The paperless office has moved beyond the metal file cabinet, and now your business needs a platform for managing your digital documents. An online document management system (DMS) can organize, store, and track changes in your electronic records. The right DMS will integrate with your current systems to maximize workflow and collaboration.
Not all document management systems are created equal, so before you rush to purchase one, first consider the following:
You can't buy the right tool unless you know what you're trying to fix. While it's tempting to throw technology at an issue, take the time to assess your organization's specific document management needs. Start by making a list of current issues, and engage your staff in this process so that you can target a solution that will actually work for them. Note the various software applications you'd like to integrate with your online document management system. Factor in your firm's projected growth areas so that your new DMS can handle future challenges.
The vendor you choose can make or break your DMS experience. Do your homework and select a reputable vendor with several years of product and service credibility. Avoid fly-by-night software houses that offer "one size fits all" solutions at unbelievably low prices. (There's a reason—several, actually—that those prices are unbelievable.) Review your list of questions, issues, and needs in detail with several vendors. Compare responses and prices so that you can make an informed decision.
Your system should offer an intuitive user interface (UI) that your staff can easily navigate. A powerful software platform with a confusing UI will only frustrate employees. Look for a system that's simple and efficient, with clear commands and a clean visual design. After initial training, your staff shouldn't have to constantly refer to a user manual to access your DMS. Designate a few "power users" on your team who can master the UI and share tips and tricks on getting the most out of your new system.
Your DMS needs to integrate fully with your current software systems so that you won't have to hop between applications to complete daily tasks. Make sure your new software can "talk to" your other programs. For a more comprehensive solution, consider implementing a social intranet, which incorporates document management, communications, and scheduling into a single platform.
An online document management system is far more than a digital file cabinet. The best ones also act as workflow management systems, keeping your projects moving forward smoothly. Choose a DMS with project management features that meet your organization's specific needs. Make sure the platform also includes sufficient scalability for your business, so that your software can adapt to your company's growth.
With more staff working off site, your system should enable users to collaborate seamlessly. Your employees need to access files simultaneously without having to log out, and they need to track revisions and document versions in detail. Make sure that the system you implement catalogues all changes, and that it lists document versions in logical order so that your team can reference previous instances quickly.
The right online document management system will capture your data from a variety of input devices. Once your documents have been scanned, the system should intelligently extract and validate the data in the files. The software will then tag and categorize materials for fast retrieval through an easy-to-use search engine, conserving your staff's time and increasing productivity. While many DMS options claim to offer intelligent data capture, not all deliver. Work closely with your vendor to make sure that the product you select can actually interpret your data correctly.
Recent data breaches have underscored the importance of guarding your business intelligence. Protect your corporate and client information with a system that includes rigorous security protocols designed to block external attacks. Reputable software vendors will stress security as a key feature of their products. Remember that you'll need to constantly monitor and update security levels to address evolving threats. Ask your vendor about the frequency of security updates, and how you'll be notified of new patches.
In addition to external threats, you must also protect your data from within by using software that provides administrative control options. Set user permissions that are tailored to the needs and responsibilities of each staff member. Some employees will simply require read-only access, while others will need expanded authorization to move and delete files. Work with your team to refine permissions, and develop standard "permissions profiles" that you can reference when onboarding new hires. Add flexibility with temporary permissions for staff working on short-term projects.
Look for a vendor that's known for superior product support, preferably in a number of formats (such as telephone, email, and online chat options). Before purchasing your online document management system, ask your vendor about turnaround times for support requests. Don't wait until you're two hours from deadline to find out that your vendor requires 24 hours to process support inquiries. Also, make sure you fully understand the vendor's pricing structure for support services so that you're not surprised by hidden fees.
No matter how large or small your business, you can't afford to lose your documents and data. Always choose a product that offers constant backups on secure servers. Your document management system's backup capabilities should form part of a larger disaster recovery plan for your organization.
Selecting the right online document management system can be a challenge. Take control of your search by first understanding your needs and the available software options. Consider implementing a social intranet that integrates document management, calendaring, and communications. Choose a reputable vendor with a proven product, insist on security, back up your data, and your document management system will provide significant return on your investment.
Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions and author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. He’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.
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