How to implement a cloud document management system

No matter what industry or business model applies to your organization, you need content to get work done. Traditionally, you might have managed your content with paper filing cabinets, local IT infrastructure, or a combination of the two. But now, with 91% of businesses adopting a digital-first strategy, migrating to a cloud-based document management system (DMS) is critical for staying competitive.

Migrating to a cloud-based document management system keeps your organization competitive

As the name implies, cloud-based document management systems take traditional electronic document management processes and transfer them to the cloud. They're web-based tools that enable you to store, manage, and access your documents from a centralized place via just about any device. Many integrate with other applications to provide a single source of truth for your whole organization.

Finding the right cloud DMS is just part of the equation — a smooth implementation is even more important for getting fast ROI. Here are 10 steps to take to achieve your document management goals.

10 steps to implementing a cloud document management system

Implementing a cloud DMS is a bit complex. Follow these steps to put your organization in the best long-term position.

1. Identify your document management requirements

It might be tempting to start the process by testing different products, but doing so without a concrete plan can make finding the right DMS more difficult. Instead, start by considering what your organization needs in a DMS

Here are some helpful questions to guide your search:

  • What are your overall goals for document management?
  • What challenges does your organization currently face in document management?
  • Which industry standards or government regulations apply to your organization?
  • What other applications does your organization use in its day-to-day operations?
  • Where are people usually completing work? Do you have a large hybrid or remote workforce?
  • What is your budget?
  • Who will be using your DMS most often?
  • What features would be most helpful for facilitating work?

Consider assembling a focus group to guide you through this pre-planning process. This group should represent every level of your organization, including administrators, IT employees, department heads, and anyone with a strong opinion about technology changes. Getting input from anyone who might be impacted by the change will help you pin down which features you need and which ones would be nice to have.

2. Choose a cloud-based DMS

Look for DMS features like integrations, version control, and mobile app access

Research all your options and evaluate which DMS best meets your needs. Look for a solution that takes a holistic approach to document management and control by providing a wide range of useful features. 

Some features to consider include:

  • Scalability: Cloud computing solutions are flexible, so you can upgrade storage and add new features as your business needs evolve
  • Version control: This feature maintains multiple versions of each document, reducing confusion and saving space in your storage system
  • Collaboration tools: A cloud-based DMS enables team members to work on the same document simultaneously, enabling greater collaborative efficiency
  • Mobile document access: Some DMS providers allow access through a mobile app, which helps your people stay productive from anywhere, even on the go
  • Security features: Safeguard your content with built-in protections like security classifications, identity and access management, file locking, and data encryption
  • Monitoring features: 24/7/365 performance monitoring capabilities help you continuously evaluate your DMS so you can determine whether adjustments are necessary
  • Third-party software integrations: Make sure your DMS integrates with all the other applications in your tech stack to consolidate your data and enable greater efficiency

Many DMS providers allow you to try their product before you buy. Take advantage of this option whenever you can. A free trial or live demo shows how the system works, which helps you narrow down your list.

3. Plan for implementation

Create a detailed implementation roadmap to set your organization up for success. You'll meet your deadlines easier and minimize scope creep.

Key components of your plan should include:

  • Deliverables: Describe the DMS you've chosen and its total cost of implementation
  • Goals: Documenting everything you want to get out of your new DMS helps you maintain focus on reaching those goals, which improves your chances of a successful implementation
  • Timeline: Provide the start and end date for the implementation process — or, if you don't have specific dates in mind, determine a close estimate of how long the project will take
  • Expected outcomes: List the benefits you hope to gain through implementation to bring stakeholders on board
  • Potential conflicts: Consider what might go wrong during implementation and how to resolve the issue
  • Team impact: Explain who in your organization will be most impacted by the change and how you plan to help them through training

Thoroughly document all of the above information and make it readily accessible to everyone involved with the project. Having this information available keeps everyone on the same page and holds your organization accountable.

4. Configure the DMS

Most DMS platforms offer some degree of customization, so you'll want to customize your DMS to meet your organization's needs.

Some examples of custom settings include:

  • Workflow configurations: Automated workflows keep your content moving through its lifecycle, making work more efficient and reducing lags in important projects
  • Document types: Define what your DMS should do with each type of content your organization handles 
  • Metadata: Some cloud DMS options enable you to create custom metadata, which streamlines organization and provides maximum control over your content, enabling you to search through content more easily
  • Governance policies: Your DMS might give you the ability to set custom content retention policies to proactively mitigate risk and streamline lifecycle management

This step is where gathering feedback from each department will be helpful, as you'll want to find a DMS that offers enough customization to suit various workflows. Custom configurations also help reduce shadow IT by allowing people to personalize the approved tools to match their work styles.

5. Migrate existing documents

Scan and upload physical documents or import digital files to migrate to your new DMS

Once you've adjusted all your settings, transfer your existing documents to the new system. This process involves scanning and uploading paper documents or importing electronic files from local drives, depending on your organization.

Following these best practices helps you migrate to the cloud with minimal delays:

  • Audit your infrastructure: Conduct a thorough audit of your existing system to gain an understanding of everything you have to migrate, including specific document types, classifications, and metadata
  • Plan change management: Carefully planning change management processes helps you minimize business and IT disruptions during the migration
  • Map content to the cloud: Create item-by-item mappings from your old system to your new cloud-based DMS — depending on your provider, you may be able to save time by automating certain mapping tasks
  • Strategize migration: Each organization takes a different approach to content migration, and creating a detailed migration roadmap helps explain the process to your stakeholders

Some DMS providers offer end-to-end migration services so you can move your digital documents to the cloud from anywhere in your existing network. In addition to enabling a seamless transition, these services are useful for aligning stakeholders with the project, which is important for ensuring long-term adoption.

