What is a Document Management System (DMS)? 2017-06-19T15:06:17+00:00
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What is a Document
Management System?

A document management system is much more than just cloud storage. But the answer to this question is yet to be sufficiently answered by the majority of document management vendors, for they focus too much on describing document management system features, not the office problems they solve.

Before describing  features native to this powerful software, we will first discuss DMS in terms of the benefits reported by our customers at our Edge User Conferences and within our customer success stories—terms which everyone can understand. These benefits are just some of the reasons organizations are going paperless through document management solutions at unprecedented rates.

A Document Management System is Freedom

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Freedom is the most frequently mentioned benefit of our customers at the eFileCabinet Edge User Conferences, and this freedom was largely found in the ‘lightness’ associated with going paperless via a document management system.

This ‘lightness’ also overthrew the painstaking processes of faxing, searching for information for long periods of time, manually handling documents, and more. Most existing customers did not understand the pain of working in a paper-dependent office until they experienced work without it, realizing that paper, in some sense, is what kept manual labor alive—even in the white collar world. Most of the world’s information has been created within the past 3 years, and a significant portion of it is contained in a digital format. Imaging documents is only the first step in organizing digital information. Without a system in place to automate, secure, and potentiate documents’ value as mission-critical assets to an organization, the information contained in these documents will not deliver its full value.

Customer Success Story

“I was very reluctant to spend money on a system that I didn’t think would save me money. But now I can’t believe how much money eFileCabinet has saved me over the years, in a variety of ways.”

GLORIA HILL
HILL AND ASSOCIATES

A Document Management System is Free Time

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When it comes to work, time is practically as important as the currency of your paycheck, and opportunity cost proves this: The more time you spend boggled down by administrative tasks associated with paper such as walking to the fax machine, printer, and filing cabinets, the less you are paid for the expertise defining your role, and this detracts from your value to your organization no matter how talented you or your employees are.

The more time you have at work to do what matters, the more wisely you can use it. Although many view paper-related interruptions at work as ‘part of their jobs,’ it needn’t be that way with the right technology, and this mindset—in large part—is what keeps workers partaking in the oppression of their professional lives. Relying on a document management system to overcome these inefficiencies can literally change the trajectory of professionals’ lives, and the companies for which these employees work. Document disarray is the number 1 cause of organizational chaos, and without the means to manage, optimize, and orchestrate information, there will be little if any means for organizations to receive the information assurance they need in today’s era of digital transformation.

A Document Management System is Convenience

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Convenience isn’t just meant for consumer-driven technology—it has also gained a strong foothold in small to mid-sized businesses. For instance, cloud-based document management solutions and the mobile apps for it make it possible to access files, collaborate, and securely send sensitive information from anywhere there is an internet connection. The built-in web portal of a document management system also gives users the ability to share very large sets of files securely via their mobile phones. Although accessibility and security were once viewed as mutually exclusive benefits of technology solutions, the document management system brings each of these benefits together in a single functional solution.

From a security and convenience standpoint, this is important for workers in small healthcare clinics, whose IT managers must utilize the document management system to keep sensitive information secure when employees store office-related information on their own mobile devices, and from anywhere there is an internet connection. In the accounting industry, DMS’s Mac compatibility and mobile applications provide the responsiveness that CPAs’ clients demand now more than ever, and the same is true of the finance and insurance industries – particularly as financial advisers and insurance agents spend more time traveling and meeting clients at their location of choice.

A Document Management System is Peace of Mind

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Security breaches, information leaks, and other data catastrophes dominated the headlines in 2016 and have already made several headlines in 2017. However, most of these breaches were the result of poor internal information management, and a document management solution provides the tools to keep information safe both inside the office and out. Recurring 24-hour data back up, secure Amazon Web servers, 256-AES (advanced encryption standard) bank-grade encryption for data in transit in the mode of SSL (Secure Socket Layer), and data storage with multiple artificial and physical points of presence are only just a few of the peace of mind facilitating features comprising top-notch document management systems. Additionally, the role-based user permissions feature of document management software mitigates the fear associated with the rise of internal data breaches, which comprise over half of all data breaches occurring in the past two decades. Organizations failing to quell the rise of internal data breaches with their own solutions will fall victim to internal breaches in greater number. In 2017, ransomware has also become a significant problem for organizations, but document automation technologies are paving new roads for organizations to combat ransomware attacks.

A Document Management System is Professional Growth

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Most of the world’s data has been created within the past 5 years, making it more difficult than ever to not only trace this information, but also to extract insight from it. When information is lost, misplaced, or un-utilized, it becomes difficult for employees to receive praise for their good works, much less the professional growth these good works bring. However, the metadata of a document management system makes information far more retrievable and securely stored, preventing the arbitrary naming of files that leads to needless document duplication, and slow document retrieval times. Consequently, DMS puts information at our fingertips more quickly, providing more time to utilize this information, solve problems, develop our skill sets as professionals, contribute to our organization’s success, and, ultimately, advance our careers via the right document management system.

