DMS Blog

Creating a Healthy DMS

- Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The power of a document management system lies far beyond the bells and whistles that the system in which you are using promises. Of course features such as automatic review date notification, check out check in features, document versioning can make document management easy and effective, but the true power lies in the thinking behind what document management is all about.

There are five key steps when planning and executing your document management system. These steps can be used at any stage of your document management journey and they are worth reflecting on.

Stage 1: Document quality and more importantly content quality. If you are investing your time in creating, storing and most importantly using the information stored in your documents you would want those documents to be of a high quality. Now I realise this principal sounds simple in nature, but there are a few key questions that you can ask when determining the quality of your documentation. Is the information contained in the document serving the purpose in which it is intended? Is the purpose of the document aligned with the business processes, key objectives or mission? Is the information in the document written in a way that will be easily understood, used and implemented? If the answer to your question is yes, then the likelihood of your document being of high quality is increased. If the answer is No, then you may need to question the reason for having the document in the first place or re-write it so that it does achieve its intended purpose. Just remember having a tonne of documents doesn’t mean you are managing your business effectively which brings us onto our next point.

Stage 2: Quantity of documentation. The number of documents you have available in your organisation doesn’t mean that your systems and processes are sound. Often the more "stuff" you have can cause confusion around what is trying to be achieved. Information overload is a common problem experienced by individuals and having a document management system with hundreds of documents, photos information etc... can add to this problem. When designing your document management system it is important to address the key areas in which documentation e.g. policies, procedures etc... are required. Each area needs to be determined by key business process so that the number of documents available is limited. Now I realise at times there is a requirement to maintain documentation on projects completed, orders etc... however this information should be set up in a structure that prevents it from being accessible to every individual. Part of the process P2B uses is a DMS audit and 99% of the time the problems lies with the DMS becoming a bucket to dump every bit of information into. The problem of this is that people within the organisation start setting up their own folders and documentation which can lead to duplication and out dated information being used. It is integral to set up a system that is clean, simple to use and understand and for documentation to be easily found found. A key to achieving this is by communicating this structure with the people maintaining the DMS - if everyone is on the same page then your DMS will be used.

The third Stage revolves around the structure of the Document Management System. It is recommended at best that no more than three levels of structure be created. This prevents folders upon folders upon folders being added. Creating rabbit warren structures adds to confusion and loss of knowledge and key documentation. When structuring your DMS it’s important to have the end goal in mind. This means that as your business or organisation grows so does the DMS. There are a number of ways in which you can structure your DMS - you can base it on type e.g. policy, procedure, or around key processes e.g. HR, admin, projects. The decision is entirely up to you and needs to be established based on what you are trying to achieve. As mentioned previously the purpose of keeping the DMS structure clean and easy to use is that makes it easy for personnel to find, store and use the information contained within the DMS. 

Stage 4: Versioning and document control.  This is a key element in effective document management. This ensures that the most recent documentation is available, provided that it has been uploaded into the system and the previous version is either archived or removed. P2B DMS has the ability to automatically archive the previous version once the new version has been uploaded. Keeping versioning and document control practices in place also means that a standard approach, design and information required is maintained. Consistency is they key.

Stage 5: Accessibility, so you now have great document information aligned with key objectives and processes, the number of documents available is suitable for the information required, your system is sound, easy to use and simple and all up to date versions are available. So the important stage is making sure the information is accessible at all times and in all areas. There is no point in having all this great information if no one or a limited few can access it. Accessibility also goes beyond being able to open the DMS and get the document, but it also includes the ability to easily search for relevant information. How often have you asked for a document only to be told it’s "somewhere in the DMS" - great that can be like finding a needle in a haystack. This is where an online DMS can be valuable. Online DMS mean that information can be accessed anytime, anyplace and any location provided that there is internet connection. An online DMS can be your own private internal information browser, where you can simply search and find, the added benefit to this however is that it can be completed anywhere in the world. You don’t need to be the office to get the information required.

Although these five stages seem simple in nature, you would be surprised at how many organisations fall into the trap of poor document quality and quantity, no version control, ineffective structuring and limit accessability to users. If you are finding that your DMS is not supporting your business and its goals, why not sign up for a free trial with out online DMS products.

Anonymous commented on 11-Jan-2011 06:34 PM
Some good points made - we're trying the P2B DMS and have found it user friendly and provides heaps of context information about each document and where it fits into the system - rather than just a "dump" of docs. Will post comments more as we use it
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