.
3) Route in the Blink of an Eye
If the process of storing hard-copy documentation seems difficult, then routing processes are far worse. Imagine being in charge of physically transferring one official document to one or more (usually more) approved reviewers, editors or signees and then imagine routing hundreds, thousands or even tens-of-thousands of documents to all of the same approvers. It’s easy to see how quickly the physical routing of documentation literally becomes a nightmare and requires many full-time employees to dedicate most of their time to the task. Even with email technology, which is still valuable for many purposes, documentation is still bound to get lost in email folders, never to be found again.
With a document management system, however, routing happens in a fraction of the time that physical or email routing requires and prevents the document from becoming lost!
4) Track at the Speed of Thought
Along with routing hard-copy documentation, there was the problem of tracking documentation. Employees would take a document to a reviewer or an approver for a signature but what if he or she wasn’t there? Or what if one or multiple reviewers requested further edits before signing off? What if they signed the document but requested that it be routed to someone else at a later date? There are many scenarios like these that made it easy to lose track of documents or forget how a document fits into a business process. One document is somewhat easy to keep in mind but hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of documents are another level of complexity that requires additional management tools.
One of the main reasons document management systems were developed was to route documents quickly and efficiently. It’s natural during the routing and approval processes of documentation that additional edits will become necessary. For this reason, many document management systems also integrate tracking and time-stamp technology into their solutions so that tracking documentation becomes simple.
5) Find the Needle in the Filing Cabinet
In the past, searching out a document among thousands was a matter of finding the right filing cabinet, the right drawer, or in the more recent past, the right email. Even with email, locating a document took a lot of time and wasn’t always secure.
Enter document management systems. Most document management systems are built with top-notch search technology so that companies and organizations don’t have to waste time and money hunting for necessary documentation. Even for companies with thousands of employees and millions of documents, the right document management system will provide effective digital document organizers that allow users to locate one document (among millions) in a matter of seconds.
6) Validation May Be Required
Today many industries are highly regulated. Financial institutions, legal firms and life science companies are among those that must meet a high level of practical and ethical standards to stay in business. Because these industries (among others) require highly secure document management systems that function via unique industry standards, specialized document management systems can help provide assurance to regulatory inspectors and auditors that document security and process management are being handled according to regulations.
Not all document management systems are created equally, of course. Some provide more innovations that others. For example, some document management systems actually include auditing capabilities so that highly regulated companies and organizations can perform internal “practice” audits in preparation for third-party audits. These internal audits can be used to conduct any type of audit and not just those related to document management.
7) Cloud-based Document Management Systems
In the last decade, it has become popular to refer to systems housed on the Internet as “cloud based.” Since most software systems are less accessible and less convenient to use when they are not cloud based, it would make sense that most document management software systems would move to the cloud and this is indeed the trend.
Of course, many companies and organizations have concerns (most of them security-related) surrounding the management of their highly valuable content online. However, as per most solutions, necessity is the mother of invention and there are already many viable secure and cloud-based document management system solutions available.
8) Have Document Management Systems "Gone Mobile"?
Most document management systems have “gone mobile” in the last few years. Mobile applications are essential in today’s business environment.
9) The immediate benefits of a document management system
In summary, here’s a concise list of some of the high-level benefits that a document management system can provide for any company or organization:
- Increase the speed of work while reducing error
- Eliminate lost and misfiled documents
- Save time, space and money
- Automate redundant processes
- Improve customer service
- Know where your documents are at all times
- Work from anywhere
- Control access
- Track files
- Document turnaround is fast and efficient
- Expand business quickly
- Maximize performance
In short, document management systems are an evolving and often customizable solution used for the management of documentation. For most businesses, document management systems could be used to improve business processes at every level of the company but as with all major purchases, the necessary research and consultation should be completed.
Marci Crane is a staff writer for GxP Lifeline and has written about topics related to the life science industries for more than 10 years.