Companies seeking to improve the management of their documents and data may want to consider investing in a robust document management platform. Key components of these offerings include the ability to easily retrieve information, collaborate efficiently and securely with colleagues, and automate a range of document-related processes.
Ability to easily retrieve information
Once a document has been captured (e.g., through a scanner, camera, saving of a digital file), the next step is to create the metadata that will be attached to the document record. This involves a configuration step when the system is first deployed, where the user (or administrator) will indicate which index fields are required for each type of document.
For example, invoices will include index fields for the vendor, account number, invoice amount, and so on. Then, as documents are imported into the system, each can have its pertinent index values entered. Methods of data entry include:
- Manual indexing
- One-click/highlight indexing (user highlights data to move it to field/s)
- Zonal OCR (system can be set to OCR portion of scanned or imported document)
- Full-text indexing (OCR processing engine adds all words to index database)
- Database lookup (system integrates with other applications to pull values in real-time)
The input of metadata enables users to later retrieve files through search queries. Depending on the specific functionality of the document management system, a variety of search functions can be performed. These include:
- Auto-fill search (similar to smartphone auto-fill function)
- Full-text search (search for a phrase)
- Proximity search (search for words close to one another)
- “Looks like” search (search for type of word rather than exact value)
- Search within search results
One of the main reasons for document management is improved employee collaboration. In many instances, multiple users work on a document during the document’s lifecycle; documents may be opened and edited multiple times. Document management features like version control and check-in/check-out can help ensure that users are working on the latest version of a document, and multiple copies of the same version are not being edited simultaneously.
Other important aspects of document control include:
- Clearly identifying any changes or edits
- Tracking the source of a document as well as who has accessed it
- Reviewing and approving documents before releasing them for use by employees
- Retiring documents when they are no longer needed
These kinds of capabilities help protect document security as well as prevent the unintentional introduction of errors into the documents. They also provide an audit trail for internal control purposes, which in addition to being a good business practice may be necessary for regulatory compliance.
Document management systems are also increasingly used to automate complex document-centric processes. All enterprise content management platforms and a growing number of document management products offer workflow engines that move documents along a path driven by preset workflows.
These consoles often provide a drag-and-drop user interface where steps, paths, and logic can be assembled from pre-programmed workflow elements. For example, an invoice workflow can be set to perform the following actions:
- Place a copy of all invoices into an archive folder
- Pass the working version of the document to an accounts payable folder
- Alert the proper staff member that a document needs attention
Workflows may also contain advanced abilities like branching logic—where, for example, expense reports over a set amount get routed to the chief financial officer. Another potential feature is alerts, where—for instance—an alert can be sent to a department head after a file has sat unattended for a set period of time.
Additionally, a growing number of applications either have built-in document management systems, or are able to be integrated with an external document management system. This enables relevant documents to be automatically routed into the application and acted upon when needed.