Article: What Is Document Management?

Oct. 24, 2011

Following the “what is”-series regarding different business areas is here an article about what Document Management is. The idea of the “what is”-series is to write the articles in a way that people who have never been in contact with the area will understand.

Document Management is the idea of how to manage documents in a good way to be able to easily find them, find information in them, track changes in documents, share them with other people and still only show them to the people who should be able to see them. Included in the security part is also to be able to control what kind of information others should see and if they should be able to change the content of the document.

In the past all documents were written on paper and stored in safe places where only the people with rights to the documents had keys to. It could be some kind of file cabinet. This method is still used at some places, but usually it is combined with having the documents in some kind of Document Management System, sometimes shortened DMS. In the beginning these were called Electronic Document Management Systems (EDM).

Today you are able to find Document Management Systems that are specifically used for document management, but there are a lot of collaboration software or project management software that include a lot of the functionality needed in a lot of companies. This makes it even harder to find what you are looking for since you are able to install one system with multiple purposes.

There are a lot of different functionality you are able to get with a Document Management System and it is therefore important that you think through what you may need.

Some areas you need to consider are:

* Security

Security is usually very important for most companies and most documentation.
There are different kind of security that needs to be considered.
The first is the external security. With below requirements on accessibility it is important to set up the system in a way so that external parties cannot take part of the documents you do not want to share.
The second is the internal security. This is usually a little more tricky since you want to consider several requirements.
It is common that you want to have documents that are accessible by all people in a department, yet only a few of the people should be able to alter the information. It is also common that you want to have private documents for one person that should not be accessible by anyone else.
Creating the organizational structure for the document management system is vital before deciding on what requirements you have. When going through the organization and how documents should be accessed and used by everyone you will understand much more of how you wish the system to work.

* Collaboration

One of the purposes of document management systems is to improve collaboration and have people change the document and easily view the latest revision of the document.
So, how do you want this to work? Do you want everyone to be able to change the document at the same time or do you want one at a time add their changes?
The first option is usually quite tricky but there are a few document management systems that can do this. The second solution is easier and have been around for long. What usually happens is that you “check out” the document to make changes. You then lock the document for anyone else to change. They will, however, be able to view the previous version of the document (the most up to date that is in the system). When you have finished changing the document you “check in” the changed document to make it visible to everyone.

* Accessibility

How should you be able to access the documents? This is a tricky question since you might want to be able to work with the document when you are travelling and not have access to Internet. Some companies are happy with having the document only accessible online and if you wish to take it home you can make a copy to your computer and view it offline. If you want to do changes to it you do it online. However, there are also some companies that need to be able to handle the possibility to also change the document offline.

* Document formats

What kind of documents do you want to be able to have in your document management system and how do you want them to be managed?
Some systems allow you to work inside the system for all changes of a document. Some systems open the actual software to work in, for example MS Word. It is important that you think about how you want this to work. This is also important when looking at the next point, how to be able to search and find the document you are looking for.

* Possibility for searching

You have to think about how to be able to search for the document. One solution is to create Meta Information about the document and connect the information so that it is easy to find. Another way is to be able to search for the title, author and summary. This is, however, also considered meta data.
Another way is to be able to do free text search through a document. This is a bit harder if you allow for any file formats, but there are a few really good document management systems that will be able to help you out there as well.

* Traceability

One of the most important things is traceability. Who changed the document and when? What changes did they do and are we able to easily go back to an earlier version?
One thing you might want to trace is who has read the document. Perhaps you want to track that everyone have read the changes of the document and therefore should be aware of what is written.

There are a lot of things that can be said about document management. In the beginning one can consider it to be very easy but after a while you understand the complexity of it. This article brings up some ideas of what to think about and open your minds to questions to ask when considering your next document management system.