Free document management solutions vs. paid solutions is a discussion that legitimizes the the adage that “you get what you pay for.”

Most of the free document management systems on the market aren’t comprehensive, but rather only have free file sharing services, which fail to foster the collaboration, imaging, and bandwidth needs most organizations need in today’s business climate.

In this article, we’ll cover the differences between free solutions which are similar to document management systems and actual paid document management solutions so you can determine which is best for your business needs.

Cloud Storage and Free Document Management Services

The confusion surrounding the differences between free file sharing services and free cloud storage (Google Docs), is rife. For the purposes of this article, these two services can be considered the same.

However, in the remainder of this article we will explain why these free solutions are oftentimes clumped into a class with paid document management solutions when the two kinds of products are very different.

Although beyond the scope of this discussion, there are more extensive reads on the differences between cloud storage and DMS.

Keep reading to see how cloud storage/free file sharing services differ from paid document management solutions.

Development Initiatives in Free Document Management Solutions vs. Paid Solutions

For the most part, only paid document management solutions have the development teams and bandwidth to scale features and changes as needed in the document and imaging landscape.

Most free document management solutions and cloud storage services will not have the software development resources to adapt to the ever-changing business landscape in a range of different industries, such as accounting, financial services, construction, property management, retail, services, and more.

Although solutions like Google Docs are great for simple, security-less file sharing, they just don’t hack it when it comes to sharing sensitive information.

Free Document Management Services Lead to Redundancy

There are two kinds of redundancy in the software world. Data redundancy, which is beneficial and gives multiple points of presence (MPoPs) for data storage, and process redundancy, which is never a positive.

The latter of these two is usually what happens with organizations that opt in for a free document management solution/cloud storage solution—failing to realize they could achieve the same things with a simple x drive or shared drive.

This leads to documents and files being stored in multiple places, causing inevitable confusion about which document is the most recent, what the document’s name is, and how to go about retrieving it when an employee needs the file.

Features Only a Paid Document Management Solution Will Give You

A more specific way to differentiate free file sharing services and cloud storage from true document management solutions is by analyzing the features a real document management system has that free file sharing services do not have.

Audit Control and Trails: Security of Free Document Management Solutions vs. Paid Solutions

Any organization that wants to enable permissions and keep track of any given document’s history within a document management system needs a solid audit trail function native to the best DMS vendors’ solutions.

The internal audit trail function of DMS allows administrators and managers to track the activity of an employee, including the documents employees work with in the workflow and approval process.

In the event of an external audit, which entails a third party neither employed nor paid by the business under audit, this feature makes information accessible, traceable, and compliant within the document management solution, making it an ideal tool for compliance-centric businesses.

File Versioning

File versioning is a process by which documents are checked in or out of the document management system, and the changes made during the interim between checking out and checking in files are recorded by the DMS without requiring document editors to change the file’s name, and, consequently, reducing clutter in the user interface and ensuring a file’s information has only one source.


If you’re a human resources professional, the free document management solutions vs. paid solutions debate matters more to you than practically any other profession, and it’s mostly because of the retention feature.

Not only does this feature ensure compliance for organizations needing to keep documents only for certain periods of time, it reduces file clutter and storage—automating the file deletion process when these files’ information is no longer needed. This feature is especially useful for human resources document management, as it helps these professionals reduce clutter within their systems.

Additionally, digital archiving prevents document damage that otherwise occurs over long periods of time if documents are stored manually in filing cabinets. The wear and tear of documents not retained in a digital format can sometimes compromise the integrity of their information.

User Permissions

Role-based user permissions differentiate standard users from users with permission to access certain files within a DMS. This feature is what tips the scale in favor of paid solutions in the free document management solutions vs. paid solutions debate.

With role-based user permissions, administrators can also manage file retention schedules and employees with equal precision—automating, in many respects, the managerial process.

Role-based user permissions provide ‘view only’ access to organizations in any industry that is subjected to audits, to ensure auditors or other users won’t mistakenly or deliberately alter the information.

Intelligent Imaging and Capture

Zonal OCR is the equivalent of a virtual o­ffice assistant, and is perfect for managing often used or scanned forms: Once a document is scanned, Zonal OCR automatically routes it where it needs to go within eFileCabinet.

It also helps scan and view specific portions of documents for faster document search and retrieval.

Zonal OCR does this by adding metadata from scanned documents such as names, dates, invoice numbers, and other data inside the document—helping DMS users store and classify documents accordingly and in a way that avoids arbitrariness.

This will not only save time, but also ensure files are retrievable under auditing conditions, whether on an internal or external basis.