So, what is a Document Management System?

The term document management system (DMS) is often banded around but what exactly is one and how might it benefit your business?

According to a recent article in Business.com a document management system is software that provides an automated way to store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic images of paper documents. DMS started as a way to convert paper documents into digital format, which is why a DMS may sometimes be called an electronic filing cabinet, but a DMS has many more sophisticated features these days.

What types of document management systems are available?

Needless to say, you are spoiled for choice when considering the type of document management system most suitable for your business.

To assist you we have listed the most popular versions below:

  • Content management system: This type of DMS is designed to manage any type of content your business produces. You may upload and share a variety of media through a CMS, including videos, audio clips, text and images. The CMS helps businesses create and upload content directly to their websites. Examples of a CMS might include WordPress and Drupal.
  • Records management system: This type of DMS is often used by medical establishments, as it has the capability to manage highly information in accordance with the applicable compliance rules.
  • Digital file system: A company normally needs this type of DMS when converting from paper to digital records. The program should allow you to save text and images from paper to a digital format via a scan feature.
  • Cloud-based system: In this category, the DMS operates through a cloud computing system. All files are stored in a cloud environment and are fully backed up and protected. Cloud systems generally provide higher levels of document storage and potentially unlimited user access. They also have the power to allow authorised access from any location and on any device.
  • On- Premise system: If a hosted Cloud environment is not for you, you may choose a DMS hosted on a private server located within your business’s own premises. Your business is however responsible for the security, maintenance and management of this type of DMS network.

How does a Document Management System Actually Work?

Essentially document management systems provide three main functions, being to capture, store and distribute documents. This is how:

  1. Document capture from any source

A document management system must be able to capture a document from any source, be it paper, email, CRM applications or reports, so that the document can be indexed for easy search and retrieval later. Indexing is a way to classify a document by adding terms to its metadata, such as tags, order numbers or customer information. Document capture will vary dependent upon the type of document you are wishing to capture and recall.

Documents may be captured and uploaded to a DMS in the following ways:

  • Paper documents: High-speed scanners are typically used to capture paper documents. The DMS takes documents from the scanner, index fields can then be added manually or by auto indexing integration, Optical Character Recognition (OCR), or via barcoding. Documents are usually OCR’d upon entry to a DMS and are therefore fully text searchable.
  • Emails: Email being a key part of day-to-day business, the ability to capture and store email documents is vital. Using a DMS, you can automatically import email messages, attachments or both into a specific folder of your choosing.
  • External applications: You may also have external applications, like Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or ERP software, that produce documents you need to store. A DMS allows you to easily import these documents, then route them to or share them with others within your organisation.
  1. Central document storage

Central document storage is the second most important part of a DMS. Having all your documents stored in one central location allows all employees who need access to the documents – both static (documents your company creates every day, like invoices) and dynamic (webpages, forms and emails) – to retrieve them quickly and easily.

Central storage also helps protect your documents from error and malicious activity. A DMS typically comes with version control, this tracks the changes made to a document and identifies who made them. You can also set permissions to control who has access to which documents, and who can make which types of changes.

  1. Document retrieval and distribution

The third most important aspect of a DMS is the ability to easily retrieve and distribute documents. A DMS lets you search any document for a keyword and bring it up quickly. This is where the importance of thorough indexing comes in.

You will then be able to send out documents in any manner that you need, such as through email or file transfer protocol (FTP), and automate manual business processes and workflows. For example, you can integrate your DMS with your ERP, setting it so that when, for instance, an invoice originates in your ERP, it will automatically trigger a workflow in your document management system that moves the invoice through an approval and fulfilment process.

What are document management systems used for?

Document management systems automatically organise, secure, digitise and index your company’s documents, making them easy to access, edit and share.

Many companies have shifted from traditional paper filing services to DMS because an automated system saves time, money and space. A DMS also eliminates the need for multiple programs to handle your workflow, as all necessary functions are housed within a single interface.

What are the key features of an effective document management system?

When looking for a DMS, you should ideally look for the following important features.

