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Document Management Best Practices

Document Management Systems provide the ability to convert, store and share a variety of digital documents within a network. The popularity of DMS peaked in early 80’s when large corporations started utilizing the technology to convert paper documents to digital formats. This process allowed the corporate managers to reduce workload by minimizing the use of papers.

Although the earliest Document Management Solutions supported limited file formats it proved highly effective in reducing hundreds of hours that were wasted in the distribution of paper files. Since then, the technology has progressed to support image files, video formats, and many other document types. The proliferation of internet acted as a catalyst for accelerating this process. Such is the impact of document management solutions that they have become an indispensable tool for large and medium sized organizations.

According to various reputable sources such as Gartner Group and Laserfiche, 7.5% of all the documents get lost. Furthermore, 90% of these documents are shuffled, which leads to lost time. Interestingly, professionals spend 50% of their time looking for files but only 5% to 15% of their time reading the required information. Taking into account these statistics, consider a scenario where 500 hours are consumed in retrieving the information while only one fifth of that time is spent in reading the actual content. This scenario does not include 7.5% of the documents that will never be found again.

The size of a company doesn't really matter when emphasizing the need for a reliable document management system. Modern DMS also act to safeguard the process by providing security, automatic workflow and auditing tools. Nowadays, governments of Australia, UK and the United States are implementing policies for paper reduction, and Document Management Systems are the cornerstone of such policies.

Consider a simple example: imagine how easier it will be for a customer if they wanted to open an account with a company that provides the facility to upload the scanned documents. It may seem trivial but the implication has far reaching effects both on the individual and the company. In this case, the customer doesn’t have to worry about their important papers getting lost, while the company representatives are assured that they don’t have to retrieve tons of papers from the fax machines. Moreover, the personal information of that particular customer is only seen by the authorized individual, whereas the representatives are assured that there are no more shuffled papers.

Since the development of document management systems, experts agree that the rules of managing these systems have remained the same. Surprisingly, the best practices for document management implementation in 80’s are still relevant even after the rapid advancement in technology. Here are a few of the most important points to remember when implementing document management systems:


A good document management system is able to capture a variety of file types. Before implementation, decision makers should realize that their system is able to recognize images from scanned documents and multifunction printing tools. Additionally, they should check to see if their vendor provides optical character recognition capabilities that can identify text in the documents. Nowadays, vendors may also offer optical mark recognition to capture the values in check-boxes. Nevertheless, managers should avoid document management solutions which support limited file types. When Microsoft introduced the new version of doc files in docx format, they quickly realized that some well known document management systems did not offer the capability to recognize such a basic format. For companies, it quickly became a nuisance that their latest software had suddenly become limited. Therefore, decision makers should always trust vendors who are able to deliver the latest technology whenever it becomes available.

Legal Issues

Although managers may not put emphasis on the legalities of documents, which are captured by their systems, but such legal issues can play an important role in a future dispute. Unlike the web where rulings are often based on International laws making legal decisions a complicated affair, disputes arising from the use of the documents by a document management system are regulated and can result in strict penalties. To avoid making costly mistakes, every manager should review the rules explained by organizations such as AIIM (Association for Information & Management) and ARMA (Association of Records). In Australia, use of such information is governed by the rules of RMAA (Records Management Association of Australia). Australian companies can also get free legal help from National Archives of Australia. While, it may be difficult for managers to review the entire set of rulings therefore the objective of such entities is to provide legal support wherever possible. Accordingly, managers must play it safe by reviewing the rules in conflicting situations.


Whenever the document management solution captures a file, it sometimes automatically detects the Metadata of that particular document. The Metadata is a type of heading or a title that provides a short description of the captured document. For managers it is necessary that they prompt their systems to capture the Metadata because a good system should automatically store such data in its database. Employees can later retrieve documents by searching for the keywords specified in the Metadata. Modern systems are equipped with optical character recognition that can automatically identify the Metadata in the scanned images. Additionally, administrators can also prompt the user to provide a descriptive keyword that allows employees to search the required document.


When managing sensitive documents, trust has an important part to play in providing confidence to employees. Since the introduction of electronic documents, managers should ensure that their workers are made aware of legal policies and understand the procedures on how to handle critical information. The implementation of such policies will automatically create trust within the organization by allowing employees to decide where to get help, if needed.

