How to Know If Your Document Management System Needs a Tune-up—or a Trip to the Digital Dump

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In 2003, it could take the customer service team at Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU) 20 minutes or more to find, fax or phone, and share account information with their members.

Think about that. What can you do in 20 minutes? Finish that report you’re working on? Eat lunch? Check in with your best customer? Make a $10,000 sale? You can do a lot in 20 minutes—and saving 20 minutes of time is a big deal.

It was a big enough deal to WECU that they digitized their documents to save their customer service team from having to wait for a fax, find someone in another building, or pull a paper file (and worry about misfiling it when they put it back) every time a customer called for help.

This improved their customer service process tremendously. Other departments saw the results and quickly followed suit. Digitizing once paper-based operations saved the credit union more than $150,000 in paper and associated costs.

Best Collateral, Inc. had a similar experience. Managers used to send daily reports via email to the management team, and they faxed daily productivity results to all the stores. The daily email reports never trickled down to employees—and while the faxes got posted on bulletin boards in the stores, communication with employees was still extremely limited.

For Best Collateral, the solution was to bridge that gap by shifting their document management and communication to a social intranet.

In only one year after digitizing their document management, Best Collateral experienced a rapid transformation in their working culture. Employees became more engaged. In fact, they became downright enthusiastic. Managers and employees now post daily results on the intranet 4-5 times a day. The president is posting and commenting on content. People at all roles and levels are posting daily achievements.

You might have experienced this boost, too, when you started using digital systems for your document management. I’ll bet, though, that you’ve been using your current document management system for a while now.

How is it working for you? Really.

  • Can your employees quickly find the documents they need?
  • Do you experience version control issues? Or do you often find the same file in multiple locations, and you aren’t sure which one is accurate or current?
  • Are people still emailing documents to one another?
  • What about really large files? Are you still using FTP or shared drives to send those to colleagues?
  • How secure are your files?
  • Are you able to limit individual access to certain files?
  • How do you know when a document is expired?

What I’ve seen in recent years is that while most companies have digitized their document management, those systems are becoming less effective.

They’re less effective because they’re not keeping up with technology. They’re not keeping up with the increasingly rapid changes happening in the workplace and in the market. They’re not keeping up with changes in organizations’ systems and processes.

This is the underlying reason why we’ve made more effective document management a huge focus of the Axero intranet solution. And with the latest release, those advancements are taking team productivity to new heights.

In this article, I’m going to pose a challenge to you.

I’m going to ask you to consider how you’re currently managing your digital documents—from end to end. And then I’m going to get you thinking bigger, for the benefit of your entire organization.

By the end of this article, you’re going to have a solid understanding of how your team’s document management system stacks up—and where you can make a few changes to usher in massive improvements in productivity, or where you need to invest in a new solution entirely.

What is Document Management?

I always like to start with a definition to make sure we’re on the same page. In the case of document management, the definition and even the name has evolved with new technologies in the last 20 years.

Document management (formerly known as records management, now sometimes called “digital records management” or “file management”) refers to the systems, processes and software that control and organize documents throughout an organization.

From a process standpoint, document management involves systems and workflows that determine how the organization controls digital documents.

From a software standpoint, document management is the digital file system—imagine an electronic filing cabinet—that provides a framework for storing, organizing and accessing files.

Some experts say that document management was a forerunner of content management systems, but I believe they are intimately connected from a production and use perspective—so they should be intimately connected from a process and software perspective, too.

The Core Elements of an Effective Document Management System for TODAY’S Workplace

What constituted an effective document management system 10 years ago simply doesn’t work in today’s workplace. This is where so many organizations are going wrong with their document management—the workplace has evolved, but document management systems haven’t.

For example, 10 years ago cybersecurity was a concern. But today, it’s absolutely critical. Not just because cyber criminals have gotten smarter, but because our customers are so much more aware of how their data is being gathered and used—and even small data security mishaps have huge implications for public perception and customer relationships.

Another example is version control. Yes, 10 years ago it mattered—but the amount of data we produce in the form of documents and content has grown, and continues to grow, exponentially. According to an IBM study, 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years. Last year, 269 billion emails were sent every day.

Cloud technology has also advanced in the last 10 years. It’s commonplace technology, now, and many easy-to-use cloud storage solutions exist for businesses and consumers alike.

