What is document management?
DMS, document management, ECM or even content services – there are many different terms used in the DMS / ECM sector. And although they all mean almost the same thing, they differ in detail. However, all of these terms have one thing in common: their topicality and relevance in today’s world. Document management is (once again) on everyone’s lips. This second spring is largely due to the Corona restrictions of recent years and the resulting digitalisation push.
In 2023, however, not all companies have managed to go digital. Instead, they are often still clinging to outdated structures. But it’s already clear that digitisation is here to stay. On the contrary, in the coming years it will become increasingly important to manage documents digitally with the help of software. This step will be unavoidable in the future, especially if companies want to remain competitive without being left behind by digital competitors.
But why is this so? What exactly is document management and what are the benefits of a digital DMS? This article answers these questions and more.
- What is document management?
- Document Management: Definition of terms
- What is Document Management?
- What features should a good DMS have?
- What are the benefits of digital document management?
- For whom does a DMS make sense?
- What types of DMS are there?
- Document Management with Microsoft 365: Is SharePoint a DMS?
Document Management: Definition of terms
Anyone involved in the electronic delivery and management of documents and data will inevitably come across a number of terms. The most important are: DMS, ECM, document management, document management system and EIM. These are often used synonymously in everyday work, as it is difficult to make a clear distinction. However, not all terms describe the same thing. Therefore, each term is defined in more detail and the differences are highlighted:
Document management refers to the management of documents within a company or organisation. It includes capturing, storing, organising and controlling documents in digital or physical form. Document Management is designed to facilitate access to documents, ensure their confidentiality and integrity, and help people collaborate. This is enabled by software called a Document Management System, or DMS. In addition to electronic documents, Document Management also includes subsequently digitised documents that were originally paper-based (e.g. scanned invoices) and are now managed in an electronic system.
Enterprise Content Management (ECM)
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is an extended approach to document management. It includes the management of unstructured data such as text, audio, video and images. ECM systems enable the comprehensive management of content regardless of its form or format. They also integrate workflows and processes to automate the capture, editing and approval of content. This means that Document Management is just one of the sub-areas of Enterprise Content Management.
Enterprise Information Management (EIM)
Enterprise Information Management (EIM) is an even broader approach that encompasses the management of all information in an organisation, including both structured data (as in databases) and unstructured data (as in documents or multimedia files). EIM refers to the integration of technologies, processes and policies to optimise the way information is created, managed, used and archived throughout an organisation.
In summary, document management is limited to the management of documents, while ECM focuses on the management of unstructured content, and EIM encompasses a broader strategy for managing all information in an organisation.
What is Document Management?
As stated above, document management is the capture, storage, organisation and control of documents in digital form using software. In simple terms, the aim of document management is to have one system for the electronic management of all the documents in an organisation.
This means that the documents that would normally sit in paper form on piles in the office, waiting to be sorted and processed manually, are now digitally filed and stored in one central place. In this one “place”, the Document Management System, all document-related processes are carried out digitally throughout the entire document lifecycle. The aim is to find, process, store or archive the required documents in a matter of seconds in the face of the masses of data and documents that are generated in the company every day.
The types of documents that are relevant for a DMS include everything that is created in the day-to-day business: from invoices, receipts, certificates and forms to contracts and emails and even faxes and letters that are subsequently digitised. Any document that is relevant to the business can and should be stored in a document management system, not least with regard to retention periods. The DMS thus forms the basis for the paperless office.
What features should a good DMS have?
There are many document management systems on the market, all of which vary more and less. However, there are certain core qualities or basic functions that every DMS should have in order to enable effective document management and thus contribute to the sustainable optimisation of your own business processes. These features include:
- Capturing and scanning text and entire documents (e.g. through OCR)
- Indexing content to enable full-text search and retrieval
- Automated filing of all types of documents
- Case-related file management and handling
- Further processing of incoming documents
- Audit-proof archiving
Since the purpose of document management is to record, manage and track all documents created in a company, the data contained in the documents is stored and indexed in the DMS. This is very important, because another key function of Document Management is to automate the process of monitoring and tracking deadlines. This means, for example, that automatic notifications can be sent to the responsible employee when the cancellation period for a contract is approaching.