In this regard, managers of several large organizations lack judgment by creating a sole disclaimer, which automatically pop ups in front of the user before opening the document management system. Such disclaimers provide information on the legalities of using private information. Although it is among the best practices of managing documents, but administrators forget that most employees never read those policies. Such practices may help with the legal proceedings but it will also create unnecessary hardships for employees, in case of future legal proceedings. Therefore, it may be better to insert two or three lines in plain English reminding employees to use good judgment when confused. Such a text can be accompanied by legal disclaimers to prevent the company and its employees in the court of law. A combination of simple instruction along with a legal disclaimer can help organizations fulfill their duties. Similarly, managers should encourage employees to use their instinct in making decisions while employees should immediately contact higher authorities to prevent any misuse.


Of all the characteristics of an efficient document management system, good storage practices are central to the success of a company. Due to the vast quantities of data that a document management system can store, it becomes necessary to periodically review the storage capacity. Managers should decide on what is important to store and what information should be archived. At the time, it may also become necessary to destroy certain documents. The periodic review will allow the company to organize its database.

Modern document management systems allow users to create a hierarchy by assigning priority parameters to each document. Actually, hierarchical storage management is used by many companies to categorize documents. These hierarchical storage management capabilities allow companies to transfer documents from the high cost hard-disk drives to low cost optical drives. This hierarchical process uses artificial intelligence to transfer data from hard-disk to optical drives, and vice versa. Such a process guarantees that the main servers of the document management system only store the relevant data. In fact, the process is very similar to cleaning the registry of personal computers and deleting unnecessary files from recycle bin.

Distribution & Security

According to the law, users of document management systems should understand that the distribution of any document is regulated by strict laws. For example, the original document should never be distributed. Instead, validation and quality endorsed applications should be used to circulate any copy of the original. It is important because only the original documents are accepted as a legitimate source of information in the court of law. The certified copies only ensure that the copy of the document is a reliable alternate of the original, outside the courtrooms. Administrators can also provide additional security measures by distributing read-only content, wherever applicable. Portable document format (PDF) is the one of the most common methods of digital document distribution, which allows administrators to set the security parameters. Such rights management modules allow limited access to the other users. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is an example of ruling on the distribution and security of documents.


Often, managers overlook the importance of training their workers to utilize the several automated functions embedded in a document management system. Even successful companies sometimes are reluctant to provide the necessary training to their workers. The end result is the availability of very efficient platform, but no one to use it. For example, modern management systems come with various advanced features such as workflow automation, allowing management to create a rule for the automatic delivery of the document to several users in a hierarchy. Such workflow can help to pass an invoice to different users in a hierarchical chain where each user needs to review and sign the particular invoice before the final release of finds by the accounting department. Experts think that the lack of training is the most crucial factors in the failure to implement large scale document management systems.

Linking Records to Business Process

The purpose of document management is to streamline the business process by creating access to the required document when needed. Before implementing such a solution, managers should be able to link the types of records to a particular business process. Without defining these relationships, it will become difficult for different users to relate a document to a certain task. For example, whenever a new customer uploads the scanned documents to a system, it may be the ‘new accounts’ department responsible for ensuring the processing of such a document. If someone else has access to that particular document then the person from the other department should realize that they cannot destroy or change the location of the document without prior consent from the ‘new accounts’ department. Consequently, it may be the managers of ‘new accounts’ department who is responsible for deciding which records of applicants are to be destroyed. Simply, no one else should try to evaluate the eventual outcome of the documents for new applicants. In this case, the scanned documents from potential new customers are relegated to ‘new accounts’ department therefore linking that particular business process with a designated department. Creating such process will streamline the work flow.

In their State of the Industry report AIIM, Association for Information & Image Management revealed many interesting factors that further emphasize the need to implement a reliable document management solution. Here are the top three:

  • Fifty five percent of the companies have little or no confidence that their emails are recorded and are recoverable.
  • Despite the fact that 18% of the large companies faced critical legal challenges in 2009, it usually takes more than a month for them to provide any document related for evidence.
  • The efficient use of document management system is severely lacking as paper documents are still better managed in comparison to the digital format.

These statistics can be interpreted to suggest that managers of large scale organizations are still finding it a challenge to implement best practices for document management systems.



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