However, this proliferation of cloud storage solutions means that many businesses are using multiple document storage systems (for example, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox)—which creates version control, search and collaboration challenges. Employees are struggling to find what they need in multiple locations—which pretty much defeats the purpose of digitizing documentation.

Sure, enterprise content management (ECM) solutions with outstanding security have also come on the market in that time. But for most small-to-medium and even large businesses, those solutions aren’t cost effective—and often, they’re overkill.

So what does a business need to look for in a document management system today?

An effective document management system today includes:

  • ONE central location for everything
  • Fast and simple content capture/upload
  • Workflow features
  • Vast storage space
  • Folders and directories that are easy to navigate
  • Easy-to-use information retrieval systems (e.g. intelligent search that also searches inside documents)
  • Online document viewing (so employees don’t have to download documents to see them)
  • Secure file sharing
  • Collaboration features, such as commenting and rating
  • Version control and rollback features
  • File security and access control
  • Audit trails

And maybe most importantly, your document management system should work seamlessly with how your employees actually do their jobs … and make them more productive. They shouldn’t have to export files and email them, for example, or upload new file “V2,” “V3,” and so on for every change.

Your document management system also needs to grow with your organization. It’s as unreasonable to keep an outdated system in place as it is to shift to a new system every time your workforce grows.

8 Surprising Employee Problems You Can Avoid with a Modern Intranet

The Pitfalls of Poor Document Management

You rely on documents in order to do business. If your employees can’t find the documents they need to do their jobs, your organization and your company will suffer.

Emailing documents is not only a waste of time, it’s a recipe for organizational chaos. The average office worker receives 121 emails a day and sends 40 business emails a day—so what are the chances that document you emailed your teammate gets lost in the shuffle?

Maybe you think you can continue to limp along with the document management system you already have because it’s worked for your team this long, right?

Let me ask you this: Are your team, your workplace, your company or your customers different today than they were when you set up your current system? If you answered “yes,” you might need to think about making some changes.

Here are the pitfalls I often see organizations experiencing with their existing document management solutions:

1. Frustration and wasted time

Finding a single file among multiple, disconnected storage systems is like finding a needle in a haystack. Employees can’t find the documents they need to do their jobs, wasting time and slowing business processes.

Think about this finding from McKinsey: The average interaction worker spends about 28% of their workweek managing email, and nearly 20% of their time looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks.


SOURCE: McKinsey

2. Information chaos

The file server is a mess. Documents get filed in multiple places, and final versions are hard to identify.

3. The slow death of collaboration

Your team isn’t all in the same place at the same time, so meeting in person to talk about a document isn’t feasible. Collaborating over email results in mass confusion and multiple versions of the file. Without a document management system with collaboration features, team members can’t add their input easily, causing delays and, over time, employee disengagement.

4. Loss of version control

Old versions of a document continue to surface. It’s easy so see how this would cause confusion — but think about documents that include things like specs and pricing. If those things are wrong in a file that’s actively circulating within your team, you’re also likely to upset customers and cost your company money.

5. Document review comes to a screeching halt

Without a workflow that works for your team for document review, organizations run into trouble with routing, follow-up, distribution and escalation. Documents never get completed or approved, and there’s no working system for tracking it all.

6. Employees and stakeholders fall out of the loop

Ensuring the right people get the right documents at the right time is no easy task. Without a document management system that functions well with the way your team actually works, employees, stakeholders, and sometimes even customers fall out of the loop.

What a Winning Document Management System Looks Like—and How It’s Helping Organizations Thrive Today

As a growing organization ourselves, we here at Axero thought long and hard about what a winning document management system would look like.

  • We knew that it would make documents easy to store, organize, find, collaborate on and share securely.
  • We knew that a winning system would boost everyone’s productivity while reducing costs.
  • We knew that it should work seamlessly with the other knowledge management tools we use every day.

We knew that the perfect document management system would work efficiently in today’s digital workplace, and be accessible inside the office and at home, from a PC and from a smartphone—because companies in leading sectors have workforces that are 13 times more digitally engaged than the rest of the economy.

We knew that data integrity is critical, because the volume of business data doubles every 1.2 years, and poor data can cost businesses 20-35% of their operating revenue.

We knew all these things—and we knew that the document management system we built into Axero was one of the best on the market. But we also knew that we could do better.

