First envisioned and developed in the early 1970s, SQL (or Structured Query Language) is a standard computer programming language recognized by both ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) and ISO (the International Organization for Standardization). In the simplest of terms, SQL is a language that allows for retrieval of information from a database—though it can also be used for updating said database. SQL is generally considered a “declarative” programming language and is the driving factor behind the search functions so often used on the internet, in software, and in other computer-based applications.
Needless to say, by allowing queries to be searched, SQL is massively important part of document management software (DMS) and electronic document management in general. Without SQL and the search function capabilities it makes possible, DMS would be as clunky and inefficient as an old paper-based filing system. Said another way, the one thing that most separates your quick, modern DMS from your old dusty file room is Structured Query Language.
The Document and Data Management World Before SQL
To understand what SQL has done for document management, let’s travel back in time to an era before the programming language existed. Before SQL first appeared in 1974, there was really no such thing as electronic document management. If a company needed to keep archives, they were maintained physically on shelves stacked with boxes of folders or in a series of metal filing cabinets.
In those days, there was no way to search a filing system and quickly locate a relevant document. In order to find files, someone had to sort manually through the file boxes or filing cabinets as they searched for the one folder or piece of paper they needed. Obviously, most companies implemented some tenets of organization to make their filing systems more user-friendly—sorting things by date or keeping files pertaining to different subjects or categories (accounts payable and accounts receivable, for instance) separated into different boxes, drawers, or cabinets. For businesses that are still putting off the move to paperless filing, this convoluted process is still the norm.
In addition to being an irritating hassle and a notorious time sink, paper filing systems also leave too much possibility for human error. With electronic filing systems, documents can be accessed or edited without needing to be moved from their storage spot. By definition, paper filing systems require users to remove individual files in order to review, copy, or reference them. This removal increases the possibility of a file being lost, misplaced, or misfiled, which can bring about a slew of problems later on.
How Search Queries Revolutionized Document Management and Data Retrieval
When SQL came along, it created the possibility of electronic document management because it provided an alternative for digging manually through stacks and stacks of files. With a digital filing system and a smart search function, businesses would be able both to file their documents digitally and quickly browse those documents simply by typing in a word or phrase.
Typing in a search term is the DMS equivalent of unlocking the file room or filing cabinet, finding the box or drawer where a specific document should be, and looking through that box or drawer in search of the specific file. By automating the entire process, DMS software made it possible for businesses to be quicker, smarter, and more efficient. Furthermore, text searches allow DMS programs to avoid the common pitfall of lost or misplaced files. Even if a document is moved from one location to another in an electronic document management system, it can still be located instantly with a full-text search of the database.
OCR and Applying the Benefits of SQL to Old Paper Files
While there is still no way to use a text-based search and quickly retrieve a document from a paper-based filing system, OCR (Optical Character Recognition) allows DMS programs to offer what is essentially the next best thing. With OCR, businesses can scan their old paper files into the computer and add them to their DMS. The OCR program analyzes the documents, identifies the characters on the page and creates a completely digitized version of the document. As a result, once a company has made the necessary moves to go paperless and scan their old files into their computer system, DMS with OCR will be able to browse and retrieve that data with a text search as well.
In short, Structured Query Language completely changed the way we think about data management and retrieval. It took big data and, by virtue of rendering it searchable, made it seem smaller and more manageable. Can you imagine trying to browse the internet and find all of the sites, products, and answers you want without a tool like Google? By the same logic, there is no reason to be caught still using a paper filing system, missing out on all of the benefits that search queries bring to the data management game.
Ready to make the leap to a searchable, OCR-enabled DMS? Try out eFileCabinet today!