Every organization has a plethora of documents and a strategy for managing them.  Whether it is bankers boxes and filing cabinets, or a sophisticated Document Management System in the cloud, how you store, find and retrieve these documents is vital to your company’s efficiency and bottom line. Where does your company fit? 

Paper Pushers 

Believe it or not, there are still many profitable companies who are driving important business processes using actual paper copies.  Companies that receive invoices via email, and then print them on paper are commonplace.  Paper documents move from desk to desk, person to person as important information is written on these documents.  Ultimately, they are filed in cabinets and secured by lock and key — which is usually hanging on the file cabinets.   

Processes like these seem to work well because they have been practiced for years and years.  The employees with 15, 20 or more years of experience probably don’t make too many mistakes.  Instinctively know how to find a missing invoice or work order is (“Oh, it’s probably on Joe’s desk”).  This strategy is time consuming and not very customer (or vendor) friendly during quiet times, but it really fails when business picks up – just when efficiency and improved customer service are most important.  For these reasons, and more, fewer and fewer companies are relying on paper documents. 


You know the Do-It-Yourself-er (is it you?).  DIYers have learned the lessons of paper, perhaps the hard way, but believe that they have the skills and expertise to create an effective method of converting paper documents to electronic form.  Typical home grown systems store documents in a complex directory structure that includes Customer/Vendor name, date and some identifying information in the filename.  This works well for a little while… until they realize that not everyone values the same level of detail or follows the same pattern.  Some users create the folders using a nickname, others the full name. Some use spaces, others underscores, others simply don’t see the value in being detailed. These hurdles can be overcome with diligent governance and proper training, but DIYers have more pressi.  Cracks appear in the strategy when a user accidentally moves one folder inside of another.  If they notice, they may not know where the documents went.  The next employee simply recreates the folder and starts adding new documents.  The misfiled information is effectively lost until someone stumbles across it, or spends a good amount of time looking for it.  Hopefully the user doesn’t accidentally delete a document or folder.  Since these homegrown systems rely on manual filing, they can’t scale as the business grows.  Naming the PDF with the job number and date seems like a good idea, until you realize how many jobs you are filing on a daily or weekly basis.  And what if you need to look up an invoice by the customer order number? 

Document Management System 

Document Management Systems (DMS) can solve all of these problems and more.  Search engines quickly retrieve any document by any text in the document. Built-in security prevents unauthorized access and accidental deletion.  Better systems add retention policies, notifications and automatically index all the text in the document.  Since they don’t require that each document touch human hands, these systems can process an almost unlimited number of documents each day without adding additional personnel.  Document workflows can be established to ensure each document is routed where it belongs and if necessary is approved by the appropriate staff member.  

The most advanced systems are adding integration into backend business systems and automation.  Although these systems are evolving quickly, it is still early in the automation and integration days.  They tend to be very expensive and work with varying degrees of success. Creating maps or templates for each new document that you wish to automate is a complex and time consuming procedure. Consider that unique maps are required for invoices sent from each  company and document combination, and the implementation time for this type of solution can be very long. 

Next Generation Document Management 

Software evolves quickly and the next stage of DMS systems will be advertised before you know it.  By utilizing machine learning and artificial intelligence, systems will be able to automatically identify the context of the raw data in documents eliminating the need to manually create maps.  Implementation times will be shortened, and success rates will go up.  Many software companies are already working on these systems.  These systems hold great promise, but their complexity will require cooperation between software vendors.