Building a Better Organization through Document Management Software

Types of Document Management System Products

Contrary to popular belief, On-Premise DMS products do not necessarily require the on-site maintenance and upkeep required by an internal IT department, because many vendors will still partake in the upkeep of the on-site technology. However, whereas On-Premise DMS products are designed to integrate and sync with an organization’s preexisting, on-site IT infrastructure, Online, Cloud-Based DMS do not require the same level of planning at the implementation level. Another facet of purchase frequently overlooked is the higher power and electricity costs that are associated with On-Premise DMS. Despite this intuitiveness being typically accompanied by higher prices than other DMS models, on- premise solutions still outshine the cheapest manual storage systems in overall cost efficiency.

Sometimes used to describe more than a single DMS product, the term On-Premise can include an array of third-party, desktop-licensed products purchased from other software suppliers. The On-Premise solutions themselves, however, require server hardware unlike their Online, Cloud based counterparts.

An Online, Cloud-Based document management system is arguably the most functional and secure of models offered in the DMS product spectrum, because it transcends the desktop compatibility issues sometimes faced by organizations using niche operating systems (other than Windows) on their computers. These DMS products will essentially charge organizations for data and information storage space, and the accessibility of this data—hosting it on the DMS vendor’s server, which will be accessible to the buyers from anywhere there is an internet connection available, and, oftentimes, through mobile applications and Mac operating systems. The cloud is also more conducive to mission-critical stages of organizational growth, allowing a greater reduction in operating expenses (OPEX), when compared to On-Premise DMS.

Although On-Premise DMS solutions are typically easier for DMS newcomers to understand, it should be noted that online DMS solutions tend to have more up-to-date features. Despite the presence of these up-to-date features, larger organizations sometimes find that the cloud’s bandwidth is limited – making the higher up-front costs of On-Premise solutions and the power output required to run them, financially justifiable.

The cloud (frequently referred to as software as a service or SaaS), is not as intangible as its name implies—it is rather a global infrastructure occupying many different tangible spaces (such as highly encrypted data centers) around the world, integrating the enhanced security, collaboration, and storage bandwidth necessitated by the increasing complexity and volume of small to mid-sized organizations’ information.

One of the most appealing features of the Online, Cloud-Based DMS is how their vendors make its storage space, enhanced security, and hyper-collaborative tools available to organizations at very low prices without forcing buyers to adapt to new information architecture. Some of the most widely mentioned Online, Cloud-Based DMS products also provide staff with access to multiple servers without occupying too much space in the office, simultaneously offering flexibility for the organization’s IT department. However, this is only a starting point for the differences between On-Premise and Cloud-based DMS, and should not be used as a substitute for a more comprehensive comparison.

Using Document Management Software Cloud

A low-cost DMS option requiring no tech expertise.

Online

Using Document Management Software Desktop

DMS with great bandwidth, capable of running on your internal servers.

On-Premise

Distinguishing DMS from Consumer-Grade Technologies

Many consumers went paperless before organizations matched their efforts, so there is some understandable confusion about how emergent, commercial grade technologies like the document management system differ from consumer-grade technologies—especially since many industry authorities are also unclear about the differences, given how much the popularity and innovation behind each technology has grown.

Although a document management system does not include the word “enterprise” in its name, unlike Enterprise Content Management (ECM), DMS is still classified as an enterprise-grade technology, particularly for small to mid-sized organizations. This distinction is as important in terms of understanding DMS’s functionality as it is in ensuring that an organization implements the technology it needs to improve internal processes.

For example, many consumer-grade solutions like Dropbox.com or iCloud storage enable buyers to primarily store, compress, and share information in the Cloud for future access. These are affordable features to nearly any consumer. Since these technologies are simple extensions of a file server, many think a document management system is akin to these technologies, functioning merely with the bandwidth of a shared drive one would find on a typical operating system. However, this assumption does not do justice to the breadth of versatility and functionality that DMS employs.

For instance, the only security the aforementioned consumer-grade technologies offer is a login requirement. Even if DMS is likened to an encrypted flash drive’s technology, it still wouldn’t amount to baseline, standard security features of traditional DMS—because this flash drive, depending on the transactions of an organization, may need to be shipped via snail mail to a physical address, opening up the floodgates for human error in the snail mail process, such as sending to wrong addresses or potentially damaging the flash drive with poor shipping and handling.

Although both consumer-grade and enterprise-grade Cloud-based solutions have similar benefits, such as circumventing the snail mail process and removing unreliable back-up processes on compact discs, DMS accomplishes far more than this, even when viewed only from its security features’ perspective.

