Electronic Document Management: The Basics – Part 1

Introduction to Document Management

Document management can mean many things to many people, and can serve a variety of purposes. The intention of this article is to list the components involved in document management and to briefly describe each one. At the conclusion, there are also some important factors to help in selecting a document management system.

If you’ve never used a document management system, then it is entirely possible that you aren’t aware of how valuable these products can be. Companies and individuals who manage a diverse array of documents have found that document management systems serve to simplify their lives and make both storing documents and later obtaining those documents much easier. n cause a document to disappear into a virtual black hole, never to be seen again.

The entire process of document management can be broken down into four categories: file capture, file processing, file management and file storage. A company may require one, two or all four of these processes.

File Capture

File capture may consist of scanning paper documents, capturing existing electronic files (ex: .doc, .pdf, .tif and scanned documents), and capturing documents from applications with print drivers.

Scanning – if you have a large quantity of paper documents that need to be scanned and introduced to a DMS (Document Management System), then you must consider:

1. How you want the information to be retrieved and stored; and

2. How you want indexed information to be introduced to the DMS.

The manner with which you plan to access the documents later will determine which file format type the files will be saved under. The most common types for scanning output are .tif and .pdf.

The advantage of .tif file types is that they are the smallest file types and therefore take up the least amount of storage space. The advantage to .pdf file types is that they provide better options for content text searching (searching every word of a document), are easier to edit, and are overall more flexible.

The method of introducing indexed information (any field used to search and categorize documents) can range from fully automated to fully manual to somewhere in between. The more automated the process, the more file processing will be required. Extensive automation will make your project more complex and costly, but if you handle a large volume of documents, the automation will quickly pay off in the form of reduced manpower.

The actual physical scanning of the documents can also be fairly automated with batch scanning, bar codes, and database validation. Batch scanning reduces the labor in introducing the documents to the scanner. Instead of the scanner operator separating every document, scanning it separately, and then saving the file into a directory, the operator simply places all of the documents into a feeder by the bulk. The scanner then detects a document change by a blank sheet, bar code, or some other indicator.

Bar codes can also be used to represent a group of information or a client or project to populate multiple indexed fields. If you have an existing client database in your current ERP system or even QuickBooks, this data can also be used to populate or validate indexed fields.

Capturing electronic files – Existing electronic files – such as .doc, .xls, .dwg, and .dgn, – are easier to capture into a DMS. These files contain hidden properties called metadata, which can be mapped to a field in the DMS. This information might include created date, author, title, title block, and other useful information.

Once this data is mapped, these fields will be automatically populated when the electronic files are introduced. These files may be saved to a directory into which the DMS imports them, files may be dragged into the system, or a mass import may be used to bring in legacy documents.

Electronic files may also be captured through print drivers. If you commonly print reports from an application or save them to a directory, you may use a print driver to introduce them to the DMS, which will ultimately save time. Faxes may also be saved to a directory from which the DMS can pick them up for distribution before they ever go to paper.

File capture is relatively easy, but a simple digital file without any additional processing isn’t much use. You may take the file and name it and file it in Windows Explorer, but when you are cataloging hundreds or thousands of files, this is not a feasible system. Human error, if nothing else, will prevent every single file from being named correctly and stored in the proper location. Even one misplaced file can wreak havoc for a business.