So here’s what a winning document management system looks like to us today:

Online document management

You can instantly upload, view and download documents and files securely—whether you’re at the office or on the road. Admins and document owners can create hyper-targeted permissions and access for everything from viewing to sharing. Version control and the new expiration date feature help keep expired documents out of circulation.

Secure file sharing

No matter what size the file is, you can share it securely with your team, without touching your email. Just drag and drop the file directly into a chat conversation—it’s totally secure, extraordinarily fast and remains searchable forever.

Collaborate on anything

Collaborate on documents and content of any kind with comments, ratings and like/dislike buttons. Pull the conversation into a discussion forum for even deeper dialogue.

Smart search and easy organization

Use the search bar to find any document, anywhere on the intranet—and even search inside documents for words and phrases.

Built-in reporting

Download a CSV file of content statistics, including number of views, viewers, likes, comments and bookmarks.

The results our Axero customers have reported are astounding: improved employee productivity, reduced costs, and peace of mind around their document security.

Real Customer Stories of Document Management Success

According to reports, the document management systems market was at $3.59 billion in 2017, and will reach $6.8 billion by 2023. A growing need to streamline business processes, the myriad benefits of digitizing documents, increasingly strict compliance requirements, and an intensifying need for better file security are all driving this trend.

Non-enterprise organizations, however, are going to feel the squeeze. Implementation costs alone are slowing down execution—and solutions that are robust enough to do the job well are often out of reach financially for smaller companies.

Building best-practice document management systems into our Axero intranet solution was a no-brainer for us. Axero was purpose-built for the digital workplace, and we designed it to be launched in a day or two—no development resources required. It’s an ideal solution for most organizations, and because it’s priced per-user, it grows and flexes with your company.

Document management is one of the most important elements of our solution. I’d like to illustrate how document management is helping real-life companies—and I’m going to do this by showcasing some of our own customers.

Clearify supports clients better with easy access to customer service and expanded self-service options

This business analytics company knew that phone and email support weren’t serving their clients. Using the document management and communication features built into Axero, today they’re helping clients help themselves, while saving $120,000 a yea in hiring costs. By providing a single, secure place where Clearify staff can interact with clients, Clearify ensures a speedy and positive experience when customers need more assistance.

AiArthritis makes healthcare vision come to life

In 2015, AiArthritis won a prestigious Innovation in Research award for their winning idea: to connect patients, advocates, and industry professionals to drive awareness, research, and public policy around autoimmune and auto-inflammatory diseases. Axero is the platform that centralizes documents and resources for AiArthritis’ mission.

ARCO centralizes resources for offices across the US while sharpening focus on people

The 15th largest design/build general contractor in the US uses Axero to support employees navigate through a fast-growing company and get the best individual to solve their problem. Internal forms, manuals, policies, and guidelines are stored and accessed through the Axero document management system.

How Ohio Valley Bank Became a Great Place to Work

To keep employee retention high in an industry with historically high turnover for entry level employees, Ohio Valley Bank relies on Axero to store interactive forms, HR resources, instructional materials for its 18 branches. supports 1,000 writers

Information, answers to questions, opportunities and best practices were getting lost in multiple systems and buried in email inboxes until moved to a better system.

Treats Unleashed gets employees up and running fast

This retail pet supply company onboards new employees with easy-to-access training materials, and updates current employees on new offerings with product documentation at their fingertips.

How does your document management system stack up?

Now you know the pitfalls of a poor document management solution, and the features and benefits of a best-in-class solution. So how does your system stack up?

Look back over this list of core elements of an effective document management system:

  • ONE central location for everything
  • Fast and simple content capture/upload
  • Workflow features
  • Vast storage space
  • Folders and directories that are easy to navigate
  • Easy-to-use information retrieval systems (e.g. intelligent search that also searches inside documents)
  • Online document viewing (so employees don’t have to download documents to see them)
    Secure file sharing
  • Collaboration features, such as commenting and rating
  • Version control and rollback features
  • File security and access control
  • Audit trails

Are there features you can easily add to your existing solution? Great! Do it. Your employee engagement numbers will thank you.

If you’re looking for an existing solution that’s robust, cost-effective and easy to deploy, get a demo of Axero.

Document Management - The Ultimate Guide

Written by

Tim Eisenhauer is a co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.


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