Documents are the lifeblood of almost all businesses. Tons of paper may be generated by even the most modest sized businesses over a year. File cabinets are filled with historical documents. Documents are carried from desk to desk, floor-to-floor, and city to city to pass information. However, this does not need to be the case anymore. With the proper dedication and software, this blizzard of paper is no longer a necessary part of business.
The paperless office is an idea tossed around in the business community. Normally it is almost mythical in nature however. Something spoken of but never truly pursued by most companies. The paperless office is one where almost all business is conducted through electronic means. Paperwork becomes digital forms, digitally signed, and protected through software. This goal is something that is obtainable, but you have to give the process careful thought.
The decision to pursue a paperless office requires a certain level of dedication. Going from pen and paper to digital formats is not an easy transition to make for many people. The company has to make the firm decision that it is what they want, and not just haphazardly implement certain aspects. With careful planning, and determination the goal of a paperless office is obtainable.
Prior to doing anything there is preplanning that must be accomplished. The company has to look at how it conducts business, what sorts of paperwork it generates, and what the flow is for the information. These aspects must be distilled into a taxonomy of information, and a hierarchy of access. Only once these two elements have been decided can a company begin looking for the right software.
To determine a taxonomy the information is placed in a sort of order that works for the company. What paperwork belongs to what department must be determined. Then what departments fall under other departments must be decided so that a document can be placed into the right electronic storage. This is much the same as deciding on a folder structure, it is mostly deciding what information is part of other information, and organizing it.
When this taxonomy of information has been determined then who can access the information must be decided. This hierarchy of access must be created before the first piece of software is selected or the first file archived. Whatever access is chosen needs to keep in mind the actual flow of paperwork. This is not something that is set in stone, but getting it right the first time can save time and headaches later on.
Hand in hand with access is security of information. Not every person should have access to every record within your storage medium. In the same way that files are kept under lock and key, electronic media requires the same levels of security. The best system will allow a company to determine access in several ways. Access should be able to granted by profile, by group, and by the document itself.
Once basic decisions regarding how to organize, and who can access information have been made the largest decision to make is the type of document management that will best serve the needs of the company. Document management spans a spectrum from a completely controlled system that is mandatory and archives everything, to one that is little more than a set of folders set aside for the purpose.
The most useful type is the middle of the road, where people still have the ability to work, but where important documentation is handled appropriately. Almost no business will be able to obtain a truly paperless workplace. With the proper software it can get much closer to this goal than if they attempt home grown solutions. In a middle of the road solution important paperwork is generated by software or scanned into the system. The papers are then indexed and placed into storage that is accessible to the company as a whole.
In a middle of the road solution archived papers are not scanned in until they are needed. As they are accessed they are scanned in, and kept in the system for future use. As the normal document retention periods are met there will be fewer and fewer historical documents. At the completion of a normal cycle what is left should be evaluated for permanent retention.
In the modern workspace the best sort of document management integrates with your workflow as much as possible. Unless regulatory requirements exist to document every email, or every use of a document a system which does so is overly burdensome. Document management should support the workflow of the company, not become work in and of itself. Software that can track from timesheet to invoice, and that can tag documents with work details is often the most useful.
Security of information must be considered when making decisions about document management. Both internally and externally the records being kept must meet standards that comply with company policy and any laws and regulations regarding access to personal information. This requirement is why the home grown shared folders approach so often fails.
In a folder based management system the specific rights to access a folder are difficult for a company to maintain. As documents are added, personnel change, and departments are shifted the initial setup that worked, becomes a morass of files with different permission settings. Eventually nobody is sure what other people can access, and the system must be redone from scratch.
Within a company people should only be able to access the files that pertain to them. A document management system has to be able to support this by allowing different levels of access by group, by folder, and by file if necessary. Personnel files hold many pieces of personal information that must be protected from casual access.
Outside access is even more of an issue in todays age. Breaches of security and the resulting leaks of information can be embarrassing and costly. Clients will abandon a company that is unable to maintain a level of security about their information. The simple fact is that without a proper document management system that addresses security a company is open to costly litigation. Any document management system must be up to the most current standards of encryption and security at all times.
Accessing documents is at the heart of why you need a document management system. It may be the most technically correct, perfectly organized, and best secured system around, but if nobody can access the files then it is useless. Document management must be based around user accessibility.
Any document management system has to be accessible within the company itself, for it to be of any use. But to obtain maximum user accessibility the system needs to support web access. This can be through a cloud solution, or a virtual private network. Companies must still be able to enforce security however, internet access is vital but potentially the most vulnerable area for inadvertent release of information, and hacking into the system.
Once a system has been chosen and put into use there are additional training concerns that must be addressed. Whichever document management system is put into place the company must train all of the employees in how to use it and the policies and procedures that govern it's use. This training should be accomplished prior to full implementation of the system.
Document management can be incredibly valuable to a company. The management system used can give a business the opportunity for employee’s to work as a cohesive whole rather than individual units. As long as care is taken to develop the proper framework a document management system will make a company run much more smoothly.