6. Train your staff

Help your people get the most out of your new DMS by providing comprehensive training sessions tailored to each department's unique responsibilities. Many vendors provide helpful training resources you can use as a starting point. 

Remember that everyone is at a different place when it comes to tech usage, so avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach to DMS training. Instead, focus on providing a personalized, employee-centric training program to engage your people and improve retention.

Make sure your training requirements are realistic so your people can complete them without interrupting their productivity. Announce training sessions well ahead of the deadline to give your people enough time to get everything done. Provide opportunities to fit training sessions around work-related tasks so your people can stay focused.

Often, one or two long training sessions aren't enough for employees to remember everything they learn. You can supplement the training with a self-service portal or knowledge base so people can access training materials any time they need a refresher. 

7. Test your system

Before you roll out your cloud DMS, make sure it works properly. Functionality testing is important for understanding and optimizing:

  • Integration points with other applications
  • Any custom configurations you set
  • How the DMS works on different devices
  • Access permissions for specific user types and accounts
  • How to work with different document types within the DMS
  • Real-time collaboration and sharing procedures

One helpful testing technique is sandboxing, which creates a secure non-production environment for developers to experiment with platform functionality. You can also connect APIs to your sandbox to test compatibility with other applications.

In addition to functionality testing, perform user acceptance testing (UAT) with a select group of people to work out any issues your IT team may have missed. These early users can provide important feedback that helps streamline your rollout.

DMS testing is an ongoing process. As you become comfortable with your new system, you'll have to continue testing to make sure everything is still working as it should be. To save time later, you might be able to automate basic functionality testing that quickly and automatically improves your infrastructure.

8. Roll out the system

Once you've completed training and thoroughly tested your new DMS, it's finally time to launch the new system to your entire organization. Announce your rollout in advance so no one feels like it came out of nowhere. 

Here are some helpful tips for a smooth rollout:

  • Assign roles and responsibilities: Establishing who is responsible for specific tasks during the launch reduces confusion and keeps progress on track
  • Define OKRs: Setting objectives and key results (OKRs) can help you organize your rollout strategy by providing clear goals to aim for
  • Eliminate roadblocks: Identify and resolve remaining obstacles before launching your DMS to make the rollout process smoother
  • Stay flexible: Leave room for adaptation in your rollout strategy to account for any unexpected issues that might arise

Getting organizational approval will clearly communicate the new system's benefits and field any questions people have about it. This openness gets you buy-in from all levels of your organization and encourages people to adopt the system.

9. Monitor and maintain the system

Continually monitor your DMS to gain improved security, accurate cost calculations, optimized resource allocation, and more agility

You can't install a new system and hope it works the same way forever. Regularly monitoring your DMS helps ensure it's functioning properly and that people are following the established protocols while using it. Monitoring usually includes reviewing and managing all the workflows and processes involved with your DMS. 

Some other benefits of usage monitoring include:

  • Improved security: Keeping tabs on how people use your DMS can uncover hidden vulnerabilities your people might miss in their everyday work
  • More accurate cost calculations: It's easy to overspend when you don't understand how people actually use your technology — usage monitoring provides a stronger understanding of how much you really need to spend based on typical operations
  • Simplified resource allocation: Monitoring helps you identify underserved and overserved areas in your organization so you can optimize resource allocation
  • Greater agility: System monitoring can alert you when it's time to upgrade or clear out your storage space so you never run out of storage

Ideally, your DMS will come with 24/7/365 monitoring capabilities so you can get a more complete view of typical usage. Depending on the extent of automation you employ, you may also need to perform occasional maintenance tasks like running system updates and deleting outdated files.

10. Gather feedback

Get input from the people who use the DMS daily to optimize workflows and gain organizational support. This shows your people their voice matters, which helps them feel more connected to the system and its success. 

Some helpful methods for collecting feedback include: 

  • Employee surveys: Many people hesitate to speak their minds for fear of retaliation or embarrassment, and anonymous surveys can empower them to voice their opinions
  • Suggestion box: Some employees may have ideas for process improvements or new DMS features, so create a communication channel for them to leave suggestions 
  • Focus groups: Meeting with the teams and individuals who use the system most helps you get a better idea of its effectiveness 
  • Manager consultations: Because people report to their supervisors to solve problems, team managers can share valuable insights into how well the DMS fits into their team's workflow

Building a culture of transparency facilitates effective feedback. Make sure your organization knows the process for evaluating feedback. Explaining why you accept or reject suggestions can encourage employees to trust your judgment.

Discover the power of the Content Cloud

With a single secure platform for all your content, Box enables you to manage the entire content lifecycle: file creation, co-editing, sharing, e-signature, classification, retention, and so much more. We make it easy for you to collaborate on content with anyone, both inside and outside your organization. Frictionless, enterprise-grade security and compliance are built into our DNA, so you get total peace of mind that your content is protected. And with 1,500+ seamless integrations — as well as a range of native capabilities, like Box Sign — the Content Cloud provides a single content layer that ensures your teams can work the way they want.

The Content Cloud is a game changer for the entire organization, streamlining workflows and boosting productivity across every team Contact us today, and explore what you can do with Box.

Discover how Box helps with document management

**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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