Document Management Systems (DMS) can deliver significant benefits, specifically in addressing the requirement to manage client correspondence more effectively. Any document in any format can be filed easily, and extensive search options are provided to locate these documents and make them available to be displayed. This is ideal for bringing together paper documents (i.e. post that is scanned), emails, electronic documents created by the user (Excel, Word, PDF) etc. It is possible to also create easy references to aid retrieval, i.e. client, client/tax documents or client/tax documents/tax year. There are many ways to achieve this requirement – some even think Windows Explorer does this anyway, so is in effect a DMS of sorts.
Therefore you need to consider what the added benefits of using a DMS are. And you need to consider that 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 management 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 way or another and we should always be striving to make them more effective wherever we can.
To get the benefits from enhanced management control a DMS should, for example, provide security to make sure documents are not accidently or maliciously deleted or altered. It 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 is doing what and when’. It should not allow any document deletion, so that compliance processes can be adhered to. It should support document versioning to manage revisable documents through a lifecycle. 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 workflow 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 are required.
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.
What if the system could recognise the intended recipient (by the document index), and then automatically route that document to that user?
What if a user doesn’t deal with a document in a given timeframe, then the document can be automatically routed (escalated) to another user/manager for processing?
What if these actions were recorded in an audit trail, so that any user could see whether the required actions are being executed on time and correctly?
What if documents could be tagged or stamped (with ‘Approved’ or ‘Draft’, for example) for enhanced and easy visual representation?
What if the document could have its status updated to record where it is in the staged process? What if we could visualise who performed the last action on any document and what did they do and when?
Would a dashboard overview of staff ‘In-Trays’ be useful to identify bottlenecks or see where users may not be using the system properly?
What if we could deliver a document to an external person securely, audit the fact that the document was or wasn’t viewed (with dates), and provide an audited approval process for that document?
The options are numerous and are provided to improve processes, make life easier, and will therefore save you two very valuable commodities – time and money.
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