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Assess deployment options first for scalable document management plan

Organizations should weigh the various approaches for deploying a document management system beforehand to help ensure they choose the strategy that will work best, says consultant Steve Weissman.

Most IT professionals understand that developing a successful scalable document management plan requires identifying and quantifying the business factors that drive a company’s document management needs in the first place. But organizations often wait until the eleventh hour to examine how to best deploy their document management systems. Worse still, some don’t ever try to figure it out -- they just blindly set a deployment strategy without weighing the different options.

While the deployment choices can be dizzying, they essentially boil down to these three options:

  • Installing a system on-premises and managing it with your own people;
  • Installing the system on-premises, but relying on an outside services provider to manage it for you; and
  • Having a services provider host and manage the system.

Keeping a scalable document management strategy in-house has been the way of many companies over the years. Doing so involves acquiring the appropriate software licenses, installing the software on suitable servers, configuring it to meet organizational needs and providing access to designated end users. In-house IT staff patches, upgrades and expands systems in consultation with the software vendor. And at the end of the day, many senior IT managers take comfort in knowing the entire effort is within their direct control.

Deploying the technology on-premises but managing it with people from an outside company can offer that same measure of comfort because all the work with the software is performed under the organization’s roof. The fact that the folks doing the work are employed by someone else oftentimes is immaterial because they perform the work at your location, and you can supervise them. And because they might possess skills that nobody in the organization does, they could be better-qualified to do the work than your own workforce is.

Fully outsourcing a document managementprogram so your system is hosted and managed by a services provider -- today often as a cloud application -- takes deployment a step further. In this scenario, your organization essentially “rents” the software, servers, network capacity and people needed to run and scale the system smoothly. This outsourcing option is appealing to a great many organizations, especially those that might not be as large as global enterprises or Fortune 1000 companies yet have similar document management requirements.

Mapped out this way, the three options seem fairly distinct. But in practice, they often overlap one another to a great degree. As a result, many organizations end up building document management systems by leveraging their own resources (both technological and human) and then filling holes with outside technology and expertise as needed. The tricky part is figuring out whether and how best to mix and match internal and external components.

Elements of the build-vs.-buy assessment
Happily, there are some established considerations to take under advisement when making this build-vs.-buy decision. One has to do with the existing skill sets in your organization. Where possible, it makes sense to choose a product that is based on technology and a systems infrastructure that your staff is already familiar with. If you find one, it might well be a sign that running the system internally and managing your own scalable document management plan is the way to go.

Another consideration involves the other projects your staff is working on and the amount of time they have to focus on your document management strategy. Even the very best match of skill sets to requirements will mean nothing if the staff simply can’t get to the tasks at hand. In such cases, bringing in an outside team might be the answer because it can handle the more mundane day-to-day management tasks, leaving your people free to tackle critical projects.

The workload issue also points to a third important factor to take into account: the economics of labor. For many organizations, this manifests itself in the form of a question: “How can I pay less for an identical level of quality and results?” Increasingly, the answer is, “By outsourcing using the cloud.” Under the cloud model, organizations pay as they go based on rates that scale up or down with their systems and processing needs. There are no fixed costs of labor to absorb or charge back to business units as there are if you manage a system or share that task in-house.

A fourth consideration has to do with accounting preferences. For example, while outsourcing services often are classified as operating expenses, software licenses tend to be treated as capital expenditures -- as are the servers and other hardware needed to run one’s own document management system. Since different accounting practices have different effects on the balance sheet and income statement, don’t be surprised if your chief financial officer has a major voice in what might appear to be a technical decision.

If you’re doing your job properly, you know how important it is while planning a document management system to perform up-front due diligence -- for example, calculating the numbers and types of documents that your organization deals with and assessing how documents move throughout the organization. But it’s equally important to remember that the prep work isn’t finished until you fully explore the deployment options that will work best.

This assessment might lead you to keep things in-house, install the technology but use outside help to manage it, fully leverage outsourcing resources or take a modified approach that borrows elements of each option. Whichever you settle on, remember that there really aren’t any wrong answers -- only those that haven’t been properly vetted to help you determine which scalable document management plan is the right choice for your needs.

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

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