What is Document Management?

And How Does It Benefit Your Organization

What is document management? Let's face it, talking about document control or document management is probably not a topic you would pick to be the life of the party at a social gathering. However, understanding document management can make a major impact for your organization. Here, we will cover the fundamentals of document indexing and retrieval all the way through business process management.

Document Management Basics

Document management is the capture, storage and retrieval of documents. With or without documentation management, your organization already captures, stores and retrieves documents every day. For many organizations, this process is amazingly time consuming and too often ignored.

Documents Come in Many Forms


Documents come in the form of both paper and electronic. An invoice that comes in from a vendor in the mail is obviously a paper document that can be read and acted upon. However, that invoice probably started with an order from your business. That order might be an electronic record in the accounting system. Now we have two related documents that need to be kept together for reference, yet they are very different in how they are stored. This is a simple example.

accounts-receivable-1We could have complicated the example by adding a delivery receipt, an acceptance document, or even a contract. Again, these other documents could be in different formats or different systems. Worse yet, they might be in different departments. A contract might be stored in a file cabinet in the legal department. The delivery receipt could be at a warehouse or on the loading dock. The acceptance could be at the functional department that finally received the order. Now we've added different groups of people who may be in different physical locations.

Here's the question: What if something was wrong with the order? Where do we find all the documents so we can review the contract, look at the delivery ticket to make sure all the materials were delivered, look at an acceptance from the department, look at the invoice and determine if we paid it? Without all of the documents, it can be very time consuming to resolve an issue. Not only does a lack of document control take away valuable time from multiple people in your organization, think of what was not being done while your staff is looking for documents.

How is a Document Management System Used?

A document management system can be used to capture and organize all of these documents into easy-to-find electronic documents. The paper documents could have been scanned into document management systems. The electronic records could be either stored in the system or pointed to from another system. A document management system has the power to tie these documents together.

The documents could be indexed by department, vendor, purchase order number or any other concept that makes business sense to your organization. Unlike folders in a file cabinet, document management systems store documents in electronic folders that can be indexed by multiple pieces of information. This gives users the ability to search and retrieve documents based upon different criteria.

With an electronic document management system, gone are the days of lost documents because they are all in one secure central electronic repository. Also gone are the days of wasted time because multiple people are retrieving documents from various locations and multiple file cabinets. With online document management, the documents are immediately retrieved for the person looking for information. This not only makes them more productive for that one task, it shifts the focus from the document retrieval to solving the original issue.

Above, we introduced two important concepts, document capture and indexing. Both of these deserve a more detailed discussion. In the next section we will discuss document capture.