Effective document management has become an essential component to maximizing productivity for just about any organization and this includes small businesses too. There are many small businesses that are part of paper-intensive industries. These include healthcare practices, financial services companies, firms that work with government agencies, and more. As the paperwork mounts, so does the case for effective document management.
To maximize productivity, many businesses are turning to document management applications. But, employing a document management application alone will not help. In fact, doing this alone may doom it to failure from the start. There are critical best practices that users must embrace to ensure ROI from any document management application.
The Capture Component
It all starts with the capture of a document into a document management system (DMS). This is the first step in starting effective document management. There are mainly two types of documents to capture: paper documents and electronic documents. Paper files can be turned into electronic files via a scanning module. Once captured as an electronic file, businesses can greatly save time and money in not having compared to dealing with paper documents. There are extensive studies showing the monetary and productivity benefits of going paperless.
Most offices today use a mix of paper and e-documents, which can include PDFs, Microsoft Office files, and more. These can typically be imported into your chosen DMS. So, a first consideration is how easy is the capture part. Usability can be the catalyst to widespread use with staff or the point of failure of adoption. A good DMS can be adapted to fit user needs rather than the other way around.
In addition, just about every business that uses a DMS can benefit from optical character recognition (OCR) technology. Upon scanning, OCR extracts text from scanned document files or prints so they can be made into searchable/editable e-documents. An online OCR service would be helpful if you don’t have an in-house IT department.
When using OCR, it’s vital to make sure you also have in place quality assurance methods. This is to correct errors that might occur when OCR attempts to translate handwriting or poor quality print documents.
Capturing and indexing documents is often the most time-consuming and costliest part of starting with a DMS. So, another important component in a DMS is to ensure it allows automatic indexing. With good indexing, users can easily find whatever document they’ve injected into the system. It ensures finding documents doesn’t become a point of inefficiency. Garbage in does indeed result in garbage out. So, implementing good indexing and search methods are critical to later being able to conveniently retrieve documents.
Proper indexing can be made more effective with OCR and barcode technology. Full-text indexing can be automated with OCR. You can also have template fields correspond with specific document types. Bar codes can help extract fields from a database to populate related data into your DMS. For example, names, ID numbers, and more can be extracted from a barcode and automatically populated into a document in the DMS to associate with a person, file, or group of files. Barcodes can even help to mark where a document might start or finish. At the end of the day, remember that how efficient retrieval is will correspond with the quality of the indexing.
Your chosen DMS should be compatible with all popular physical storage devices. You will also need to determine if cloud storage and access is important. This includes ensuring your DMS supports saving in the file formats you need. Three document file formats are arguably the most popular in digital document management. They are JPEG, PDF, and TIFF. Make sure your DMS can support storage and access for at least these file types.
Today, this format is well-suited for applications requiring fast online access. This is because JPEG has an increased level of compression to greatly reduce file sizes. However, this comes at a cost of lost image quality that degrades with each save. If you will have users doing multiple edits to a document using JPEG this format may not be preferred. You might consider a combination of using TIFF to capture, edit and save originals. Then, you can output final versions to JPEG for optimal transfer and access speeds. JPEG is widely used to represent continuous tone images. The format doesn’t store many details, like color space, transparencies, layers etc. So, it’s not as suitable for printing.
The PDF format has for many years now been a universally accepted file format for distributing, viewing and printing electronic documents. Developed by Adobe, it is based on the PostScript computer language. A PDF document provides great visual clarity. It contains elements including text, vector images, raster images and more. PDF also supports searching within a file by metadata and text. For scanned documents saved as a PDF, a search can then be done by running OCR software. PDF also supports security features including password protection, electronic signatures, and rights management.
TIFF has also for many years now remained a popular format for storing raster image data. TIFF supports lossless compression formats, such as fax, LZW, and ZIP. Lossless compression may be critical in some environments where a concern exists for retaining image quality. TIFF also supports sophisticated color management features. This includes support of the CMYK color model, different color spaces, and the use of transparencies and layers. You can also use TIFF to create images in high resolution, with lossless quality, which are suitable for high-resolution printing. It’s a good option for storing archival masters of digitized images.
Remote Access and Security
A sometimes-overlooked feature is the remote access capabilities of a DMS. Make sure the DMS can let users search, retrieve and view documents with any popular web browsers. This includes browsers on a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Allowing browser access of documents removes limitations associated with requiring native applications for viewing files. Support for browser-based access on almost any device can greatly improve communication to achieve better work efficiency and customer service.
Whenever you employ remote access, security is also a must. At the core of this is authentication. This includes controlling who can access the system with account management by a system administrator. The DMS should have mechanisms in place to lock-down accessing local or network files. It should also control user access to capture devices, such as scanners or webcams.
For advanced authorizations mechanisms, you might want to be able to define who can access which items or perform which kind of operations. For example, can user A add pages to a document, can user B add annotations, or can user C copy or delete records.
In addition, in most industries, security should help ensure compliance with government requirements that may include the SEC, HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and more. Usually this means ensuring your DMS provides encryption, such as SSL, for storage and transporting of documents. It should also probably protect against cached data. For example, how does your DMS handle clearing data that was viewed in a browser so private information doesn’t show up again the next time the browser is opened.
These basic best practices can help your organization ensure essential ROI from any DMS. Other efficiencies and best practices will come about with use over time, to improve ROI. In the end, remember that if no one likes using it, a DMS is doomed to fail. So, an elegant and easy user interface is critical as a starting point. Only then will users buy into using good practices for capture, indexing, storage and security.