Contributed Column

All About IT

The Paradox of Electronic Document
Management Systems (EDMS)

by John Burton, NPI

Do you have a lot of filing cabinets? How about boxes of old paperwork in the storage room? Or do you pay rent for off-site storage of aging documents?

U.S. businesses generate more than 4 trillion paper documents per year, and those documents are proliferating at an annual rate of 22 percent. Many small Vermont businesses are still stuck in the paper world for much of their daily work. The paradox for business today is that even though electronic document management systems (EDMS) typically produce a return on investment within a year, the implementation process presents significant barriers.

These systems identify, capture, and store information to be later retrieved, distributed, and exchanged. A comprehensive EDMS provides a method for storing all documents about a particular customer or vendor, which allows a total view of the business. If the EDMS can be integrated into the software solutions each department uses, significant gains in productivity and efficiency will result.

For instance, the accounting department would access orders, invoices, contracts, etc., online from its accounting application. Sales would use its CRM (customer relationship management) software to access its documents. EDMS is the software glue that ties different software packages together to help all functions gain efficiencies.

The attributes of a document management solution include: • Maintain a repository of electronic documents; • Provide a mechanism to secure the documents; • Integrate with other software solutions; • Provide a method for putting the documents into a defined work flow; • Supply audit data providing the four W’s (Who, What, Where, When); • Capture form data for use in monitoring and managing the business; and • Comply with any necessary regulatory requirements.

The benefits of a document management system include: • Easy document backup; • Quick retrieval of misfiled documents; • Fast document filing that integrates with other software packages; • No wasted trips to the filing cabinet; • Immediate movement of documents from one function to another in a workflow; • Full visibility about where a document is hung in a workflow; and • Less error possibility and faster form filing using prefilled data.

For some businesses EDMS can be difficult to implement. Unfamiliarity with document management systems — and the fear of losing information — has led to the coexistence of paper and electronic formats. In many cases, this duplication has caused companies to spend more (not less) time managing the documents.

In addition to the software and hardware costs, implementing document management software takes significant human resources, training, and digital skills. External professional services are available to help with this. Here are some things to bear in mind.

Start with creating a taskforce exclusively responsible for this demanding project. This group must define new processes of document management that work for their business and determine the tools to meet their functional and technical requirements. An “action plan” can help keep the project on track and on time. Coordination and collaboration are essential at every step.

One strategy is a pilot project in a narrow functional area to work out the wrinkles and finalize the document management package on time, within budget, and with the agreed quality standards.

The biggest challenge is to transform business processes and deal with resistance to change — in workflows and learning new skills. Firms that push through these barriers will reap the competitive benefits. Unfortunately too many businesses decline to take the risk or come up short in their efforts to fully utilize these big systems. The key factor is management commitment and involvement throughout the life of the project and beyond. •

John Burton is the co-owner and president of NPI, a technology management company in South Burlington;

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