Generating paper forms has become one of the most frequent, recurring actions in modern offices. We print everything – emails, reports, invoices, spreadsheet data, letters, customer correspondence – the idea of the printed copy being that we have tangible, physical representation that an action has occurred, or confirmation that a task needs to take place.
In many circumstances, a hard copy is generated in order to create a “paper trail” for an item. This paper trail allows the information to be physically moved from person to person, physically stamped, perhaps signed for authorisation and then passed on to someone else for data input into a system, or returned as authorised to the customer. This is a very basic form of business work flow and the way businesses have worked for decades. Relying on a printed document used to be the only way we could effectively manage the business actions to be taken against it.
In the last decade, document management software systems started to appear and increase in popularity. Most systems were expensive to purchase and to implement, without considering the complications of interfacing to any other computer systems. However, as technology has advanced, more document management software systems have appeared, fostering more competitive pricing, while interface methods between systems have also simplified.
So, if you’re interested in a document management system, where would you start? Firstly, paper-flow is often a “process security blanket” in a business and the idea of taking it away can prove challenging. When people reply on physical evidence to make a decision or take an action, it can be tricky to take that away without providing an alternative tool. Look for a package that provides a robust method of workflow management, either through a review/approval process or an action-based notification. This could provide you with a solid method of electronically replicating your paper-based workflow.
Once you’ve found your package, make sure it fits your short-term and long-term needs. Short-term, you might be focused on the idea of workflow, or of simply reducing paper storage. However, in the long-term you might have other needs such as locating specific documents, re-sending original documents to customers, or reporting on the data you’’ve captured. Make sure the document package you pick to meet your short term needs also gives you scope for that future growth.
Finally, don’t believe the hype. Every IT Salesperson will tell you their product can do anything and everything. Make sure it does actually do what your business needs. If you need to integrate your document management software to another system, such as your ERP, proceed with caution! You’’ll often get the “we can integrate to anything” response and you need to make sure that it’s actually the case. Integration can often be the black hole of a project like this and something which you may find that both vendors will attempt to leave avoid.
The Alchemist is Ruxana D’Vine and Michael Meryment, specialists in matching business needs to technology.