Easier collaboration drives need for scalable document management strategy

Collaboration, audit and compliance are among the business drivers of scalable document management initiatives even as it becomes easier to engage with content being amassed in growing repositories.

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Corporate documents aren’t just static pieces of paper requiring scanning anymore; they have evolved into dynamic, metadata-laden receptacles of information that can be created, updated and shared electronically. Multiple workers can collaborate on a single document from anywhere in the world -- no longer do physical copies have to be printed, disseminated, returned and combined. And no longer do documents become effectively invisible with the passage of time -- instead, they enjoy a new persistence that can be enormously helpful in attaining business goals.

But while business users are finding it easier than ever to work with documents, expanding business, technology and regulatory demands are posing challenges for organizations looking to build a scalable document management strategy. For example, continuing advances in Web connectivity and mobile technology are adding new pressures to find better ways of managing documents on an enterprise level. And because new data-delivery channels are likely to continue being developed to go beyond flash drives, cell phone screens and tablet PCs, it’s increasingly important to figure out how to scale document management strategies to keep pace.

Business drivers of scalable document management

In addition, electronic documents frequently contain embedded audio and video components as well as text, images and charts. With the meaning of the word “document” broadening and the number of documents that organizations are creating, capturing and storing in their systems continuing to grow, new tools have been developed to help control and wrangle what otherwise would be a teeming mass of ungoverned material. These document management technologies apply intelligence to documents so information workers can quickly and efficiently create, file, track and work on them again.

Here are some of the most common business drivers for adopting these latest document management systems:

Collaboration. The ability to track and coordinate people’s involvement with documents as they are created and used is critical to ensuring the smooth exchange and integration of ideas and guaranteeing that documents contain the most current information.

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Version control. Functionally, the ability to check a document out, work on it and then check it back in for review is especially important to ensure that different people don’t make changes at the same time. Similarly, version control has a central place at the table because of its ability to monitor and untangle changes as they are made. It works hand in glove with rollback functionality, which can be used to “activate” a previous version of a document if a newer one was released prematurely or is found to contain errors.

Auditing. A document rollback is sometimes the result of an audit, which is a review of how a document was created, who was involved in working on it, where it went within the organization and when various things happened to it. Document audits are especially prevalent in financial organizations, where for many years verification and accountability have been the subjects of legislation as well as standard business practice, and in legal contexts, where the ability to track and verify the course a document follows during its lifetime can be key to pursuing litigation or defending against it.

Compliance. Speaking to the ability of companies to “follow the rules,” compliance initiatives can be the result of regulatory, industry or corporate mandates, any one of which can require that organizations approach the management of their documents in a particular way. Dodd-Frank and HIPAA are highly visible examples of regulations that must be complied with in the financial services and health care arenas, respectively, while GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) is a set of private-sector accounting standards. Internally, many organizations have their own standards, which also represent compliance requirements that document management systems must meet.

These drivers are present in different ways in almost every setting, but they are especially pressing in companies with bigger headcounts and geographic footprints because their grander scale makes it more difficult to establish, monitor and reinforce standard business practices. From a technology standpoint, it means that any document management system an organization is considering must be designed in a way that accommodates whatever the anticipated coverage might be -- today and in the future.

For example, when just a few people working in the same location are involved, it is relatively straightforward to use a system that lets them simultaneously eyeball and make changes to documents. Doing the same thing in larger workgroups that might be scattered across different time zones or even continents likely will require not only the same functionality, but more network capacity, security protections and processing power.

As a result, choosing the right tool to make sure it can support scalable document management processes in your organization requires more than simply reviewing a checklist of functions. It also takes a deeper understanding of the organization’s needs and of individual business drivers.

About the author:
Steve Weissman provides guidance and professional training on content, process and information management. Weissman is president of the AIIM New England Chapter and principal consultant at Holly Group. He can be reached at sweissman@hollygroup.com.

This was first published in May 2012

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