Every organization needs a document management strategy. Having one:
- Improves access to information
- Reduces operating costs
- Diminishes litigation risk
- Protects critical information
If your organization doesn’t have one, it’s time you considered developing one. Not having one puts your organization at an unnecessary risk and decreases overall efficiency. Luckily, we’ve laid out everything you need to get started with yours.
Here are 7 steps to create and implement a document management strategy:
1. Determine Who Will Take Charge
When creating and implementing any strategy, it’s important to know who’s in charge of seeing it through from beginning to end. To ensure that all documents and processes organization wide are taken into account when developing yours, you’ll want to establish a project team for oversight.
This project team will be made up of individuals from all aspects of the organization (administration, departments, specialty positions, etc.). Each member of the team will act as a mediator between the team and the group they represent. They will identify which documents from their group must be saved, which can be eliminated, and will also document the way their department processes documents.
2. Assess the Current Filing System and Determine Strategy Requirements
Once your organization has its team established, they’ll need to:
- Assess the current system of filing and retaining documents - both paper and electronic.
- Determine how documents are received, processed, reviewed, stored, and eventually purged or updated across the organization.
- Choose 1-2 departments as a trial project. This will help the team develop a method of discovering how each department handles its documents.
- Be sure to document every step along the way. It can be helpful to have a large whiteboard or a roll of craft paper to write on.
- (Note: Keep in mind that each department may have a different process in how they receive documents and it will be up to the team to decide if it’s best for the organization to standardize the process or allow for departmental customization.)
- Decide whether the entire strategy development and implementation will be done internally by the project team or externally with the help of a document management company.
- (Note: Drawing on the expertise of a document management software company can be incredibly useful given their immediate availability of resources and being able to provide electronic document management software.)
- Figure out what is necessary to carry out the document strategy to completion. This could be new solutions to store and access electronic documents, ways to convert paper documents into electronic documents, and adding or eliminating steps in the document process to improve efficiency.
3. Identify Each Document
Now that the project team (possibly joined by a document management company) has an understanding of how your organization handles its documents, it’s time to identify what type of documents they’re dealing with and how they’re used. The project team will take an inventory of the documents in every department’s office. Remember to check every location, including closets, empty offices, and any other area documents may have been poorly stored.
Taking inventory will identify which materials are:
- Reference materials
- Personal papers
- Duplicate copies of documents
- Client information
During this process the project team may discover they need more resources to adequately document, organize, and store everything. If this is the case, have the team revise their results from step 2.
This inventory will be helpful in identifying the types of documents your organization deals with daily, which records need to be immediately available and which will not.
4. Establish Procedures and Requirements, Then Document
Once the team has finished taking its inventory, they’ll need to determine:
- How documents are to be stored - centralized, in a single location or decentralized, and stored at individual work stations.
- How drafts, working papers, and document copies will be handled.
- Which system will be established to manage and store documents - a physical file system, an electronic one, or a combination of the two.
- (Note: When looking for an electronic document management system it’s important to have a system that allows for workflow capabilities, data indexing, the ability to segregate and secure records - allowing access to only those who need it, and is customizable to your specific needs.)
5. Preparing the Strategy
Now that the project team knows the types of documents its organization deals with, the purposes they serve, and where they currently are - they can begin putting together a strategy. This strategy will outline:
- How documents will be received, processed, reviewed, stored, retrieved, and eventually purged from the system.
- Whether this process will be standardized organization wide or customized based on each departments’ needs.
- When each step is to be completed.
- How documents are handled when they’re no longer needed in the office.
6. Purge Unnecessary Documents
Once the outline is developed, it’s time to eliminate the clutter and those files that are only taking up space and potentially causing a liability risk. The project team will begin identifying and potentially eliminating all unnecessary documents that were discovered during the inventory and will eventually hand that task down to their respective groups.
The project team may choose to commit dated documents into a company archive to create a history of records - something an electronic document management system does automatically. Other options for dated and unnecessary documents can and should be developed based on your organizations needs and legal obligations.
7. Organize Documents and Maintain the Process
It’s finally time to implement your document strategy.
If using an electronic document management system, move current electronic documents into the system. You’ll want to index all aspects of the document as they’re transitioned in. If you still have paper documents, begin scanning them in when applicable.
However, if you’re still required to keep some paper documents on file then you’ll first want to prepare folders for each type of document and organize those documents into those folders. Then follow the procedures established in your file plan. Include reference sheets in the folders to help users locate related non-paper materials.
Once everything is organized, it’s important that employees follow the strategy and keep all records up-to-date. We recommend that this now becomes a corporate policy so that you have everyone using the new system and all company assets are protected.
Be sure to:
- File or upload new documents as they come in.
- Protect records - limiting access to only those who need it. An electronic system will be set up with security permissions.
- Have a check-out system to track edits to documents and the people who made those edits.
- Remove documents that have hit their retention periods to prevent a litigation or compliance risk.
All these things are immediately available through an electronic document management system with minimal set-up. Implementing this process becomes difficult with a paper management system and does not provide the efficiency, reduced costs, compliance and auditing capabilities.