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  • Writer's pictureJack Arnston

What Is Document Management Really?

I need to confess something that you might not know about me: I have been in this industry a long time. I sometimes joke that I once sold an old stone tablet, chisel and hammer to Mr. Slate, you know, Fred Flintstone’s boss. Back in the days of microfilm and fiche things were the primary types of documents, so it was easier to classify them. Then came the advent of COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk.) This revolutionary technology had begun before Windows was introduced as an operating system. From there, fax technology paved the way to scanners that had the ability to “quickly”—at least for that time—turn paper into electronic files we called TIFFs (Tagged Image File Format.) Document management has evolved over time, and with that has gone through a number of iterations from Document Imaging, followed by Knowledge Management, to Document Management, and as systems morphed and became more process driven Enterprise Content Management and Information Management became words used to describe our industry.

I bring this up because a flyer was dropped off at our offices this week from a copier dealer inviting us to an open house to see a document management demonstration. The flyer touted document management as a solution for consolidating printing needs and reducing dependence on paper. This piqued my interest, so I decided to go to their website to learn more. While there, I found that their version of document management centered more around managing print services and general ad-hoc paper scanning. After words, I visited a few other copier dealer websites and found a similar use of the phrase.

I bring this up not as sour grapes, although I must admit that I am offended by their use of a term that our industry introduced years ago, but more so because I see many companies that believe they are adhering to document management principals, when in fact they are merely scanning and saving paper digitally to their PC or a folder on the network. So, what’s the big deal you ask? Well maybe I shouldn’t care, but I see people becoming frustrated and bad mouthing the technology because their “Document Management System” lacks the structure to efficiently save documents and make them accessible to others while retaining their integrity and confidentiality. When document management is used to refer to managing print services, it simplifies it to nothing more than scanning paper to eliminate the physical clutter.

So, what really is document management? To me, it is the digital organization and storage of information that uses a defined set of rules, security and governance. It is a structure that creates a consistent and reliable source for storing and retrieving information; which not only categorizes information, but protects it from loss and creates limits to its access. Document management is the foundation for true Enterprise Content Management that includes workflow, electronic forms, records management, report creation and predictive analytics.

Document management is so much more than print services. When an organization deploys such a system it becomes a vital tool for day-to-day operations and a mission-critical application. When used properly, businesses find the benefits of using this technology far outweigh the costs associated with deploying and maintaining the system. If your organization is using your multifunction printer to scan and store important documents onto a network drive, you owe it to yourself to explore and understand what a true document management system can do for you.

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