Essential components of document management

Today's businesses thrive on information, and that information can take many forms. 

Day in and day out, your company deals with content that contains essential information. Perhaps you and your team regularly research and write white papers and opinion pieces, or you create marketing copy and videos to promote your company's products. You probably send abundant emails or memos to team members and external recipients. 

Whatever type of content you create, you need a way to manage it efficiently and effectively. That's where a document management framework comes in. 

Document management allows you to create, store, and track content. If your organization isn't using document management software — or uses an older system that no longer meets your needs — learn more about the advantages of switching to a cloud-based document management process and the components involved. 

What is document management?

A document, according to ISO 9000:2015, is information and the medium that holds it. When you hear the word "document," you might envision a word processor file. But documents are much more than .doc files. Examples of documents can include:

  • Photographs
  • Words on paper
  • Digital files
  • Digital videos
  • Recordings on magnetic tape or optical discs

Organizations have largely gone digital with their documents. Teams often create documents on a computer, where content exists solely in digital form. A document management system allows you to store, manage, track, and dispose of these sorts of documents. A cloud-based document management system allows you to securely store your organization's documents without the need for physical servers or old-school filing cabinets. 

What are the key functionalities of document management?

Document management allows you to:

1. Capture documents

The process of capturing documents depends in large part on the original form of the document. It's possible to use document management to capture information that initially existed in physical form, such as a printed manuscript or a photograph. To capture the document, you either scan the printed text or the image. Or, you might use a camera to take digital photos of the original physical document.

You can also create a document directly in a document management system. Your software might allow you to create a text document, such as a PDF or Docx file. If your organization currently uses a particular program to create documents, such as Microsoft 365 or Google Suite, you can integrate those apps with your document management system. The system will be able to capture existing files, streamlining your organizational and content-editing processes. 

2. Manage and track documents

Controlling who has access to documents and managing version history are aspects of document management

Once documents have been captured, a key part of document management is keeping track of and managing those documents. 

Managing documents can take several forms. It can involve having a check-in and check-out system that allows one person to work on or access a particular document at a time. It can also involve controlling who has access to each document. Some teams might be allowed access to all of the documents your organization manages, while other teams or departments might only have access to the documents that are pertinent to the work they do. 

Version history is another aspect of tracking and managing documents and should be part of your document management process. Storing multiple versions of a document in your system means you can quickly revert to an older edition if needed, or you can look back on an older version to see what changes were made. Some platforms for document management have version-control built in so you don’t have to manage it.

3. Store and dispose of documents

Storage is another crucial part of document management. Prior to electronic or digitized documents, the most common storage option was to keep documents in filing cabinets, on shelves, or in drawers. These storage options had their benefits — but they also lacked security. Fire could easily damage or destroy critical documents. An unauthorized individual could also get their hands on sensitive information, taking files home with them or passing them along to other bad actors. 

As electronic storage became more easily available, many organizations began storing documents on electronic discs or magnetic hard drives. While physical, electronic storage options were slightly more secure than filing cabinets or shelves, they weren't perfect. A bad actor could still steal a disc or hard drive and access the content on it. Water and fire could cause irreversible damage to the information stored on a disc or hard drive.

Another drawback of physical document management, whether paper-based or electronic, is limited access to the documents. Someone who wants to find a copy of a memo written one year ago or who wants to view an older marketing video will need to come into the office or storage facility and track down the physical document manually. The process of retrieving physical documents can be time consuming.

In contrast, cloud-based document management allows for secure storage of various documents, from emails to marketing videos to white papers to audio recordings. Since the documents are stored in the cloud, a physical copy isn't needed. Cloud-based storage tends to be more secure than physical storage. When in the cloud, your documents can't be damaged by water or fire. It's also more difficult for a bad actor to access the documents, thanks to multiple security controls.

Document management can also involve proper disposal of content. Depending on the type of documents your organization works with, disposal can take on different forms. You might archive documents so they still exist but aren't readily accessible. In some cases, you may delete the documents permanently.

