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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Document Management System (DMS)

Document management is one of the oldest of the content management disciplines - and was essentially born out of the need to manage ever growing amounts of information being created within organisations. In a world where only hardcopy information existed - there was always a physical limit to the amount of information that could be stored and retrieved. It could be argued that Microsoft with the introduction of MS-Office and MS-Windows released users from this physical limit - and with the exponential increase in information that has resulted, document management software has become an intrinsic part of most organisations as they seek to manage the vast quantities of data they hold.

Defining a Document Management System (DMS)

At the simplest level - all users who have a PC who set up folders into which they store word docs, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets etc are effectively generating a basic document folder structure to allow them to easily store, retrieve and expire document content. The difference between this type of document management and that provided by DMS vendors is effectively the scale of what is being managed. Document management systems are designed from the ground up to assist entire organisations seeking to manage the creation, storage, retrieval and expiry of information stored as documents. Unlike a file structure on your PC, a DMS revolves around a centralised repository that is used to manage the storage of any type of information that could be of value to an organisation - and protect the same against loss.

As content stored within a DMS is typically self contained (id est it cannot be assumed that it has any relationship with any other stored information), a well-designed document management system promotes finding and sharing information easily. It does this via sophisticated search tools - and the adding of classification schemes or taxonomies to the document information being stored.
    There are many different levels of document management software available on the market - but 'best of breed' document management systems will have the following features:
  • focused on managing documents, though they are often capable of managing other 'electronic information' such as images, movie files etc.
  • each unit of information (document) is self-contained
  • there are few (if any) links between documents (they may be associated by 'grouping' the items using a classification scheme or taxonomy)
  • focused primarily on storage and archiving and document life-cycle management including document expiry
  • includes powerful workflow for incorporating business processes into the management of the documents.
  • targeted at storing and presenting documents in their native format (not limited to MS-Office products but including many different information types)
  • document access may be restricted at a folder or document level - and other security models may be applied
  • limited ability to create web pages (suitable for intranets but not internets) typically produces one page for each document                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
    DMS benefits break down into two main types;
    Tangible and Intangible.

    Tangible benefits are those things that can be measured in the sense that the benefit can be quantified.
    Intangible benefits are things that its going to be hard to measure and attribute to the use of a DMS, but are nevertheless known benefits that occur indirectly through the implementation of a DMS.

    Tangible benefits would include the following;

    Reduced Storage

    The cost of commercial property and the need to store documentation for e.g. retrieval, regulatory compliance means that paper based document storage competes with people for space within an organisation. Scanning documents and integrating them into a document management system can greatly reduce the amount of prime storage space required by paper. It also allows any documents that still have to be stored as paper to be stored in less expensive locations.

    Flexible Retrieval

    Retrieving documents stored as hard copies, or on microfilm absorbs time. A DMS increases creates electronic images of documents and stores them centrally. Less time is spent locating the documents as they can be retrieved without leaving a desk. DMS users can also access other systems available from the desktop at the same time as retrieving documents. With paper-based solutions documents are often removed from storage and taken back to the desk to access other systems (which can lead to loss, prevents others finding the same file, can be viewed by others).

    Flexible Indexing

    Indexing paper and microfilm in more than one way can be done, but it is awkward, costly and time-consuming. Images of documents stored within a DMS can be indexed in several different ways simultaneously

    Improved, faster and more flexible search

    Document Management Systems can retrieve files by any word or phrase in the document - known as full text search - a capability that is impossible with paper or microfilm. A DMS can also apply single or multiple taxonomies or categorisations to a document of folder that allow documents to be classified and stored in more than one way from a �single instance� � something which is not possible with paper or microfilm.

    Controlled and Improved Document distribution

    Imaging makes it easy to share documents electronically with colleagues and clients over a network, by email or via the Web in a controlled manner. Paper documents usually require photocopying to be shared, and microfilm requires conversion to paper. This provides a cost saving by reducing the overheads associated with paper based document distribution, such as printing and postage and removes the typical delay associated with providing hard copy information.

    Improved Security

    A DMS can provide better, more flexible control over sensitive documents. Many DMS solutions allow access to documents to be controlled at the folder and/or document level for different groups and individuals. Paper documents stored in a traditional filing cabinet or filing room have the same level of security i.e. if you have access to the cabinet you have access to all items in it. A DMS also provides an audit trail of who viewed an item, when � or who modified an item and when, which is difficult to maintain with paper or microfilm based systems. A DMS also removes the possibility of having confidential material or trade secrets lying around unattended in an office.

    Disaster Recovery

    A DMS provides an easy way to back-up documents for offsite storage and disaster recovery providing failsafe archives and an effective disaster recovery strategy. Paper is a bulky and expensive way to back-up records and is vulnerable to fire, flood, vandalism, theft and other 'Acts of God'

    No Lost Files

    Lost documents can be expensive and time-consuming to replace. Within a DMS, imaged documents remain centrally stored when being viewed, so none are lost or misplaced. New documents are less likely to be incorrectly filed and even if incorrectly stored can be quickly and easily found and moved via the full-text searching mechanisms

    Digital Archiving

    Keeping archival versions of documents in a document management system helps protect paper documents, that still have to be retained, from over-handling and keeps electronic documents in a non-proprietary and native format, such as Microsoft Word or Excel

    Improved Regulatory Compliance

    The risk of non conformance leading to fines, a withdrawn licence to operate, or in certain circumstances custodial sentences when an audit takes place is reduced and in most cases removed. A combination of security control, audit trails, archiving and disaster recover ensure that an organisation is able to authenticate the validity of information stored and demonstrate compliance with regulations and requirements.

    Improved Cash Flow

    The increased productivity of processing document-based processes such as invoices, debt collection and other "cash critical" business documents, ensures that the flow of cash can be controlled centrally and all documentation required to make cash flow decisions can be accessed immediately.

    Other less 'tangible' benefits of a DMS might include;

    Improved Internal Operations

    The reduced time to complete processes provided by the tangible benefits, improves the day to day operations of all functions within an organisation, leading to an improved flow of information, an increased perception of staff in their ability to solve questions and tasks and a general 'feel good' factor.

    Competitive Edge

    The same information that was previously stored as paper or microfilm, can now be distributed to customers and target audiences electronically. The 'reduced time-to-market' effect can be for products, services, support - all of which improves the impression the external recipient has of the organisation and provides a competitive edge over your competitors (or it removes a competitive disadvantage if they have already deployed a DMS).

    Improved customer service and satisfaction

    Reduced response times, a more professional response, a more accurate response with more controlled processes reduces the time spent on 'manually' ensuring customer satisfaction and allows staff to allocate resource to other core business activities.

    Preserve Intellectual Capital - Organizational Knowledge

    New or changed documentation can be 'pushed' to employees and no longer relies on 'hallway conversations' or 'round robin' emails. The locality of information is not locked away in the 'heads' of specific individuals and can be easily shared across departments and physical locations increasing the value of that information to the organisation.


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