Electronic Document Management: The Basics – Part 2

Introduction to Document Management

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.

Many companies are forced to go the way of electronic documents because of The Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002, industry compliance (HIPPA), or because it is required by their customers or vendors. The simplest form of electronic document management is storing files in an organized directory and categorizing files by the folder in which they are located. If your company manages more than a few documents, this method can quickly become very inflexible. Incorrect filing can 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 was covered in part one of this article.

File Processing

File processing can help make files more manageable. Examples of processing tasks include: separating and merging, OCR; zonal OCR; forms recognition; conversion; routing; and database (DMS) population. Some of the processing tasks can be completed with scanning software and/or your DMS. Files can be processed years after they are scanned or during the scanning process.

OCR (optical character recognition) allows scanned documents to undergo content text searching once the document is added into your system. Word, Excel, and other digital files do not have to undergo the OCR process to be content-searchable. Indexing the documents makes the content search very fast, even if you are searching through thousands of files.

Recent improvements in OCR make the process very accurate (up to 99%), however the accuracy of the OCR is dependant on the quality of the document and to some extent the hardware used to scan the documents. Most companies are happy to enjoy the benefits of OCR and content text search even with its imperfections.

Zonal OCR (OCR of a specific zone on a page) Scanned documents can also be processed to find certain information on the document and input it into fields in your document management system. For example, an invoice number may be required to organize and store the document so that the invoice number location is predetermined in a template and then that number is read and input into the document management system. This process is called “forms recognition,” and may include many fields of information from a single document. Depending on the type of documents and the quantity of fields to be populated, this process and be both complex and expensive, so it is important to weigh the cost with the benefits.

File Management

There are many different types of applications available on the market with which to manage files. Choosing the one that is right for you can be complicated, and sometimes requires a consultant. Companies that choose to create their own systems are recreating the wheel and will be forced to replace that system at some point in the future. Some critical issues to consider when choosing the system that is right for you are:

1. Types of documents you are managing (working vs. final)
2. Internal and External Requirements
3. Browser or Desktop Interface
4. Cost of Ownership

Final vs. Working Documents

A final document, such as a contract or an invoice, may not need to be edited at a later date. It is saved for reference and/or retrieval purposes, and will not necessarily be needed again. These are called “final documents”. Managing final documents is much cheaper and easier than storing documents that require editing capabilities. If you simply want to scan final documents and store them for later retrieval, you may only require a simple and inexpensive DMS.

A working document, on the other hand, will need to be revised on one or more occasions. These types of files might include manuals, sales literature, or CAD files. The author or other colleagues may need to edit them, or they may need distribution for specific purposes. A more advanced and versatile document management system will be needed so that the user can track changes, implement markups and revise text.

File Storage

File storage is covered in a proceeding article titled: EDMS – File Storage Options