Document Management Systems

Document Management Systems

Planning for Document Workflow Management

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Quality document workflow management systems serve a variety of efficiency purposes. Ranging from the preservation of documents and the ease of their accessibility to providing tracking and status, this time-saving system can be customized to almost any industry or business situation.

But to find the most cost-effective solution, and one that will grow in tandem with your organization's needs, some decisions need to be made up front. Without the right planning, you risk wasting time and money.

STEP #1: Figure out the problem you're trying to solve.

Obvious though it may be, this is the central issue you have to address before you start working with a vendor. "We have too much paper" isn't a detailed answer. Be specific. Common problems addressed by a document management system include:

Document Management

STEP #2: Categorize your documents.

Gather details on the types of paper you're working with. In particular, pay attention to how they're created, labeled, and filed, and what your needs are for retrieval and workflow. If you can easily categorize your documents into types, such as delivery slips or W2s, suppliers may be able to offer specific advice. A rough count of how many new documents you'll need to enter per day is also useful.

And don't overlook your existing electronic documents. You'll want to be able to incorporate all of your text files, PDFs, spreadsheets, and other important files into the document management system. Remember, the more complete your search and retrieval capabilities are, the more efficiently your company will be able to operate - an efficacy that extends across your entire line of business.

STEP #3: Create a workflow diagram.

Think of this step as a set of blueprints for constructing a building. A workflow diagram outlines the process and provides a visual representation that enables you to see documents as they move from point to point within your organization. In doing so, it helps you identify any potential pitfalls in the process.

More importantly, a workflow diagram provides your software vendor a specific representation of the workflow you need, allowing them to deliver more accurate pricing and cut down on lead-time by removing some of the "unforeseen issues" and "delays" that tend to pop up without proper planning.

Luckily, this isn't something you have to go out and buy. Almost any software tool can create a good diagram, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Visio. You can even grab a pencil and paper and sketch it out by hand.

The point of this exercise is to account for routing options like:

  • Editing and user-defined input
  • Filing and grouping
  • Manual and/or automatic routing
  • Rules-based routing
  • Branching logic
  • Inclusion of current workflow status
  • Routing to groups or specific individuals
  • Document escalation capabilities and support
  • Custom, real-time reporting with options for output (XML, PDF, CSV, etc.)
  • Permanent archiving

STEP #4: Implement only one stage or department at a time.

While you may eventually want a comprehensive, company-wide system, document workflow management vendors strongly recommend you start by implementing a solution for a single application in one department. Not only will this prove more cost-effective, essentially allowing you to "try out" the software on a small scale, it also makes installation far less disruptive to your business operations.

Once a workflow solution has been implemented and is running smoothly, vendors indicate that it's common for a company to expand the system to multiple departments or processes months or years later. For example, a successful implementation in HR or accounts payable can serve as the launching point for larger, company-wide document management and workflow projects, eventually leading up to a paperless office.

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