How you delete documents depends on the method you use to manage them. Physical documents often need to be physically destroyed. For nonsensitive, paper-based information, that can mean recycling the paper. For confidential, paper-based documents, your organization will likely need to shred them. Physical hard drives or discs can be formatted or wiped to remove any sensitive documents. With cloud-based document management, this process is digital.

What are document management systems?

Manage your digital, electronic, or physical information effectively using a document management system

While document management is the practice of capturing, managing, and storing documents, a document management system is a program your organization uses to manage information effectively. 

A document management system can take several forms. Some systems are purely software-based, meaning they work exclusively with electronic or digitized documents. Some document management systems take a hybrid approach. They let you capture, track, and store electronic files, such as PDFs, videos, and audio recordings. They also have a physical component that streamlines the process of managing any paper documents or documents in another physical form — such as a tape recording, disc, or photographs.

The earliest forms of document management systems were software programs meant to streamline the process of organizing paper and other physical documents. These early systems typically scanned or otherwise copied physical documents, converting them to electronic form. Once the system converted the physical documents, it would organize them, usually using metadata to sort and classify information.

Businesses today rely more and more on electronic or digital documents. While some document management systems still include tools to capture physical documents, many systems are designed specifically to create and manage digital or electronic information media only. Electronic or digital document management systems aid in the creation of these documents. They also use metadata to classify and sort documents. 

Why do you need a document management system?

If your organization generates a lot of content and doesn't currently use a document management system, there are many benefits of adopting one. Advantages of a document management system include:

1. Increased security

A secure document management system can give you full control over your content

Some documents need to be kept confidential to meet regulatory requirements, while others should be kept in confidence so trade secrets or new ideas don't fall into the wrong hands. A document management system can provide the security features you need to keep your content away from bad actors and people who simply shouldn't see it. 

Security can also mean you have full control over who does what to a document. It might be acceptable for an intern or administrative assistant to access a particular document, for instance. But you might not want them to edit it.

2. Easier collaboration

A document management system allows for easier collaboration. Once a document is created in the system, you control who has access to it and what they can do with the document. You might also control the number of people who can access and edit a document simultaneously. 

Most importantly, the document management system keeps tabs on any changes made to a document. If a copywriter decides to rewrite the second paragraph of a white paper and the CEO or a manager doesn't approve the rewrite, it’s possible to revert to the earlier version. 

Cloud-based document management systems also simplify collaboration by opening access to the content. When documents are stored in the cloud, rather than on physical computers or in filing cabinets, team members can access them securely and from anywhere. All they need is a device that can connect to the internet. That means you can work with a remote team and easily edit and improve documents, no matter where people are located. 

3. Reduced cost

By switching to a document management system, you will no longer need a physical space for content storage

Implementing a document management system can save your organization money in several ways. First, switching to the cloud from physical storage methods means you no longer need to rent storage space. You can convert the room you were using to store physical files into a workspace, allowing you to increase productivity and potentially hire more people. If you switch to a cloud-based content management system from one that relies on physical servers or computers, you no longer need to worry about paying to maintain the hardware, either.

4. Improved compliance 

Depending on your industry, your documents might need to comply with certain regulations. A document management system can streamline the compliance process, ensuring your documents abide by any rules and regulations.

5. More freedom and time

A document management system gives you more time and greater freedom. The system can automate many steps that previously had to be done by hand, such as sorting documents and enabling permissions. You can also rest assured your documents are safe and secure and that there is little risk of them being destroyed or accidentally deleted.

What are the key components of a document management system?

Document management systems tend to have features that streamline the process of creating, collaborating on, and managing your documents. Systems typically consist of several components, including:

1. Document metadata

Your company's content contains metadata — that is, basic information about a document. It's not always visible when you open a document, but the metadata is always there. Metadata typically includes:

  • Date of creation
  • Name of the user who created the document
  • File size
  • Last user to edit the document
  • Last save date and time
  • Details about changes made to the document

Some document management systems, such as Box, allow you to create custom metadata. Creating your own metadata gives you the ability to fully control your documents.

2. Document capture

The process of creative, uploading, and capturing different types of documents

A document management system is nothing without documents. “Document capture” is the process of creating and uploading documents into the system. It can take several forms.