Processes and workflows
Automating processes using workflows is also part of modern document management (see EIM) and helps to reduce daily workload by freeing up resources to be used elsewhere. A common example of this is the review and approval process, which is both labour- and time-intensive, as it usually involves several employees and goes through several rounds of coordination. Automating this process usually saves a lot of time and money.
In addition to basic functionality and core features, there are a number of other criteria that can be part of a DMS evaluation. Some of the most important and relevant criteria for day-to-day work are:
- Easy sharing of data and documents within the organisation
- Possibility to customise the search and archiving functions
- Ability to work with visual support by previewing documents
- Provision of interfaces to integrate with the company’s internal infrastructure, e.g. ERP & CRM
- Good compatibility with different operating systems, e.g. Windows, Mac OS
- Meet high compliance and data security requirements
- Simple, intuitive and visually appealing usability
- High reliability
What are the benefits of digital document management?
The use of a DMS in a company is an innovative solution which makes day-to-day operations more efficient. Managing documents digitally in a central system offers a number of advantages:
- Reduced search times for data and documents
- Reduction in rental costs due to space savings, as a physical archive is no longer necessary
- Reduced corporate paper costs
- The ability to version, audit and track documents
- Business processes are significantly accelerated
- Facilitates control and compliance with important (legal) dates and deadlines
- Improved accessibility of documents through centralised storage (especially with cloud solutions)
- Simplify research with comprehensive search and indexing capabilities
- Save staff time through efficient work organisation and automated and streamlined processes
Despite the many benefits, not all organisations are convinced by electronic document management. The introduction of a DMS is said to be too expensive, the handling too complicated and the success not guaranteed. But these concerns are unfounded. DMS software is offered by various vendors with different cost models. The SaaS (Software as a Service) model allows you to rent your document management system for a small monthly charge rather than a large upfront cost. In addition, the cost of the system pays for itself after just a short period of time, as significant savings can be made through time savings and process optimisation.
Digitisation as a competitive advantage
Fears that the complexity of a DMS will pose a major challenge to a company’s operations are understandable, but usually exaggerated. Developing and optimising work processes is an essential step for any company and can be an important competitive advantage. Those who continue to cling to rigid, outdated structures, of which the paper-based office is undoubtedly one, will eventually be left behind by the competition and will find it difficult to access an increasingly digitalised market. Investing in a DMS is therefore always worthwhile. Good software is also user-friendly and easy to operate. In addition, professional suppliers of DMS software will usually also offer training and support for your staff, so that they do not feel left on their own.
Establish structures that make sense
There is no guarantee that every company project will be successful. However, the introduction of a DMS should be seen less as a project and more as a long-term solution. It is therefore important to create structures in the document management system that make sense and fit the company. This can be done by analysing the current situation in terms of document storage and defining the goals for the DMS. If the introduction of a DMS fails, it is often due to a lack of planning and a lack of willingness on the part of the company to invest time, money and personnel.
In today’s business environment, certain electronic documents may be governed by legislation. The acquisition of a DMS may therefore be inevitable. To find out what the GobD is and how a DMS can help you store your documents in an audit-proof way, read our article on archiving.
For whom does a DMS make sense?
In principle, a DMS makes sense for all companies, self-employed people and freelancers. Wherever there is work to be done, documents are automatically the result. The more documents you have to manage, the more difficult it is to keep track of them. Dates and deadlines, such as those found in contracts and invoices, are a good example. Managing documents with a DMS also simplifies many of the business processes that occur in day-to-day operations.
However, there are some business areas where the benefits of a DMS are particularly important and where it is already widely used:
Marketing & Sales
In marketing and sales, the use of a DMS is no longer a rarity. Important documents are always available and can be found quickly thanks to the DMS. Sales can use workflows to optimise the process for new customers and contracts, while marketing can capture leads and web forms and forward them directly to sales.
Document management means that the necessary customer data is centrally stored and available, enabling customer service to respond to enquiries in the shortest possible time. Rapid response and reliable support increases customer satisfaction and loyalty, which in turn increases a company’s competitiveness.
Human Resources / HR
In the area of human resources, a DMS is particularly useful when it comes to the management of job applications. If you receive a large number of applications in response to a job advertisement, targeted document management can help you keep track of them and select the right candidates efficiently. The same applies to large companies that have many vacancies and need to be able to collaborate in the system.