  • Version control: Also known as versioning, version control allows users to safeguard and track changes made to documents within your DMS. Version control ensures that all new edits are tracked and saved, and that older versions of documents are archived in the system for reference. This ensures you are always working with the most recent document.
  • Integration: Many document management systems integrate with email programs such as Microsoft Outlook, but if your business uses a CRM application or ERP database, you should look for a DMS that integrates with these programs as well, as this will make your daily life much easier. You can use DMS software that does not integrate with your CRM or ERP, but this may limit your workflow capabilities, as compatible software allows you to access, edit, back up, and monitor documents created within your CRM or ERP.
  • Regulatory compliance support: If you operate in a regulated industry, you may want to choose a DMS that offers regulatory compliance support for your industry. This capability can provide your business with invaluable protection and peace of mind as you process critical or sensitive documents.
  • Scalability: When you’re choosing a DMS, try to look beyond your current needs to see which advanced features you may want as your business grows. It is important to choose software that can grow with your business so that you do not have to switch software later. Typically all current functionality is available within a Cloud environment but it may be necessary to incorporate additional modules if choosing an on premise system or private cloud environment.
  • Security and disaster recovery: This is obviously critical regardless of your type of business. It is very important to find software that prioritises security and protects your information and files, since any data breach or storage issue could have disastrous consequences for your business. Choose software which is proven and can demonstrate the latest security features.
  • Usability: Some systems can be over complex and potentially difficult to use. Doubtless your employees will be at different levels of IT capability and therefore it is important you select one which is user friendly and will be seen as an asset in making life easier and not as an inconvenience or threat. Documents should be easily retrieved via one or two clicks of a mouse and be trusted to deliver the documents required.
  • Collaboration: When working on projects both within your business and potentially involving other from outside, your DMS should make it simple for users to share and collaborate on documents. Look for tools such as live editing, file sharing, plugins and access restriction to make this both easy and secure.
  • Scanning:A DMS should have the ability to scan and save any paper files and records your company has on the premises. Once the file is uploaded, the system will then have the capacity to convert it to your chosen format e.g. to a DOC, PDF or JPG format.
  • Archiving:Not all DMS options provide unlimited storage. Give preference to systems that can automatically archive files after a set period of time. Archiving also helps you locate the most recent files in the system.
  • Inventory management:With expanded capabilities, the DMS could also help you track and replace any inventory for your business. Cloud programs even allow different locations to share inventory details.

What are the benefits of using a document management system?

A DMS should make your work easier and more efficient, saving you and your employees hours of time spent on often mundane tasks with the added expense and frustration of not finding the documents needed.

Here are some of the many benefits of using a DMS system.

  • More time You will no doubt be aware that using manual paper driven processes are both costly and time consuming, time which could be better spent on more important matters. A DMS automates many aspects of your day to day activities often allow you to achieve more with fewer people.
  • Document security As the world becomes more and more digital, so the risks to business become more acute. Document management systems have built-in security and access controls so that you can control exactly who can access which documents, as well as track and see all activity on any given document.
  • Disaster Recovery Provision In the event of a disaster, like a fire or flood, your files are stored safely in the cloud, away from physical harm.
  • Easy Scaling A DMS is more flexible than a traditional paper filing system. It easily grows along with your business, and you can adjust your indexing system with a few clicks. It also reduces the need for physical storage space for files and paper documents thus making the most of your valuable office space and the need for larger premises just for reasons of storage.
  • Better regulatory compliance Requirements for many business documents can be complex and demanding. A DMS can help you avoid fines, revoked licenses or even criminal liability by automating key documents to meet the requirements. A DMS will automatically follow those guidelines applicable to your business.
  • Quick and easy document retrieval Endless searching for the right document is a major frustration to business and employee’s alike not too say hugely costly. PricewaterhouseCoopers recently estimated that the process of finding one lost document can cost a company £90 on average , and 7.5% of all documents end up being lost for good. Proper indexing lets you find a document in a matter of seconds, and it also allows employees to remotely access the documents they need.
  • Improved collaboration A DMS makes sharing information and collaborating easy, allowing documents from different sources to be accessible from multiple locations. You can share documents, monitor workflows, grant or deny access to certain documents, and see what changes have been made.

Need further help? BPMS are a longstanding, genuinely independent provider of document management solutions and are well placed to provide you help and advice as you begin to consider which document management system is right for your business.

To arrange your initial free consultation, please get in touch and let us begin your journey together.