Electronic document management systems

Whether submitting basic purchase orders or handling the hundreds of documents that go through a multinational enterprise, document management is an essential part of the job. In fact, that content is a company's biggest asset. Many businesses turn to an electronic document management system (EDMS) to maximize the value of their content and get added benefits like efficiency and security.

While an EDMS is certainly a key part of organizing and storing documents, some of the more powerful EDMS platforms can enable all sorts of wide-reaching benefits for businesses. Content influences everything from client interactions and reputation to regulatory compliance and employee productivity. We'll explore how EDMS fits into your content strategy.

What is an electronic document management system?

An EDMS can play many roles. It's a key player in managing documentation, but it's also the face of document handling and should offer an interface and tools for organization, storage, and access. It can keep documents secure, enable collaboration, automate mundane tasks, and add efficiency to the workflow.

A considerable benefit of an EDMS is the centralized access it offers. It adds visibility and places all of a company's documentation in one place, where employees can take advantage of  valuable platform features. A cloud-based EDMS adds to this capability, enabling users to access data from any device, anywhere.

A cloud-based EDMS enables users to access data from any device, anywhere

Organizations work with a variety of content types, everything from contracts and marketing brochures to reports, tax documents, photos, and design files. These are all important assets that keep business moving. Without an EDMS, these files are exposed to a wide range of risks, such as destruction, human error, and loss. The files also might not be offering as much value to the business as they could. An EDMS can unlock the full potential of these files so businesses can realize growth, savings, and speed.

What can an EDMS do?

An EDMS can have a wide range of capabilities, depending on the platform. Some features of these electronic file management programs include:

  • Creating and digitizing documents
  • Organizing files with tagging systems, metadata searching, and folders
  • Archiving files manually or automatically according to compliance retention requirements
  • Document versioning
  • Integration with other platforms
  • Access controls
  • Streamlined navigation
  • Collaborative tools for easy sharing and live editing features
  • Automated tasks and approval processes
  • Backing up files
  • Enterprise-level security protocols

Is an EDMS the same as an ECM system?

An enterprise content management (ECM) system is often considered a type of EDMS, but an EDMS is not an ECM. An ECM includes some of the more advanced features we mentioned above, as it’s designed to help businesses benefit more from all sorts of content, including rich files such as videos, photos, and presentations. An ECM includes these kinds of files and typically has additional features, such as process automation and retention policies.

Sometimes, an EDMS supports active documents that are being used and modified frequently. An ECM can also manage data that doesn't undergo much change. Both are significant for businesses, and an ECM can give you the benefits of an EDMS and more.

An EDMS supports active documents that are being used and modified frequently

Essential EDMS system features

An EDMS has many different capabilities, covering organization, security, efficiency, compliance, and much more. Some of the most important features your EDMS should have include:

1. Document creation

Adding documents to your EDMS should be easy and quick. There are many ways to add a file both inside and outside the EDMS. You could create a document within the platform itself, upload a document created in another app, or use powerful integrations to save documents from apps directly into the EDMS. You can also digitize your documents to turn physical paper into an electronic file that's easy to sort and store.

Whatever way you choose to work, the right EDMS should accommodate it with plenty of options for creating and ingesting files. It should also support uploading a range of file types, like those most commonly used in your organization. A strong EDMS should be able to handle everything from PDFs to MP4s.

2. Document indexing

A document sitting in your EDMS has loads of data attached to it. This information allows the file to be organized in the database. For example, during the document creation process, you might create custom index fields that allow workers to select which type of document they're making or which department is responsible for it. That input data sticks with the document so the EDMS knows where to put it and how to handle it. Indexing can enable automated processes, searching, and file organization.

Document indexing can include everything from manually added data to the automatic retrieval of the contents of a file. When adding a file, the EDMS scans the file, indexing the data within it so it can be searched and used more effectively.

When adding a file, the EDMS scans the file and indexes the data within it

Indexing can pull out information like phone numbers, names, account numbers, dates, addresses, and order numbers. You may want to index different information depending on your business. An accounting firm may want more data on account numbers and totals, while a healthcare provider may get more value from insurance codes and birthdates. Just about every company needs some type of indexing for effective organization.

3. Document search

Document indexing provides the basis for document searching. With data attached to a document, you can easily search for files based on attributes and content within them.

