Document management can dramatically cut the amount of paper in your business. It also makes it much easier to find documents when you need them. Dave Poyser, of Xpress Document Solutions, explains
What is document management?
"Document management the efficient organisation of information within a business. Generally, businesses will have a process set up to help them run efficiently. The documents sit within that process.
"Instead of storing documents in paper form, you scan them as they come into your business and then save them electronically. The document files can be organised logically and – because they're in a digital format – they're easy to search. You can also merge information that's already electronic with electronic captures of paper.
"If you have the right set up, you just open the post in the morning, load it into a scanner and hit the 'scan' button. Documents are automatically scanned and saved where the relevant people can see them."
Are we talking about the paperless office here?
"That's the holy grail of document management. The idea has been around since Xerox coined the phrase in the seventies. But there aren't many businesses that manage a completely paperless office. Most aim for a less paper office.
"Inside your business, you'll store everything electronically. But you probably won't stop producing paper – you'll just stop holding on to it."
What are the advantages of using document management?
"It's more efficient. It means you don't have to work out someone's filing structure. You've got an easy to use system which enables you to get your hands on information when you need it. And with that efficiency comes cost savings.
"You spend less time retrieving paper documents because everything's stored centrally – and your staff don't have to spend time filing stuff either. What's more, because your documents are saved electronically, you don't need to be in the same place as the paper. You can log in to the system and access documents from anywhere."
What are the main components of a document management system?
"There's no right or wrong way to do it, but you will definitely need a document scanner. Get one with an automatic document feeder, so you can load a pile of paper at once rather than having to load pages individually.
"If you're a sole trader, you can get away with a scanner that scans to PDF. You scan all your paper, put the files inside a folder and use a desktop search tool (like Windows Search) to find everything. That's all you need for a really basic document management solution.
"As you start to get bigger, you'll want a centralised system so everyone can use and add to the data. That means having a server, to keep data stored centrally, or using some sort of cloud computing service."
How do we get our staff to adopt a document management system?
"Be careful not to focus too much on the software and scanners, because you might end up with something that's completely unworkable. Take time to analyse your processes. Write them down, discuss them, and make sure you understand how you work at the moment.
"You don't have to change your working practices to make the system fit. You can make the software and system fit your existing processes.
"The best way to get staff buy in is to engage them from the start - especially people who've been there the longest."
Do I need to approach a specialist supplier?
"It depends on the size of your business. If you have an existing IT supplier, they should help you find a good document management supplier if they can't do it for you.
"You can use the internet to do some research too. But although it's really easy to find corporate systems, it can be harder for smaller businesses. It's quite a specialist area."
Are document management systems secure?
"Document management can be vulnerable to the same security threats that face the rest of your business computers. But then you should be thinking about electronic security anyway. Your backup process should cover all important data in your business.
"Document management definitely has advantages over paper. For instance, if your office goes up in smoke and your information is on paper, well, what do you do? You can't back up a filing cabinet."
"Using software to control access to data is also much more secure than having ten keys to a filing cabinet knocking around."