The Basics of Enterprise Document Management

¿by: Wendy Thanisch

¿The only constant in life is change.¿

¿Nothing in life is free.¿

¿The only things certain in this world are death and taxes.¿

-Adages we will hear in excess of 1,000 times in our lives

Each of these adages is true, as we all know - but, especially in the context of enterprise document management, no matter how hard anyone might try to argue otherwise. In fact, we can create and add one more aphorism to create a philosophical equation which describes the dilemma of anyone involved in business, government, education or life.

¿Documents will always be a part of all businesses.¿

From delivery services to neurosurgeons, from astronauts to cleaning ladies, in capitalism and in anarchy, documents are produced in one form or another for no other reason that to perpetuate or validate an entity¿s existence. If we were to demonstrate the veracity of dictum #3 listed above, we can be certain that one or more documents will be generated as a result of our imprisonment for tax evasion, or of existence here having ended.

Naturally, it should be noted that there will be a cost to generating these documents, such as a death certificate, life insurance claim form, or invoice from the defense attorney or funeral parlor. People are actually employed to create, distribute and store these documents; thus, proving dictum #2 listed above. Albeit, the means to creating these documents has evolved and been simplified, thereby recently increasing the productive potential of those employed to produce documents, but they are still not free. This evolution of the document production process can be traced back through the ages, when they were originally created on stone or clay tablets. Documents have always been around. These days, they are just more abundant and easier to produce.

Having demonstrated the truth of dictum #1 as it relates to documents, it should be understood that mankind, and the business realm, is presently standing in a PIVOTAL moment of document management evolution. We are progressing out of the mechanical age and into the electronic and information age where it is hoped that fewer traditional ¿paper copy¿ documents will be produced, distributed and stored. Within our lifetime, some visionaries expect that this traditional age of the paper document might be fully ended. Whether or not this is realistic remains to be seen. However, we can be certain that documents, themselves, will remain in whatever form, and change is inevitable.

What is Enterprise Document Management?

From the moment that we see the need to create a specific document until we are finally able to put it to rest, a document is involved in a process which has three basic stages, and it requires a system to manage it. These stages are the document¿s lifecycle: Creation, Distribution and Storage.

Each company has its own system of managing a document¿s lifecycle, and it may be a very efficient system within a specific department, but is it effective for the entire enterprise? This is not often the case, and it is a question often overlooked by executives attempting to examine the efficiency of their operations as a whole. Documents, and the management thereof, are generally forgotten because they have always been considered a necessary component of doing business; it¿s, ¿business as usual, never mind the unavoidable expense¿. It¿s the cost of doing business, but does it have to cost so much?

ENTERPRISE DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT is when a business addresses the document management needs of the entire company, not just a few departments or document types. Many companies have attempted to address flaws in their document management systems on their own with, perhaps, a limited understanding of the methods and resources available to accomplish this objective for the entire enterprise. They frequently encounter stumbling blocks, unexpected costs or new regulations which stall the progress of developing an adequate company-wide management system.

Because the traditional methods of creating, distributing and storing documents throughout the entire enterprise have served them well, company executives may simply have not considered just how much an inefficient document management system is actually costing them. Without a full understanding of the nature of enterprise document management, its cost is also quite difficult to quantify.

Key facts about documents for business purposes:

Documents are managed only as well as the instituted system permits. During this blending of the electronic and traditional paper document ages, pre-existing paper and electronic systems will need to adapt and synchronize with one another as they progress into the new era.

Documents are managed only as well as the organizational habits of employees. When a system is difficult to navigate, some employees may not be putting much effort into ensuring that documents are properly managed.

Some industries are still very heavily dependent upon paper documents. Government, financial institutions and insurance claims companies are extreme examples of this fact, but they are making efforts to progress. They are text book examples of the present-day dilemma for businesses. ¿The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act¿ is one instance of how banks are being forced to eliminate paper documents, and scramble to implement new systems.

Considerable government regulations burden some industries with document retention and accessibility requirements. The Sarbanes Oxley Act now requires companies to retain and be able to present business documents which might come into question. This necessitates an ability to index and retrieve either electronic or paper documents within a reasonable time period.

Some industries have not yet realized the need for change of their document management systems. This may not seem significant unless they become a prospect for merger or acquisition. It may also seem less significant until profits decline and belt-tightening becomes necessary. Pursuit of an efficient document management system is always beneficial in such circumstances because the ROI is apparent within a short period of time.

How does a weak document management system impede business performance?

Document storage affects operations, and system incompatibilities are symptomatic of our era. Efficacious document management is frequently challenged by incompatible computer hardware and software systems, which thereafter fail to efficiently integrate with a standard paper copy storage system.

An individual from a different department within the same company may not be able to locate a specific document unless they know one or more specific details about it. The document may be saved in the computer or stored in a filing cabinet. It may be saved with payroll information or as a human resources file. The complications are easy to imagine because many things can happen to a document during its lifecycle when it lives within a segmented management system.

Companies in fast growth quickly outgrow their smaller-scale operational systems - documents and other. When this occurs, profits and growth will plateau or decline until new systems are adopted, or old systems evolve. This stalling or decline often results because of customer dissatisfaction when operations are inefficient. In the worst case, a company¿s existence may actually be threatened by ineffective document management if regulatory compliance has become too difficult.

Survival of the fittest. Many times a market becomes tight due to economic circumstances, and the business world becomes aggressively Darwinian. The competition may be pulling ahead because they have analyzed their enterprise document management systems, and subsequently streamlined their operations.

When operations have become congested due to storage, distribution or creation issues, it is time to examine the document management system of the entire enterprise. Numerous solutions are available, but which one will fit? Executives, records managers and IT professionals may need to take a step back and look at their operations as a whole to see if the left hand knows what the right one is doing. While researching, there is a definite advantage in utilizing the expertise of an outside document management consultant to assist in analyzing all the data necessary to make an informed decision on how to correct any problems. By researching and becoming educated about options, business professionals will be better prepared to meet the challenge of landing in the new age on both feet - ready to run.

About The Author

Wendy Thanisch is an author for Cornerstone Communications.

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