Too many people spend 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or 15+ minutes a day looking for lost documents, emails and forms. Many firms maintain 2 filing systems: 1 paper file and 1 incomplete electronic file. Both of these practices are a needless waste of time in an age where time is so precious! A good document management system can eliminate these 2 practices, … and then some! So, what is Document Management?
Electronic Document Management refers to the process of creating, organizing, storing and retrieving electronic files. Electronic files include MS Word files, Excel files, PDFs, email, attachments to email (whatever form that takes) and the like. A Document Management System (DMS) is a combination of software and hardware tools which streamlines and automates the process of Document Management. Since DMSs only manage electronic documents, paper documents must be converted (scanned) so that they can be managed by the DMS. In simple terms, your paper "Files" are just collections of paper documents related to a particular matter. Once all of that paper is in digital form, a DMS can organize it by matter just as your paper files are currently organized.
Features Important in a Document Management System
There are many choices out there for document management. However, there are only a few that give you everything you want. In a nutshell, a good DMS puts you in control and imparts structure, organization, and accessibility to your documents and email. Here is what you want in a DMS:
This is extremely important since most people feel crushed by email. A DMS is a full email management system (among other things). With a DMS, all emails related to a particular matter can be easily saved along with the other matter-related documents. Important features include:
a. Ability to save emails with attachments embedded in the native email format from within Outlook without "exporting" them or saving them somewhere else before they're moved into the DMS.
b. Ability to save attachments separately into the DMS from a right-click save-as command or via drag and drop and seen here:
c. One-click saving - people will be doing this constantly, every day. The process can't be time consuming, tedious or have too many steps. A good DMS solution will have strong integration with Outlook by selecting an email and then simply clicking on a toolbar button to either copy or move the email into the DMS.
d. Matter Drop Folders in Outlook – ability to drag and drop emails into “matter” folders in Outlook that will automatically deposit the email into the correct client matter folder. These drag and drop folders pictured below in the Worldox DMS solution get created automatically based on your saving history/practices.
Full Text and Boolean Searches
Full text searching gives users wide-open access to their documents by framing searches based on concepts rather than categories. Users can search by many criteria - words, combinations of words, phrases, words within proximity of each other, expressions, etc. Each document matching the search terms is returned as a "hit" and the integrated file viewer will highlight each occurrence of a search term in the returned documents. This is exactly like doing a Lexis-type search through your own documents. When evaluating DMSs, you want the ability to view the documents in a viewer without actually opening them, you want to be able to use Boolean logic terms (and, or, not, near, etc.), and you want the search terms highlighted in the document the system found.
Ability to OCR PDFs to make them Text Searchable
The DMS should be able to identify PDFs that are non-searchable and automatically OCR them to make them text searchable. This should happen on the back-end automatically so users do not have to waste time running the OCR process on every PDF they scan or receive via email.
Ability to Save and Manage Any Type of Document
The DMS must be able to hold any type of file you've created in-house as well as any type of scanned document (PDF, TIF or JPG) which will typically represent the documents you're received from the outside. A search must turn up all relevant documents regardless of physical location, format, and source application. For example, I have seen plenty of copier-based applications which only hold documents you scan. It does little good to have scanned documents in one system and all of the documents you’ve created in-house in another system. The idea is to get everything related to a matter in the same system, including documents you’ve created in-house, documents you’ve scanned, faxes, hand-written notes, email and attachments to email.
Forced User Compliance
The system must have the option to require user compliance. In other words, if a user wants to save a file from within any program you use (Word, Acrobat, Excel, etc.), it must be saved into the DMS (or it cannot be saved at all). The DMS can be configured so there is no back-door or way to circumvent the system. This will absolve anyone in your office from having to police usage of the system and it will ensure the success of the project. There is absolutely no sense in investing in a DMS if it is optional for the end user. People are probably saving documents in 3-5 different locations now (My Documents, Desktop, Network Share, Email, Dropbox, Flash Drives, etc.), which is a huge problem. Why spend thousands of dollars to provide yet another OPTIONAL place to save documents?!
