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What is document management?

By Ricardo Rengifo posted 08-17-2021 06:29


The definition of document management should be fairly easy to surmise. However, a peek under the hood of a document management system would reveal the intelligence that goes into something as seemingly straightforward as document management. 

In fact, ‘management’ is merely one vague aspect of a system that is foundational to any digitally transformed enterprise. It involves capturing, storing, tracking, and routing documents through all the functions of an organization. At the same time, each document is indexed intelligently, made searchable and retrievable with ease.

However, even that doesn’t tell you the entire story. While digital document management was conceived as a replacement for cumbersome paper-based processes, its utility has far outgrown its original purpose. And with the rate of change of technology in today’s age, any definition applied today would seem inadequate the next year.

What is a document management system?

A document management system (or DMS) is a computer or cloud-based application that helps capture, store, track and manage documents as well as files of all kinds across an organization electronically. The file types and formats include documents, images, pdfs, spreadsheets, media files and more.

However, going beyond the parsimony of that definition, a document management system enables a significantly increased capability for optimization along and across the various verticals of any organization. It empowers the organization to function in harmony by removing a number of speed bumps in business-as-usual, many of which may have been invisible before. For example, the simple journey of a document from creation or capture, through a chain of action and approval processes, to completion and archival involves a number of stages. The transition between each stage used to be an invisible downtime. No more. With a well functioning document management system the entire journey of the document can be optimized.

A document management system invariably goes beyond its call of duty, i.e. document management. Think of it in the following terms.

Document Management is Capacity Enhancement.

Many of the capacity enhancement features are built right into modern document management systems. Further, they provide great possibilities for enterprise-wide capacity augmentation through easy integrations with business tools. A few of its remarkable in-built features are listed below.

Workflow Automation

Any repeatable task can be automated. Capturing, indexing and routing of documents through its stages of action can easily be hard coded on a DMS in granular detail. Automating the step-by-step process makes actions smoother and handovers instantaneous. For instance, a vendor registration form can be captured digitally and sent through the various stages of approval and indexing. Company details, billing information, invoices, etc. can automatically be fed into the accounts, operations, and so on as needed, with zero manual intervention. What’s more, the whole process is tracked and monitored, and the source document is retrievable whenever necessary. The optimization potential of this single feature is huge.

Secure Sharing and Access Control

Email may be the easiest way to share a document. However, once a document is shared over email, you have no control over how it’s shared further, or who else has access to it. A DMS tightly controls the accessibility of the document. Even within the access control, privileges can be granted in granular detail. What level of access a user is allowed to have? Can the user read, make comments, leave suggestions, or edit? All of these can be determined by you and implemented on a DMS. You may even choose to ensure that a file never leaves the organization's host server if need be. The permissions can be tailored as required while documents can be shared securely - be it internally, or with third parties like vendors and clients. 

Real-time Collaboration

A DMS allows the same document to be created, updated, and edited by multiple users in real-time. This is a boon for small teams working on tight deadlines as it reduces the back and forth movement of documents while limiting the number of redundant copies of the same file. And don’t fret about reverting to an earlier version of the document. A DMS captures all historical versions of the document classified by time and by the user. This makes collaboration as seamless as it can be for distributed teams, even if the members are located in the same office.

Business Tools Integration

This is where a DMS becomes layer zero of your technology stack. Most business tools already used by enterprises can be seamlessly integrated with a DMS. ERP for resource planning, CRM for customer communication, tools for analytics and automation, the whole gamut can be enhanced with minimal or zero error-prone steps like data entry.

Audit Trails

Impeccable indexing with a DMS ensures that a document is never lost. All documents that enter the system are retrievable. All changes on and access to a document are captured in the form of metadata. A historical log of versions and actions by users is immutably maintained for every document. This makes for reliable audits for regulatory compliance, investigations, dispute resolutions, and more. 

A great DMS is one that evolves.

As most technologies chase obsolescence, DMS is here to stay simply because it is not expendable. Every layer of technology stacked upon a DMS only reinforces its foundations. That said, a great DMS is one that adapts to the novelty that comes at a bargain for growth.  Every new application of a DMS in your organization as it grows will aid its evolution. Making it even more robust and reliable in the future. 

Which makes today’s definition inadequate soon enough.