One of the benefits of a DMS for the accounts department is that incoming invoices can be entered much more quickly. In particular, OCR technology removes the need to manually enter each item. Orders and invoices are also automatically matched, which not only helps to avoid errors but also saves time. In addition, automated payment reminders ensure that payment deadlines are no longer missed.
Beyond these four sectors, electronic document management with DMS is suitable for any business, from the sole trader to the SME and the big company. The advantages are obvious: whether for an important customer presentation or for daily workloads, documents are easy to find, can be processed digitally in parallel and, thanks to the electronic archive, are never lost.
What types of DMS are there?
There are many different types of document management systems, each of which differs from the others in certain features. In the DMS market, a large number of companies offer these different systems, resulting in a wide and confusing range of products. Finding the right document management system is not always easy. Therefore, before implementing a DMS, companies should be clear about what type of digital document management software solution is right for them.
A document management system goes beyond the mere management and processing of PDF files and can basically be divided into 3 different areas:
1. Open Source DMS
The easiest way to get started with electronic document management is to use open source document management systems. Open source software is usually free of charge and often characterised by simple, intuitive operation. Provisioning of stored documents is usually web-based.
The disadvantage of this option is that open source software is only a slimmed-down version of a highly functional DMS and does not offer all the functions necessary for a company’s complex business processes.
With on-premises software, a company has a fully functional DMS in-house. The software, in this case the DMS, is purchased as a licence model and hosted on the company’s own servers or outsourced to an external data centre. he advantage is that the software is used locally. The DMS does not run on the provider’s hardware.
The disadvantage, however, is that the licence fees can be very high and a large one-off payment is due for the introduction of the DMS. Maintenance fees are also not insignificant. In addition, the high degree of customisation of the systems severely restricts the ability to update and is associated with high costs. Today, on-premises systems are generally regarded as outdated and the number of providers is constantly decreasing.
The counterpart to on-premises is cloud computing. Under the banner of ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), the software (in this case the DMS) is only offered and used as a service. This means that both the software and the necessary IT infrastructure reside with the provider. In addition, the data is no longer stored locally on a server, but in the cloud.
One of the advantages is that all maintenance and operational responsibility lies with the service provider. Costs are also significantly lower than with on-premises solutions, as there is only a monthly fee based on the number of users and no expensive up-front licensing fees. This puts all the risk on the provider, not the customer. Another advantage of cloud software is its high availability, i.e. the documents in the DMS can be accessed at any time and from anywhere, regardless of the end device. All you need is Internet access and a web browser.
Apart from the lower costs, the biggest advantage is probably that cloud software is subject to very high security guidelines. There is still a lot of doubt about data security, which is why many companies still stick with their on-premises solutions. However, these concerns are usually unfounded, as providers are very aware of their responsibility for customer data, and security standards in the SaaS model are now particularly high.
Over the past few years, the cloud computing market has become increasingly important. Compared to on-premises or open source solutions, SaaS offers companies many advantages. Most notably, it reduces IT complexity and costs. These benefits have led many companies to consider moving to SaaS.
Document Management with Microsoft 365: Is SharePoint a DMS?
SharePoint (Online) is a cloud-based service that is part of Microsoft 365. As a web application, its focus is on collaboration. SharePoint Online is designed to make it easier for organisations to store, share and manage digital information. However, SharePoint is not yet a full-fledged DMS. Rather, with its Content Services, Microsoft provides a kind of toolbox for creating highly functional applications independently.
This is where we come in with our product suite Shareflex ECM Online. It extends Microsoft 365 and SharePoint into a platform for modern document management (DMS) and enterprise content management (ECM). The suite includes standardised solutions for document-centric business processes. For example, Shareflex Documents is a complete DMS that offers predefined file structures and document types, permission control, a workflow system and interfaces to various ERP systems. Our cloud software solutions enable intelligent document management anywhere and anytime. Shareflex guides users through the entire document lifecycle, making document management as simple as possible.
If you would like to know more about our DMS based on Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online, please contact us. We will be happy to help you find the right solutions to support and drive the digitalisation of your business.
Hamburg, April 22, 2023
Author: Sara Glöckner
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