How to overcome your document nightmare

Although efficient and cost-effective means of organising, managing, sharing and archiving digital information is more important than ever before, it can often be a nightmarish process, leading to communicative and collaborative breakdowns.

A business may, for instance, process thousands of documents, such as invoices, every month. If this is done manually, there is a high risk of human error. This could lead to a situation in which documents are difficult to track, control and retrieve. Furthermore, there may be no association between related documents. This means that you often won’t know if a document is missing until you need it. You could be left searching for the right document, such as a piece of supporting documentation. Additionally, a business may opt to send documents physically via post. Doing so not only wastes valuable resources, such as paper, it also renders the document in question untraceable.

Generally speaking, there are two main issues with the current document handling processes; a) storage/input and b) retrieval/output.

a) Storage/input

The first step and issue with document handling is that a document comes into the business, from a supplier or a customer or the business itself, and needs to be stored. This is where the nightmare begins, as the document is given a name by an individual who also decides where to place it. Despite the fact that most businesses have manual SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) in place for storing documents or inputting data, human beings invariably call upon their own interpretation of rules when making decisions, thus leading to inconsistency.

b) Retrieval/output

The main issue here is that you only know a document is missing when it is needed and it cannot be found. For instance, you go to retrieve a document for a supplier, customer or auditor who needs it and cannot find it. These issues lead many businesses to employ document management systems. However, it is often difficult to retrieve documents from such systems.

Document Management Software (DMS) and Enterprise Content Management (ECM) models complement each other, they are in fact two different solutions to overcoming the document handling problem. Whereas a DMS is merely software which is generally used by smaller organisations for managing simple documents, ECM is also a set of strategies which typically focuses on managing unstructured electronic file formats, such as email, images and web page content. Although such tools should theoretically help a business manage their documents, they can in fact pose other problems.

DMSs and ECMs are not fundamentally embedded in a process of document handling. Rather, they become part of the process through manual, human interaction. They act as a repository, or a one-dimensional filing system, where documents are simply controlled and managed. In relying on systems such as these, businesses risk their documents becoming dormant and not adding any value, in terms of generating profits, increasing productivity, reducing cost, improving cash flow or business efficiency.

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