Integration With Other Programs You Already Use
In order to be convenient to use and force user compliance, the DMS must integrate with Word, Acrobat, Excel and any other program in which you save documents or files. When someone clicks the Save or Open button in Word, the DMS must intercede and ask the user to "profile" or save the document, or find the document within the DMS.
In the realm of document management, metadata is the additional information stored about the document (other than the file name). For example, when I search for a document, I get the following search screen:
Metadata includes, but it is not limited to, the information you can see above like:
• Text in File
• Email From
• Email To
• Email Sent Date
• Doc ID
• Date Modified, Created or Accesed
• Date or Date Range
This search capability ensures continuity and a smooth transition when someone leaves or joins your office. For example, if someone unexpectedly (and suddenly) left your office, it would be pretty difficult to determine exactly what they were working on before they left. However, if a document management system were in use, it would be quite easy to find every single document or email that person touched in the last 90 days (for example).
Date Range Searches
Although it isn't a field that users fill out when they save a document (date created), it's important that users be able to search on date created or date last accessed.
People will be running searches every day, all day so the process needs to be fast. This might not seem like a major point, but if you have to wait on a system to catch up every time you use it to look for something, you'll want to stop using it.
Document security places the DMS at the focal point of access and permission to the document repository. Document security involves documents, users, and groups of users. The DMS must give the saver of the document the ability to assign rights and permissions to documents based on individual users, groups of users, and the roles in which users serve within the organization. For example, documents saved in the administrative cabinet would likely not be available to all users. Those documents can be secured by user, user group or by role. You would also have the ability to secure an individual document that otherwise would be available to everyone.
The DMS must handle documents the same way a library handles books. When you "check out" a document, the system locks it and won't let someone else have the original. Instead, the DMS will notify the second person that you have the document checked out (if they try to open it) and that they can have a read-only copy of it. Of course, once you check the document back in, then it is available for someone else to check out. This prevents accidental over-writes of documents when multiple people are working on it at the same time.
The DMS must be able to keep multiple versions of every document. This becomes very important when a document is undergoing revision and is being passed back and forth between attorneys. Most DMSs will keep over 100 versions of every document along with a detailed audit trail noting who did what to the file and when. When a document is saved within the system, it will prompt the user with the option to save it as another version, as see here:
The DMS should give users the ability to create database tags on a matter-by-matter basis so you can organize a file at a more granular level and search or filter based on those database tags.
The DMS must be able to keep automatically audit all transactions related to a file saved within the system so it is easy to determine with files were first created, see everyone who touched it, and determine things like when files were copied, printed, emailed or deleted from the system.
Ability to Compare Documents
Related to version tracking, users must also have the ability to compare different versions of a document or compare one document to another. In order to compare documents, some people use the compare features built into MS Word while others use 3rd party applications like CompareDocs or Workshare Professional (fka DeltaView). Since all of the documents being compared to one another will be stored in the DMS, the DMS must integrate with these functions in Word or 3rd party programs. Not all DMSs incorporate this functionality which is why this is an important question to ask up front.
Archiving Old Files
Archiving is a means to move dated or unused files off the main storage medium to secondary storage. The DMS ensures that users can still search for information in the archived files and that there is a ready means to restore it. Many DMSs will allow site administrators to set "triggers" in the document profiles that enable automated archiving. For example, it may be desirable to set internal memos to be archived automatically after say, 24 months.
Remote Access/Offline Access
The DMS must be accessible when you're not in the office. Most DMSs have this capability natively as an add-on module, but if you go forward with hosted servers, you will have full access to documents from any device connected to the Internet (computer, tablet or phone), regardless of which DMS you choose.
Scanned documents must be easily added to the DMS so that they are included in the document store and can be associated with matters, clients, and the like. Finally, Intelligent Method of Bringing Existing Documents into the System: Your office has unquestionably built up a very large store of documents that need to be accessible within a new DMS. Bulk importing all of your existing documents without any matter association or metadata is not exactly an intelligent way of doing this. I would equate that approach to starting a new paper filing system by pulling all of the paper out of your old files and throwing them on the floor in the middle of a new file room (to be sorted out later). Ideally, your existing documents could stay where they are, but still be searchable within the new system. Once an old document is opened and re-saved, then the DMS should intervene and move it into the new system.