A Document Management System could deliver significant benefits to any law practice looking to manage client correspondence more effectively and enhance internal processes. Most DMS solutions provide easy to use features to file and retrieve any document in any format and may include email management too. In addition DMS solutions will provide extensive search options, including both structured and unstructured (Optical Character Recognition, or OCR), to locate these documents and make them available to be displayed. This is ideal for bringing together a case file of paper documents (i.e. post that is scanned), emails, electronic documents created by the user (Excel, Word, PDF), etc. It should also be possible to create easy references to aid retrieval, such as ‘tags’, and provide a generic viewer for fast document display. And the system will most probably support some form of security and access control, and may have an audit facility to manage and monitor the document actions. There are many ways to achieve this requirement and many solutions that claim to provide this functionality – some even think Windows Explorer does this anyway, so is in effect a Document management software of sorts.
Therefore consideration needs to be given to what the added benefits of using a DMS are. And the benefits can be significant as long as the requirement isn’t confined to just the capture, storage and retrieval of documents. A comprehensive DMS should be able to deliver so much more to enhance control and more importantly deliver process improvements – after all everything we do, from the moment we wake in the morning to the time we go to bed, relates to a process in one form or another, and we should always be striving to make them more effective wherever we can.
Management controls within a Document Management must include the provision of security features to make sure documents are not accidentally or maliciously deleted or altered. They should include access controls to make sure particular functions are only available to authorised users, and restrict areas of the filing against unauthorised access. All document activity should be audited so that everyone will know who has performed certain activity on each document and who currently owns any outstanding actions. It may include the blocking of any document deletion, so that compliance processes can be adhered to. It should support document versioning to manage revisable documents through a life-cycle. And the DMS should provide tools and reports to manage users, access rights, user/document activities, etc.
However the real advantages are in the potential to improve both internal and external processes by using the collaboration functions that should be included as standard with the DMS. According to Wikipedia “workflow may be a view or representation of real work, thus serving as a virtual representation of actual work. The flow being described may refer to a document, service or product that is being transferred from one step to another”. It is the potential to not only capture a document in any format, but to manage it through a cycle of events/users that can deliver the process improvements that can make a difference.
The workflow could be as simple as scanning an item of post and delivering it to a user for indexing. Superficially this is a workflow, just not a very efficient one as it is totally reliant on the recipient being available or being interested. It would be better if the workflow was structured and managed – if we could give a document a ‘life’ (make it into an actionable task) so that the task can be managed, monitored, escalated, etc., then this is where we can deliver significant process improvements. Therefore a few questions should be asked of the DMS:
The options are numerous and are provided to deliver improved client service and enhance the internal processes, which in turn will make life easier, and will save two very valuable commodities – time and money.
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