If you're adding physical documents to a document management system, you can capture them by scanning or taking photos of them. The scanner might use optical character recognition (OCR) to transform text images into text you can edit in the document. 

Another way to capture documents is to upload electronic documents from another app into the document management software. For example, you can integrate Microsoft 365 files or Google Docs into your system.

Finally, “document capture” can refer to creating documents, such as text files or images, directly in the system itself.

3. Indexing

It's not enough for a document management system to store your documents. You and your team need to be able to retrieve those documents quickly. For this reason, indexing is a crucial component of a document management system. It allows you to keep track of the content you upload or create in the system. The system can index documents based on the original creator, the team that uses them, or custom rules.

4. Storage

A document management system allows you to store content and set specific rules for that storage. For example, you might create individual drives for documents based on the teams that have access to them. If you use a hybrid system that involves both cloud-based and physical storage, you can keep tabs on where each document is kept, whether in physical or digital form.

Document storage can also involve archiving older materials, ensuring they are kept secure, and managing the eventual disposal of documents. How documents get destroyed or disposed of depends largely on the industry you are in and the type of documents you work with. 

You may be able to set rules for the retention of documents. For example, employee contracts might be retained in one section of your document management system for as long as a person works for your company. Once they leave, the contract might move to another area of the content management system, where it’s held for one year. After that, the contract can be permanently archived or deleted, depending on your company's rules or any governing regulations.

5. Document retrieval

Set permissions to a certain part of the team or use your own device to access

When you create and store documents, you want to be able to retrieve them when necessary. Retrieval is an essential part of a document management system. How you retrieve documents depends on a few factors. 

You might set permissions on a piece of content so only people on a certain team or people in certain roles, such as managers or executives, can access and retrieve it. You can also limit how the document is retrieved. For example, a user might need to be logged into your organization's network or using a company-owned device before they can access or download a piece of content.

6. Document versioning

Documents tend to be living things. They evolve and change as team members edit them. In some cases, you might need to revert to an earlier form of a document or double-check an earlier version to see what changes a person has made. A document management system will create and store multiple versions of your team's content, so you can keep tabs on it as it moves through its lifecycle.

7. Searching

The documents stored in your organization's document management system should be easy to track down. A search feature allows users to look up documents based on name, creator, date, or keywords.

8. Integration across platforms and systems

The integration of the apps and systems you use is essential to keep an organized content creation process

Your organization might use a variety of other software platforms for creating or organizing its content. Your document management system must integrate with any apps or systems you already use to keep your documents organized and ease the content creation process. 

9. Document security

A document management system should have security features that control who has access to particular documents and the type of changes a person can make to the content. The system might use security features such as password protection, permissions, and multifactor authentication to manage who gets access to what.

10. Annotations

Sometimes, a user might want to make notes or leave comments for other users without altering the document itself. An annotation feature enables this. Depending on the security settings, a user might have permission to annotate a document without changing it.

11. Workflow

Some document management systems include a workflow component that automates certain processes. For example, after the creator of a document finishes writing it, the document might automatically get sent to an editor. Once the editor signs off on the document, it might go to a reviewer, who fact-checks it. Workflow automation ensures content flows smoothly and that there aren't any lags or pauses in the midst of an important project.

How Box supports the document management process

Box lets you create, collaborate, and manage your content all in one secure place

When you oversee document management with the Content Cloud, you an take advantage of valuable features. Our document management system lets you create, collaborate on, and manage your content. You can manage the entire lifecycle of your documents from one easy place. Our system also ensures your documents abide by any regulatory requirements and works to keep your content secure. Some of the thingsf our document management system can do:

  • Create and capture documents
  • Sort documents and create metadata
  • Manage permissions
  • Store files
  • Automate workflows
  • Simplify collaboration
  • Integrate with other apps
  • Store and dispose of documents
  • Manage security levels

Learn more about Box today

Box works with your existing apps and programs and allows you to upgrade from legacy content management vendors. To learn more about the benefits of our document management system and how the Content Cloud simplifies work, contact us today.

Enjoy all the benefits of our document management system

**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.

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