Say you're looking for all documents that refer to one of your clients, Jane Doe. With an EDMS that indexes documents, you can search for "Jane Doe" and find those documents easily. Or maybe you want to do some analysis on all contracts created for new customers. You can filter out results by looking for documents that have been given the "first-time client" tag.

Strong document-searching capabilities can save a lot of time and make things less frustrating for workers. It's also essential for companies that deal with massive amounts of data, which are often impossible to organize manually. Document search goes a long way in making the files usable and abiding by regulations. After all, f you can't find the information, you can’t meet retention requirements.

4. Document processing

Processing documents can include tasks like indexing, but it can also cover more advanced capabilities such as intelligent classification and handwriting text recognition that make indexing possible. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) can make an EDMS shine. An AI-enabled platform can read a handwritten document, identify a contract based on its format, and scan files for sensitive data that needs stricter care.

EDMS can read a handwritten document, identify a contract based on its format and scan files

Some of the most fundamental forms of document processing are intelligent character recognition (ICR) and optical character recognition (OCR). These tools can capture an image of a document, analyze the characters, and convert them into a machine-readable format. They’re highly accurate tools that can speed up the digitization process.

Other document processing features include linking related documents and using integrations with other programs to further process a document according to business workflows.

5. Workflow

Workflows dictate much of your employees’ efficiency and performance, along with adherence to company policies and regulatory requirements. Workflow tools within an EDMS can contribute to all of these factors. You can customize automated processes to streamline a document's approval, speed up onboarding, and quickly approve time-off requests. Your files become a valuable part of these tasks, rather than an annoying necessity.

6. Document version control

Many files go through multiple drafts and versions while being developed, shared, and approved. Version control tracks and maintains these iterations. You can revert to an old draft of a file, create multiple versions for comparison, and audit the changes of a document. This feature can also include identification of the people making changes. It plays a big role in data integrity, too, as users can refer back to old versions to restore files that may have been destroyed.

Document version control is necessary for internal accountability and regulatory requirements. It should be automatic and thorough so all your files get this benefit without requiring an extra step from workers.

Version control provides a robust history of your files

7. Integrations

You don't just use one app to do your work. You likely have a whole host of apps at your disposal, like word processors, sales management tools, design software, and security software. With integration tools, you can connect your content to these tools for streamlined workflows and improved productivity.

Share documents directly in Zoom, save contracts straight from Microsoft Word, and embed files into your Salesforce dashboard. The possibilities are only limited by the integration options your EDMS provider offers — and for the record, Box has over 1,500 integrations. You can also create custom integrations with the help of application programming interfaces (APIs), which allow you to add the EDMS to your company's software.

Native apps for Apple and Android systems can make it easy to use your EDMS from any device with a smooth user experience. Of course, desktop and web-based applications also add simplicity and versatility.

8. Compliance

Many organizations have some sort of regulation to abide by, such as:

An EDMS can offer many tools to help businesses stay compliant with applicable regulations. From robust audit tools and access controls to high-level encryption, there are many different ways an EDMS can create a compliant and private data-handling environment. These features should come easily for simplified governance across the content lifecycle.

Examples of compliance features - retention policies, granular user permission, encryption, audit logs

Some examples of compliance features include:

  • Retention policies: With an EDMS, you can create modifiable policies that control handling for retaining, disposing, and preserving files within regulatory guidelines 
  • Granular user permissions: Ensure only those who need to access a document can do so with detailed permissions for sharing, editing, and viewing
  • Encryption: Your EDMS should use best-practice encryption methods, such as FIPS 140-2 certification and AES 256-encryption at rest and in transit
  • Audit logs: Check access and edits with the help of detailed audit logs and administrative reporting features

9. Security

Security is another vital part of any enterprise, and for most, it's non-negotiable. Your document management solution needs to offer the enterprise-level security that your stakeholders, clients, and regulatory authorities expect. Data breach costs rose to $4.24 million in 2021, the highest since IBM started reporting on breaches 17 years ago. While money is often the end goal of hackers, breaches also come with a range of other effects, such as legal fees, reputation damage, and infrastructure changes.

Business content can contain a wide range of information that hackers might target. Your documents might hold sensitive customer data, confidential information about company practices, bank account numbers, and credentials.

Credentials are the most sought-after assets targeted in a breach, and they can grant access to any number of documents. This threat is one reason that an EDMS should take a multifaceted approach to document security. In the event of stolen credentials, two-factor authentication (2FA), data backups, and granular access can help prevent a hacker from inflicting extensive damage.