For instance, DMS is designed to accommodate compliance from the organizational standpoint via built-in security features, organizationally streamlined workflows, and highly encrypted client-sharing portals for sensitive information in transit or at rest, whether internally or externally. These features accomplish far more than the consumer needs—helping organizations avoid the lawsuits wrought by the interception and breaching of sensitive information.

Furthermore, DMS solutions, as enterprise-grade technologies, help retrieve the correct documents and data very quickly and supply regular, automated backup to data centers with multiple points of presence—making the breaching of corporate or organizational information a near impossibility. These document management system-specific backup features also ensure information continuity for organizations in the event of natural disasters or office break-ins, whether occurring in a central or remote location. Additionally, the storage capacity of enterprise-grade solutions is far greater than those of consumer-grade technologies.

Therefore, although the typical document management system is more expensive than consumer-grade technologies, it has greater comparative cost-effectiveness as its features are designed to benefit entire organizations, not households.

Security and Usability: DMS Vendor Differences

Despite there being dozens of document management system vendors across the globe for small to mid-sized organizations, most of these vendors only differ in terms of three buyer benefits: security, price, and usability; the importance of all three cannot be understated. Additionally, these benefits pertain in large part to the entire spectrum of DMS products outlined previously in this section: On-Premise, Cloud-based, online, hybrid converters, and mobile phone applications.

What separates most DMS solutions from others in terms of information security is not only where data is stored to enable recovery in the event of its loss, but also how many physical and artificial locations in which the data is backed up—the gold standard being three for both types of locations. These multiple points of presence (MPoPs) ensure that, in the event of a natural disaster or an office-break in, the integrity of the data is retained and replicated to restore organizations’ functions. However, most DMS vendors do not setup multiple physical copies of the data in On-Premise solutions. If organizations want to do that, in many cases, they would need to do it themselves.

Before continuing, one caveat is needed, explaining the security essentials between data in transit and data at rest: Data in transit is the most at-risk data, and the best DMS products have client-sharing portal capabilities that help send sensitive information securely (covering data in transit). However, data at rest is a security issue, too—since roughly half of the organizational data breaches worldwide are the result of employees’ errors or malicious intent.

As a general security standard for document management and enterprise content management solutions, information should be stored in data centers or transmitted through technologies that have achieved one of the following standards or attestations:

1. SSAE 16 is a more complete and dependable group of information security standards than what its security benchmark predecessor, SAS 70, offers. The best DMS solutions will have SSAE 16 (Statements on Standards for Attestation Engagements No. 16) audit approval, a standard for data control centers devised by the AICPA (The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants). Despite the accounting-specifics of this certification, it is of benefit for organizations in any industry.

2. Level 1, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) Compliance: a guideline in legal accordance with ISO standard 27001: a standard of great relevance, particularly for those in the accounting and finance industries. This standard ensures information continuity, accessibility, and confidentiality for things like asset management. Finance and accounting firms/organizations can obtain ISO standard 27001 certification through the NQA (National Quality Assurance) at NQA.org.

3. SAS 70 Type 1 Attestation: This service auditor report includes description of controls and operating effectiveness. This offers fraud and security intelligence services for organizations.

4. SAS 70 Type 2 Attestation: SAS 70 Type 2 and SAS 70 Type 1 attestations have several differences as they pertain to DMS. Information provided by the service report auditors is optional in Type 1, whereas in Type 2, information regarding tests and operating effectiveness as administered by the quality assurance professional will be included in the Type 2 attestations. This offers fraud and security intelligence services for organizations, too.

5. 256-Bit Advanced Encryption Standard: Relevant to client-sharing portals (which stand to supplant transmission of sensitive information via email within the near future) standards in Document Management Software, this standard, although administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2001, is still relevant and accommodating of today’s technologies.

Although usability is more qualitative than price or security features, choosing a system with an intuitive, responsive graphic user interface (GUI) will make for a quicker learning process among employees, as it will be grounds for spending less on training options from DMS vendors. An intuitive GUI in the best DMS solutions will also facilitate quick document retrieval by reducing search times. Although document retrieval times, particularly in On-Premise solutions, are affected by hardware and installation procedures, retrieval speed is still exceptional within all DMS products. Most vendors will also have a document management system allowing the Cloud-based technology and mobile integration to retrieve documents from anywhere at any time, furthering specific systems’ case for usability.

Another strong determinant of a DMS’s usability, particularly in the initial implementation stage, is whether it can quickly import documents to its platform from preexisting shared drives. Many solutions have the capacity to do so, but the speed and functionality of these add-ons vary drastically from vendor to vendor.

Managers must also consider usability from their perspective. A manager’s ability to use a DMS depends mostly on the workflow component of the solution, as it automates the workflow process, which managers are used to manually constructing and actualizing. These workflow processes hold employees accountable for producing, sharing, and completing document-based assignments and projects. Additionally, by transubstantiating the shared drive through a complementary DMS technology, which eFileCabinet offers, the bridge between information on workers’ desktops and the usability of the DMS interface is closed.

