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Foundations of Document Management

Foundations of Document Management

Having a good document management system is key for an organization to succeed and grow. Also, understanding its importance will make an impact in any organization

One thing common in every organization or business, regardless of size or industry, is that they all produce and make use of documents. Documents are the heartbeat of an organization. No organization can do without them and every entity must take necessary steps to ensure that they are managed effectively, often as part of an enterprise data management initiative.

How an organization stores, manages and tracks electronic documents is the basis of Document Management. Day-to-day business operations produce documents and data continually which must be captured, stored, and retrieved. Organizations without any form of document management find the management of documents and their contents to be a burdensome practice.

Document Management usually requires software called a Document Management System (DMS).  This software processes the capturing, tracking, and storing of electronic documents. Electronic documents such as PDFs, videos, word processing files, audio clips, emails and paper documents are scanned into a digital format and can be accessed through the DMS.

More organizations are embracing document management systems to help mitigate their problems in handling their documents. A DMS system helps organization create, track, and store digitized documents.

Features of a Document Management System

Various document management systems exist, tailored to suit the scope of small, medium, or large organizations. However, they all share some similar features:

  • Metadata is provided for each document. It includes document title, author, revision, date of storage etc.
  • Document capture involves processing images of paper documents through scanning to enable its storage in the system. It should be able to import documents from a variety of physical and digital sources.  Optical character recognition software (OCR) is often used.
  • Storage of documents in central locations can be implemented. A DMS provides a centralized storage for documents. The DMS is often the focal point for storage and may maintain all documents within an organization.
  • Integration with other business applications is often a requirement, especially in larger organizations. With a fully connected system, data can be shared in real-time across all connected platforms.
  • Cloud access is an important feature since employees need access to the system to view, upload and download documents from any location.
  • Permission levels. Access rights and privileges are granted to different individuals or teams based on need. There is adequate control and protection of important documents.  Permissions are based on data security and data governance requirements.
  • Collaboration is an essential feature of document management system usage.  Multiple users can view and modify documents at the same time. Document changes and history are monitored by the system, reducing the work often done when manual update is required.
  • Workflow allows administrators to create rules that dictate the flow of documents through an organization, often by the organization’s data stewards.
  • Version control in a DMS saves every version of a document when it is uploaded. This is useful for documents that change over time and require updating.

Benefits of Document Management

A situation where documents are efficiently controlled, managed, and has structure will be beneficial to any organization. An organization with a document management system is likely to maintain a competitive advantage over other businesses. Investing in a Document Management system can save an organization time and money. Benefits include but are not limited to:

  • Introduction of a paperless work environment will lead to an efficient and organized office.
  • Issues surrounding storage space for hard copy documents will be reduced.
  • Quick search and easy retrieval of documents, saving time and increasing confidence in document sources.
  • Increased productivity of staff and team collaborations.
  • Data quality is improved.
  • Enhanced document security can be achieved.
  • User access controls are deployed, documents are stored in a common secure repository and an effective back-up system exists.
  • Regulatory compliance requirements are demonstrated.
  • Enhanced audit processes can be implemented.

Factors to consider before migrating to a Document Management System

A Document Management System is not a one-size-fits-all software. To determine what is suitable for a specific organization, certain factors should be considered.

  • Determine the organization’s current document management practices, identify the areas that need improvement, number of staff, and user access and projected growth areas.  Identify the current data management practices, such as data governance, to coordinate effective processes and standards.
  • Choosing a reputable vendor is key to getting maximum benefit from a DMS. Visit websites for information, get referrals to determine which customers were satisfied, set up meetings with different vendors to demonstrate the capabilities of their DMS. It is important to let a vendor know the DMS requirements and organizational expectations.
  • The staff should be able to navigate through the system as easily as possible, so evaluate the user interfaces carefully. Make sure the interface is easy to understand and intuitive. A simple and straightforward system will increase staff productivity with document management.
  • Verify available support options, and ensure the selected vendor has a proven track record of excellent customer support, with a Service-Level Agreement (SLA) that states their obligation to resolve issues and answer support requests when contacted.
  • Ensure all areas of security through assessment of the vendor’s approach to system and document security capabilities. Protection of an organization’s documents against falling into the wrong hands is critical, so the system must have necessary security measures that protect from external and internal threats. New threats evolve regularly so the vendor should identify and confirm the frequency of all updates for the system, and the ways they meet a variety of security challenges.
  • Identify desired system deployment options. Multiple options (on-premises and cloud based) exist. The vendor should provide a variety of deployment solutions from which to choose.

Inconveniences of a Document Management System

Despite the numerous benefits of the DMS, there are certain inconveniences that may exist:   

  • Security of the system, since the DMS is the storehouse for an organization’s documents, the documents can get into the wrong hands.  The possibility of hackers getting access via the internet also exists and should be evaluated and appropriate security measures taken.
  • Equipment costs can be high for a DMA (hardware, software, middleware, etc.). A desire to purchase a DMS means the company intends to reduce its reliance on paper. Many documents will need to be scanned, and the hardware and software can be costly.
  • Implementing a DMS can cause a dependency on technology, which can lead to reliance on technology.  Without an accompanying change in organizational culture, this dependence can initiate or expose challenges.
  • Due to the high IT involvement, smaller businesses may find it difficult to cope with selecting, implementing, and accepting a DMS.
  • With the DMS, an audit trail is available for every document that is accessed, edited, and reviewed by staff. This opens the organization to litigation if any illegal activity with documents occurs.


Any organization that wants a structured system for its electronic document storage, accessibility and retrieval should investigate a document management system, and implement one if the requirements and costs can be met. A DMS can save time and money, often ensures quality of documents, and can protect the interests of the organization.


Adanma Kadiri

Adanma Kadiri is a Certified Document Control Professional with over 20 years’ experience in the oil and gas sector. She is the author of “Understanding Document Control – A short guidebook”.  She is the Founder and CEO of Doc Masters Limited (The Document Control Experts), where she intends to transform and create visibility for document control in Nigeria. She is also a Senior Professional Member of the International Institute of Information Management (IIM).  Ada holds a bachelor’s degree in Library Science from Abia State University,  Nigeria and a Masters in International Law and Diplomacy from The University of Lagos, Nigeria.

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