Getting started with document management

Multiple different filing cabinets with multicoloured documents in the drawers

So, you've learnt a bit about how document management can help your business and you think your company might benefit from it. Where do you go from here?

Document management online

A good place to start looking for information is the internet. You'll need to dig a bit though: type 'document management' into your favourite search engine and you'll get millions of results. From software companies through to thousands of articles on the mythical 'paperless office' - plus quite a few links to scanning bureaus.

What you're really after is a case study or two, ideally of businesses that are similar to your own company. These will help you understand how document management can help you and what sort of system you might want to consider.

Try and ignore specific products at this stage. What you need is an understanding of what document management can do for your business. The material you find might be heavy going to start with, but stick with it and it'll start to make sense.

Document your document management

It sounds silly, but to create a document management system that works for your business, you need create some project documentation. Yes, really.

Create a comprehensive set of business requirements. These should explain exactly what you want your document management system to do.

Get input from anyone who will be directly affected when you introduce document management. That will probably be virtually everyone in your company, so try to identify people who are responsible for filing, record-keeping and other related tasks.

If this is starting to sound a little complicated, it might be an idea to approach your usual IT supplier for assistance. If you have a good relationship with them, they should be able to help, either by offering advice directly, or by recommending another supplier which specialises in document management.

Document management requirements

You need to consider three areas in order to create a suitable document management system:

  1. Your business objectives. No matter whether you're aiming to cut costs, improve efficiency, save physical space, comply with regulations or something else, decide what you want to achieve with your document management system. Document your objectives so they stay in the forefront of your mind.
  2. Review what you do at the moment. Daft as it might sound, many businesses don't know how they do things at the moment. Assess and record how your company handles and manages documentation and information. Involve the people who are closest to these processes and try to identify where your policies differ from what you actually do.
  3. Build your specification. This is the crunch moment: deciding what it is you actually need. You need to be clear on what it is you want to achieve with your document management and what techniques are available (from your research on the internet). You'll also know exactly what makes your business tick (because you reviewed your processes). If you bring all this information together into a single document then you'll have a specification with which you can approach potential suppliers.

Implement your document management system

It's up to you where you go from here. You could submit your specification to several suppliers to see what they propose. You might decide to get a consultancy in to refine your requirements or to take over the project.

You might even conclude that you're unlikely to see significant benefits from introducing document management, so you'll do nothing.

In any case, don't feel you have to go it alone. A little expert assistance in a specialist area like document management can really help clarify things for your business. So don't be afraid to ask your existing IT supplier, to approach new suppliers - or even to work with a consultant.

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