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Simple Answers to Complex
Document Management System Questions

Yes, there are up-front costs, but the term “a lot” does not do the long-term benefits of DMS justice. The benefits of DMS are best understood through an investment lens—one which requires up-front expenses for long-term reward. However, DMS eliminates the gamble associated with investing by virtue of the ROI it guarantees so long as it is implemented properly and utilized fully. An organization (or individual) cannot reasonably plan to profit without allocating capital to the right resources—a paperless work environment being a clear contender for the spot of ‘the right resource.’ Therefore, the up-front costs of buying and using DMS are poor guidelines for whether a small to mid-sized organization should buy in to using the software, particularly when the initial cost is not considered in tandem with the relatively immediate and long-term benefits of using the service.

The up-front cost of the product’s implementation can be summed by adding the price of the solution with the price of the organization’s implementation, which, although harder to quantify, hinges on both the preparedness of the organization implementing the software and the vendor’s ability to provide guidance and assist with implementation—things over which administrators have a high degree of control.

Administrators who have recently decided to buy in to DMS, and who want to know the operating costs associated with implementation, should know how many documents need to be scanned and uploaded, how preexisting workflow processes will be replicated in the system, and how many employees need training for the service. This includes an estimate for how long these tasks will take and other considerations that will be addressed in greater depth in the implementation section of this eBook.

An efficient, small to mid-sized organization with a vendor savvy enough to provide the correct assistance can have DMS fully integrated into a buyer’s organizational process—and have employees of this organization understand its functions, generating a return on investment—within 2 months (if allocating roughly an hour to the implementation process each day). Many top-notch DMS vendors have installation guidelines and customer support teams with essential certifications as part of the built-in cost for the product implementation, which, bear in mind, always equates to much less than the cost of continuing paper-dependent operations. As outlined earlier, these costs can amount to as much as $864,000 per year.

Now that there are alternatives to paper-based document management, this question arises naturally. However, customers arguably benefit most from paperless business operations as these processes result in quicker turnaround times for transactions, including freed up time for organizations to serve customers.

However, it is also important to re-pose this question in greater consideration of the company which asks it: consumers can tell organizations what they want from a product or service, and part of that may entail an environmentally friendly internal process, but consumers won’t go out of their way to tell these organizations how to manage internal processes to make the production of that product or service easier, greener, and more efficient—how being the question DMS answers.

Although scanning all an organization’s existing paper documents may seem daunting, the years of paper amassed in an office don’t need to be scanned all at once. It’s much more important to have a plan and a time period for scanning and uploading than it is scanning all the paper files at once. The short answer to this question is yes, but only temporarily. If an organization is getting rid of an old DMS solution and replacing it with a newer, more functional model, the data conversion process may take as little as one day. If an organization is entirely new to Document Management Software, and elects to hire temporary employees to scan and upload documents to the system, the installation and roadmap process can take as little as one week. Moving forward in implementation also requires a protocol with employee incentive to scan and upload all new files to the DMS accordingly.

“Disruption” is a subjective term, and although the initial 2 – 3-day scanning process, coupled with the training and implementation, will result in lost time, this time will be made up for and then some over the span of the weeks, months, years, and decades of efficiency that follow post installation.

The years of efficiency, cost-reduction, and sustainable office management will overshadow the disruption associated with the installation process, particularly as outlined below in the case studies section of this eBook. Documents are more accessible, workflows are automated to create accountability-centric processes, and what was as much as 80% of the company’s information being in an unmanaged state becomes retrievable, identifiable, usable, accessible, and above all—easy.

The best DMS vendors for small to mid-sized organizations will have training options built into the product’s pricing, expediting time needed to learn the DMS system, whether through face-to-face training, digital training, or support teams. A good DMS vendor will help expedite the learning process by having a support team available for 24/7 assistance. It should also be noted that unless a buyer is or has IT personnel who are very DMS savvy, he or she should not try to implement the system alone—especially if it’s only to avoid the minor costs for implementation assistance, which in many cases are already built into the price of the product and therefore worth utilizing.

The simple answer to this question is yes, especially if one is a consultant or owns a very small business with 1 to 5 employees. Even if you oversee a much larger organization or belong to a greater constituency, the answer is still yes. However, scanning all preexisting files and uploading them to a shared drive will not bring any of the benefits associated with DMS other than going paperless. Therefore, any organization that has gone paperless without DMS would encounter many efficiency, operational, and compliance issues.

Oftentimes, another question arises: “How secure are my documents with a DMS solution?” Offices that have gone paperless without DMS solutions are finding or will find their folders and files to be easily manipulated, deleted, and rendered irretrievable due to their existing system’s lack of security, unified storage guidelines, and functionality.

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