What is document management?

Document management is a system or process used to capture, track and store electronic documents such as PDFs, word processing files and digital images of paper-based content. According to the Association for Intelligent Information Management, document management software “incorporates document and content capture, workflow, document repositories, output systems and information retrieval systems. Also, the processes used to track, store and control documents.” (1)

Document management can save an organization time and money. It provides benefits such as document security, access control, centralized storage, audit trails and streamlined search and retrieval.

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Document management essentials

Physical filing systems have long been used for capturing and storing paper documents. But organizations face higher costs due to manual processing, risk of human error, physical damage, retrieval issues and lack of space. In the latter case, it’s not uncommon to find warehouses full of archived paper documents or basements lined with rows of filing cabinets.

In the 1980s, software was developed to store and manage documents in electronic form. Scanning technology enabled organizations to digitize paper material for simpler online tracking and storage. Document management solutions have since expanded to include security, workflow and auditing features.

While the world has not gone fully paperless, more and more organizations are taking advantage of automation and online document management tools. An added benefit is the storage capacity of a server versus a physical filing cabinet or warehouse.

According to FinancesOnline: “The benefits of document management software include optimized document handling, improved data accessibility, streamlined file searches and lower document management costs. In addition, having such tools will allow you to get a tighter grasp on the security of your company files while improving collaboration by making data sharing easy.” (2)

Today’s systems may vary in scope and size, but most share common attributes: (3)

  • Metadata is typically provided for each document. It includes things like the date a document is stored, title and description.
  • Indexing, retrieval and search help users find documents and information based on document identifiers, metadata and content.
  • Security features help to protect information and support compliance. Most systems enable administrators to control who has access to documents.
  • Workflow allows administrators to create rules that dictate the flow of documents through an organization.
  • Collaboration enables multiple users to view and modify documents at the same time. Document changes and history are monitored by the system.
  • Most systems let users retrieve previous versions of a document or continue working from a selected point. Versioning is useful for documents that change over time and require updating.

Document management and content management have some overlap, but there are differences. Generally, the former focuses on capture and storage of structured documents. While the latter can also handle unstructured content like web pages, social media, video and audio files.

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Why document management is important?

Many organizations today manage a conglomeration of paper and digital information. Content can be anywhere: electronic files, paper documents, spreadsheets, scanned files and images. Documents may be stored on public or private networks, shared drives, hard drives, filing cabinets — even email, which still accounts for a significant amount of corporate documentation.

Multiple repositories and information silos present challenges. Organizations face higher risk of damaged or lost files, errors and redundancies. Paper storage may require significant physical space. There may be no collective corporate memory or easy way to find valuable content across the business. What’s more, proper records management is becoming a legal imperative.

A document management platform can integrate disparate documents for greater control, access and process efficiency. It offers significant advantages in terms of information retrieval, security, governance and lower cost of operations.

“Any organization that requires the structured storage and retrieval of documents can benefit from investing in a document management system (DMS),” says business.com. “Not only does it save time and money, but it provides tracking for sensitive documents, showing who has accessed them, when and any actions that were performed on the document. This kind of tracking gives DMS software its greatest value and appeal, protecting organizations from lawsuits, fines and penalties.” (4)

Key features of effective document management

Document management software automatically archives, captures and stores high volumes of content. It optimizes the process with features such as information consolidation, collaboration, search and retrieval, security, and workflow. In addition, the best platforms offer cloud, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to maximize the ways businesses capture and control information.

In his IBM blog, Senior Product Manager, Benjamin Antin outlines some common challenges and how this advanced technology can help:

  • Many business analysts need to engage technical experts to create system templates for classifying new document types. Look for AI-enabled capture services that remove the need for templates. These solutions can be configured and updated by non-technical personnel, enabling faster time to value.
  • Organizations that use data capture applications on premises may have to spend more money to deploy additional servers. Look for a cloud document-processing service that can provide scalability when demand for document capture increases. Using a cloud-based service reduces the costs of deploying and managing servers on premises.
  • Organizations lack ways to classify and index sensitive data in documents before it’s sent to the management system. Look for tools that flag protected data so it can be redacted or directed to specified streams. This reduces the risk of non-compliance and enables faster response when new compliance requirements are put in place.
  • Organizations have millions of documents in repositories, but no way to make them available to data scientists for analytics. Look for a solution that can process multiple document types and layouts and use data extraction strategies such as optical character recognition (OCR) and key-value pair matching. Export to a common JSON format also helps.

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