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  • Writer's pictureJack Arnston

Why Document Management Isn't Plug and Play

First, full disclosure, I am an owner of a document management company that sells, configures and trains companies on the deployment of new systems.

Occasionally we run across organizations that are looking to deploy a document management solution and simply want to purchase the software and handle the installation themselves. I try and explain why that will not work, sometimes successfully, and other times in vain. So why can’t you install a document management system on your own?

It’s not plug and play.

Enterprise class document management systems install with no predefined applications, no users, no security and no workflows. What you get is a shell of a program that is ready to be configured. Think of it in terms of an enterprise resource planning system. Any accounting system, whether it is QuickBooks or SAP, requires the setup of a chart of accounts, vendor and client data entered, company templates created and all of the other processes and integration points that make it a functional system. Document management systems are the same way.

How well you plan will dictate how successful the implementation will go.

The first step for any of our deployments is to conduct a comprehensive discovery engagement. Here we document the current state in which you store and process information, and from which we build a future state of what your system will ultimately look like.

Seems easy enough. So why can’t you do this yourself. Well maybe you can, but here is what I have found over the years and after completing many of these projects. First, you are most likely too close to your processes to think objectively about them. An independent third-party consultant will dig deep, ask probing questions and has no emotional ties as to why things are done the way they are. If you have ever brought in an outside consultant to conduct strategic planning for your company, you can appreciate this point. They are trained to have the working knowledge of how to engage a group to agree on a mission, vision, and to sift through strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to create a comprehensive plan that can be implemented and adjusted for years to come.

Next, most people do not fully understand the capabilities of the document management software. All software has limitations, and there are work arounds to many of these limits. A person only requires this type of knowledge through extensive use of the software. An outside consultant can also share best practices of other companies they have worked with (without disclosing any trade secrets). Incorporating even one or two new processes or techniques can have a huge positive impact on the organization.

It is always gratifying to see how much people learn about their company and its processes after going through a discovery process. And assuming you completed the discovery, you now have a clear blueprint for building the system.

Using an outside organization forces timelines.

How many times have you started a project within your company and the internal resources get reallocated during the project. There is always a fire to put out, and another project that has more importance. Using outside resources that are dedicated to your project will help to keep it on track and on time. And since they have done this before, they are much more efficient in setting up the system. Save your valuable resources for testing prototypes and completing proof of concepts. It is best to get out of the way of the developers, but to be ready to engage when asked to test things. This keeps the processing moving forward in a fluid manner.

There are third party add-ons that make up any system.

A true document management solution is comprised of a variety components. Third-party software such as advanced capture is an example; so is custom programming within workflows, building analytics or integrating to another system. Understanding and selecting the proper components will have a direct impact on how the final solution comes together and works. Not all capture software has the same capabilities, some line-of-business applications do not integrate easily, most workflow engines require custom coding. Understanding all of these pieces, and how they interact is critical when designing and implementing a solution.

Ongoing support of the system.

Okay, so here is an area in which you can get involved. Although you will need first line support for the software from a reseller of a manufacturer, you can take internal ownership of the system once it has been installed. Most manufacturers offer in-depth training on how to create new applications, manage security, create workflows and complete integration to third party application. There are most likely online communities that you can also join to ask questions and compare notes with other people like yourself. These are typically great resources and should be taken advantage of.

So leave the deployment to the experts and enjoy the benefits of the system sooner and with less stress.

Jack Arnston is a Principal at The Priton Group. He can be reached at

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