Time is money, and time spent searching for lost paperwork is money down the drain, as is money spent making unnecessary copies.
Document management improvements can reduce the number of documents produced by converting them into electronic format and organizing them, making them more readily available to the people who need them. While early document management systems were seen as a luxury only large organizations could afford, reduced software and hardware prices today enable most all organizations to reap the benefits.
A document management system is, in effect, a network with many different components, and though it may seem complicated at first, navigating it is actually quite easy.
[ANALYSIS: ECM makes business processes efficient]
There are two types of data: structured (e.g., database information) and unstructured (e.g., paper documents). Document management systems enable organizations to capture, route, store, manage and archive unstructured data securely. While paper documents are the most common type of unstructured data, document management systems can also store and organize electronic content, such as emails, Microsoft Office files, faxes, photos, audio, video, PDFs and Web content.
Document management systems further enable organizations to manage unstructured data by storing it in a single repository and linking it together by "keys," such as a customer number or an employee ID. This can be especially valuable to organizations that produce a lot of documents, like law firms or real estate offices. The documents can then be accessed only by authorized users either directly through the system or through one or more of the organization's software applications.
Not only can document management systems help manage documents securely, but they can significantly lower operational costs and increase paper document and electronic content management efficiency.
Document management systems also offer businesses rapid return on investment (ROI) due to benefits such as:
? Reduced costs associated with storing and retrieving paper documents and electronic content.
? Reduced storage space, both physical and digital.
? Improved operational efficiencies throughout the organization.
? Improved security of electronic content and paper documents.
? Enhanced business continuity (BC) capabilities in the case of a disaster.
? Improved regulatory compliance.
The following are the minimum building blocks of a document management system, commonly connected through an organization's data network. Keep in mind that it's not sufficient just to make a digital file out of a paper document; it's also essential to support storage, organization, security, access and timely disposal:
1.) Document scanners are the entry point, converting paper documents to a digital format, which can be done with the help of a stand-alone scanner, a digital sender or a multi-function printer (MFP). There are scanners of all sizes, shapes and speeds, and even scanners tailored to specific applications, such as check processing, so work with your providers to be sure you select the approach that best fits your needs.
2.) Document capture and indexing software works with your scanning and computer systems to ease the capture process and also ensure that stored documents can be located easily. There are three main types of capture to consider:
? Device Capture asks users to categorize and name their documents during scanning, streamlining the management process by enforcing standards for naming files within the organization.
? Zonal Optical Character Recognition (OCR) enables users to create templates for their most commonly used forms and invoices. By streamlining where the data is located, Zonal OCR can automatically extract that data, identify the file and send that information to the document management system, reducing manual effort and errors. Users can then search for the specific documents they need and be assured the system will return the correct information.
? Distributed Capture places scanning and capture devices at various points in which paper or data enters an organization. By using inexpensive desktop scanners, network attached scanners and MFPs to introduce documents into the system, you can maximize your ROI and be well on your way to becoming a "paperless" environment.
3.) Document management software, also known as Enterprise Content Management Software, is the backbone of any document management solution. Through it, your organization can reduce duplication of electronic documents, enable efficient retrieval and manage secure access to any document or content that is stored in your system, ensuring that only authorized individuals can access any file. Because each item is stored and indexed, users now have their organization's data available at their fingertips. Furthermore, this data can be securely accessed from both inside and outside the organization -- providing flexibility for those who work remotely or frequently travel off-site.
4.) Data storage devices, of course, are where the documents all live. The size and nature of your organization should drive your storage strategy, and with the spectrum of storage systems available today, you should work with your providers to select the storage systems that best fit your needs. Don't forget, either, about backup systems, to protect your organization against catastrophic failure or loss of your primary storage.
As you consider your options for each of these building blocks, pay attention to issues of fit, integration and compatibility. Will the software you buy work well on the hardware? Is there specialized software or hardware that may be especially appropriate for your particular business? Will the indexing strategy you adopt serve your organization well for years to come, or will you quickly outgrow it? Before you invest, be sure that the entire system works well together.
Document management is a simple, often-overlooked fix that can streamline your workflow process, cut costs and, in many cases, pay for itself in a short amount of time. However, each document management system offers differing levels of functionality and licensing options, so speak with a trusted solutions provider to determine which best suits your organization's needs.
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This story, "Getting Started With Document Management" was originally published by Network World.