What are the Best Document Management Capabilities?
Document Management is the use of a software application to track digital documents from creation through approval and publication. It serves in many ways to apply a formal governance framework to the document creation and collaborative editing processes.
Today document management is generally incorporated as a set of capabilities in a broader enterprise content management (ECM) or information management solution.
Five Key Document Management Capabilities
Traditional document management includes the following capabilities:
Let’s take a look at each of these Document Management capabilities.
Check-in and check-out are very similar to how a library works – when a book is checked out, nobody else has access to it until it is checked back in. In document management, a user can check out a document in order to make changes to it. While the document is checked out, nobody else can edit it, and, depending on the solution, it may not even be accessible in a read-only mode.
Once the user has made any desired changes, the user checks the document back in. At this point, a new version of the document is created – we’ll discuss that shortly – and the document is unlocked and available for other users to review and/or check out.
The point of this capability is to ensure that multiple users aren’t editing the same document simultaneously and overwriting each other’s changes.
As the name suggests, version control is used to manage or control different versions of a document as it goes through the authoring and approval process. New versions are automatically created through auto-save, by saving the document manually, or, in this specific context, by checking the document back in.
Some systems support major and minor versions of documents, while others simply consider any changes to result in a new version of the document. In either case, the system will also allow authorized users to compare different versions of the document to see what changes were made between any two versions of the document.
This feature also reduces the need to store multiple copies and versions, and their associated naming conventions, in order to retain a document’s history. This manual approach – changing file names to e.g., “mydocument_final.doc” – is often overlooked or not of value, with the result that even with those naming conventions nobody is certain as to which version is the current, final, or approved one. Version control results in storing one document, with all of its versions, in one location, so there is no confusion.
Many systems that offer document control capabilities offer the ability to roll back, or revert to the previous version. This is often done when a version is released prematurely or with some sort of error. This is most commonly seen in web content management and software development repositories as opposed to documents, but it is seen in some case management and contract management solutions as well.
Security and Access Controls
Security and access controls help to ensure that any changes made to a document are done only by authorized users. Some users might be able to make changes directly to a document, while others might be limited to only commenting on the document and still others to read-only access. They also help to provide accountability, as any changes made are also linked to the individual(s) who made them.
Audit trails show what has happened in a system. In the context of document management, audit trails can track every change to a document throughout its lifecycle, including who made what changes, when, and in what sequence. As with security and access controls, this helps to ensure accountability and transparency in the authoring and approval process.
Document Management system capabilities - like all technology – are constantly evolving. There are newer capabilities that go beyond the traditional capabilities we've reviewed. Let’s explore some of the top ones, including:
Cloud access to your Document Management system is an important consideration. Do your employees need to upload and download documents? Do they need to be able to do this anywhere? Any time? If so, consider a solution with Cloud access.
When the knowledge base grows, it quickly makes finding specific documents a challenge. A robust search feature ensures that you can accurately find what you need. Some systems even offer categorization, tagging, and rating that all assist with search as well.
Here at AIIM, we agree that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But, Document Management interfaces can be a differentiator. Your staff is going to be using the system all the time, even daily for some. Offering an attractive interface could help ease the transition to the new system.
Why Document Management?
The costs of going paperless are minuscule compared to the potential consequences of not switching to Electronic Document Management. We’ve written about the potential risks that could happen to businesses who don’t adopt EDMS (there are eight!), and delaying implementation can have a ripple effect in each of those areas.
As with everything else, the hardest step is the first step toward change. The organizations that have taken this step have seen their operations transformed and have enjoyed a return on investment in their document management solution. In fact, we’ve also written a lot about the value Document Management can bring to your business as well.