Human error is also a very real threat to organizations, and EDMS features such as version controls, permissions, audits, and automated processes can help minimize its effects. The electronic nature of an EDMS makes it a much safer option than paper documents. It's a lot harder to lose a file in the cloud than it is to misplace a piece of paper or a flash drive.

Why is it important to use an EDMS?

Content likely makes up a huge part of your company's operations, so it’s vital to support foundational needs such as security and efficiency in document handling. The right EDMS can help your organization make some big changes.

Why is it important to use an EDMS? Improve efficiency, reduce costs improve compliance, protect your business

1. Improve efficiency

An EDMS can have many features designed to reduce friction and speed up everyday operations. From finding a document faster to streamlining workflows, electronic file management is an excellent way to save time and money during the workday. Features such as automated processes, document indexing, and quick document ingestion allow workers to spend less time on mundane and repetitive tasks and more time on the important stuff.

Asana's 2021 Anatomy of Work study tells us workers spend 60% of their time on "work about work," which refers to routine, non-skilled work such as unnecessary meetings and searching for information. This number increases with the size of the company and comes with a range of other negative effects such as working longer hours, greater incidences of burnout, and missed deadlines. Dragged-out tasks — looking for files and doing work that could be automated —  contribute to inefficiency. Fortunately, an EDMS can speed things up.

2. Reduce costs

An EDMS can reduce costs in a few different ways. Time savings from improved efficiency lead to savings in labor costs, since you can hire fewer people to do the same work. With reduced errors from automated processes, the costs of rectifying them go down. You also avoid other downsides, such as reputational damage or compliance fees. Other ways an EDMS can help you save include avoiding the costs of breaches and eliminating the resources required for storing and printing paper-based documents.

3. Improve compliance

Compliance can take an entire department to address, but a comprehensive EDMS helps ease the burden of regulatory requirements. Extensive compliance tools can offer peace of mind and help organizations retain and handle all relevant documents. In highly regulated industries such as finance and health care, compliance is often a sizable part of the workday, and minimizing the time and effort needed to enforce it can go a long way. A strong EDMS can offer compliance that's simply unattainable with manual processes.

4. Protect your business

Businesses face no shortage of threats, and content security is essential. It can be tough to quantify the value of secure document strategies, but this isn't an area where you can cut corners. Strong document security is a must, and your EDMS is one of the best ways to implement it. If security is a native part of your EDMS, the support is built in. There are fewer gaps and a convenient simplicity to the entire platform. An EDMS can also bring that enterprise-level security over to integrations in other programs.

How Box helps with document management

Box is a comprehensive EDMS with a user-friendly, customizable interface and all the features you need for compliance, efficiency, and security. This centralized, cloud-based platform called the Content Cloud makes it easy to manage massive amounts of data with features for every type of organization, from insurance providers and nonprofits to pharmaceutical manufacturers and financial firms. 

Box provides a user-friendly interface that's highly customizable

Here are just a few things the Content Cloud can do:

  • Protect content with watermarking, classification tools, and granular access controls
  • Enlist machine learning to detect threats and boost efficiency
  • Allow workers to collaborate endlessly with comments, real-time editing, task assignments, and easy sharing
  • Create automated workflows for common operations, no coding knowledge required
  • Provide native document signing for everything from contracts to annual reports
  • Streamline document management with powerful indexing, digitization, and organizational tools
  • Bring Box services to other platforms with over 1,500 pre-built integrations, APIs, and developer tools
  • Deliver enterprise-level security that protects the business and maintains compliance for sensitive data

The Content Cloud has helped over 100,000 businesses — including 67% of the Fortune 500 — find a better way to work with their data.

Learn more about the Content Cloud

Box is consistently named a leader in cloud content management, according to key analyst firms such as Gartner, Forrester, and IDC. These analysts recognize that Box can maximize the value of your data with tools for every aspect of document management — whether you're working with simple PDFs or dozens of file types.If you're searching for an EDMS that does more, Box is your go-to solution. It's easy to use Box, and it's also easy to migrate to it. We have tried-and-true processes and a team of consultants that make migration easy and quick. To learn more about moving to Box and what our powerful platform can do for your content management strategy, reach out to a team member today.

We have tried-and-true processes and a team of consultants that make migration easy and quick

**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blogpost is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.