Document Management Best Practices is a practical guide that offers step-by-step instructions for adopting document management processes within your organization. This guide includes best practices for using the existing technology that is available to help make the process easier and more efficient.
Document management is an essential part of every business. Whether you are a large company with hundreds of departments and employees, or a small business with only a handful of employees, you need to manage your documents in order to be successful. In this eBook, we will discuss best practices for document management and give you some tips on how to implement them into your specific business model so that your business is running smoothly.
How to apply document management best practices at your company
1. Start with goals and develop key metrics
Many companies don’t take the time to set goals and determine how to measure their progress. If you don’t know the reason for your document management system implementation, it’s hard to know if you’ve had success with it.
Being specific is important. Are you trying to help users find documents more quickly? Save on document storage costs? Improve collaboration? Re-engineer manual processes?
Before you implement a document management solution, determine the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) required to measure progress toward goals. Then, set a baseline you can benchmark against your existing system.
For example, you may discover it takes 10 minutes to process an invoice with your current system and find out it only takes two minutes after using digital document management for a month. Sharing these measurable successes with your colleagues is a powerful way to show the value of the project and encourage user adoption as you move forward.
2. Prioritize automation of simple and frequently used business processes
Automated processes reduce time and effort for employees, which ultimately reduces costs for your company. Prioritize automation efforts to focus on business-critical processes that align with your objectives. You might want to speed up order processing, improve customer service response times or integrate with an accounting system to capture more of those important early payment discounts. Automation works well with processes that are simple or repetitive because workflow steps are a snap to define and optimize and time saved is easy to quantify. For example, a manufacturer could use document management to find the documents they need to respond faster when customers ask about details related to orders. Prior to automating this process, it could take hours for a customer to get a response. With digital document management, customers can get an automated response in minutes.
3. Improve paper-based processes instead of emulating them
Many companies make the mistake of trying to replicate paper-based processes in a digital context instead of taking the opportunity to eliminate extra steps. When you’re setting up digital processes, ask yourself why you’ve followed a certain procedure in the past and whether those actions are necessary in this new context. The experience of a state government agency is a case in point. The agency wanted to convert its purchasing approval process into a digital workflow. At first, it reproduced the paper-based process, which relied on the comptroller’s assistant to collect and route approvals at every stage. By building business rules into its document management system, the agency was able to route invoices for approval without a gatekeeper at every step.
4. Capture content close to the point of origin
Document capture that’s as close to the source as possible, saves time and improves data quality. Tools like virtual printers and electronic forms are great examples. Virtual printers let you save documents directly to your document management system without printing and scanning them first. And electronic forms let staff automatically extract data from a document, reducing manual data entry. These eforms simplify, improve and accelerate data collection. It’s also important to be able to share data with ERP, CRM or other business software. When your document management solution and other systems can “speak” to one another, retrieving data and sharing it between systems keeps business information in sync.
5. Make sure the user interface is straightforward and intuitive
You want users to get into the system, get what they need and get out with as few clicks as possible — and without unnecessary clutter on their desktops. Document management systems are designed to solve many problems, but the features shouldn’t all be displayed on every user’s screen. A good system lets administrators and users view only the elements needed to accomplish their tasks. Customizing the interface to each role makes it easier for staff to do their jobs without added confusion or an overwhelming amount of irrelevant information.
Document management best practices
If you want to avoid costly mistakes and set your business up for success, follow the document management best practices below.
Consistent folder and naming structures
As employees create thousands of files and folders regularly, they often use their own file names and folder structures. They might have the best intentions in doing so, but when it comes to creating files and folders in a shared space, it’s easy to see how problems can arise immediately. People can forget their original naming structure or they may not understand proper filing protocols.
This can create serious headaches when trying to find specific files, which is why people spend an average of 1.8 hours per day searching for files.
Good document management begins with your naming conventions and the standards you set in the beginning. There’s no right or wrong way to name a file, you only need to find what works best for your organization.
In fact, one best practice is to create a template that guides all employees in how they should structure document names. This provides uniformity and consistency throughout the organization. When everyone follows the same format, that makes finding the right information a breeze.
Reduce version confusion
A common issue for many office workers is version control – as many as 83 percent of them have daily issues with versions. Some document sharing platforms don’t handle collaboration too well, and will let collaborators create several different versions of the same document as they make their own updates and edits.
One best practice is exercising true document collaboration, letting several people work on the same document. As items get changed, the changes are reflected for everyone in the same document, and the document history is archived for future reference if needed. No more “checking out” a document to change it, resulting in dozens of previous versions stored on the same server. No more trying to sort through seven different versions of the same document.
This functionality also helps take the guesswork out of policy changes. As new changes are made, managers can be assured that employees are seeing the latest versions of a new policy, even as administrators are able to access previous versions for their records.
Document and signature tracking
Some documents need to be tracked in terms of who has seen and acknowledged them for compliance purposes. Others need to be confirmed as being the latest, most up-to-date versions.
A best practice is to track your documents, manage where they are in their life cycle, and identify whether they’re active, archived, or ready to be purged. It’s especially important for high-liability, regulatory documents that need to be updated or removed on a regular basis, or policies that need to be updated to reflect the latest accreditation requirements.
Finally, a document management system should allow employees to acknowledge the new changes with a digital signature. This can not only improve productivity, it can result in an 86% savings in documentation expenses.
Set up approval workflows
In addition to simplifying version control and acknowledging policy changes, a good documentation management system will streamline the process of creating, updating, and filing critical documents.
You should be able to create an approval workflow to ensure that the right people have read and approved the necessary documents. Rather than routing a printout to all stakeholders in a new policy and waiting weeks for signatures, you can set up an approval workflow that will not only ask people to read and sign a new document, but show you if and when it has been read and signed by each person. This ensures that no one gets skipped and nothing falls through the cracks.
It also lets you spot the bottlenecks in an approval process so you can remind them to review and sign the document. This helps your employees stay on track and that the proper steps are followed each time. This can cut approval time turnaround by as much as 80 percent.
Many people are working on their phones these days, even if it’s just to read a document, share it, and sign it. Whether it’s a salesperson closing a deal or remote workers or field personnel who need to acknowledge a new policy, being able to access and sign a document on a mobile device is a real time saver.
Without an easily accessible document management system, employees often have to wait until they’re in the office or in front of their computer again. That wastes time and increases approval times and exacerbates versioning issues.
Best practices mean making document retrieval quick and accurate while also meeting employees’ needs wherever they might be working.
With an increasingly mobile workforce, you need software that is flexible enough to meet the needs of remote employees. They should not have to be at their desks or connected to the internal network to access or review a document. Put information in their hands so they can easily and effectively do their jobs
Setup Rules or Positions
One thing that we must carry with us as we transition from the real world to the virtual world is the role and responsibilities. In any business, there should be clear rules laid out for handling, maintaining, or managing documents.
In this way, anyone who accesses the documents will follow uniform conduct, protecting the management system from any disruption. It’d be even better if only a few appointed authorities tackle the documentation, so the maintenance remains highly specific and patterned.
When it comes to document management best practices, there are several key elements to consider: keeping current, the process of creating and storing documents within your organization and ensuring that those documents can be retrieved when needed. Document management is a critical part of any organization’s business strategy, as it ensures that each employee has access to the right information at all times.