You would not believe how many small businesses still have no true way of managing their documents besides folders, file cabinets, or saving files directly to their computers. If you are reading this and that is how you currently manage your documents, we are truly sorry…. Reasons vary, but still, all too often we come across organizations that have file cabinets full of old sales agreements, invoices, and legal documents. Now, there was a time where paper documents were the most efficient means of storage, but those times are long gone. The cost of digital storage has dropped significantly over the years, and technology has caught up to a point where the ease of use makes the user experience straightforward and easy. Typically, when we run across organizations that are stuck in the world of paper document management, we find there is no real fundamental reason to why they have not shifted to digital, and it more or less just hasn’t been top of mind. In this article we’ll cover some basic strategies for document management in small businesses.
In case you need a justification for moving to a digital document management solution, here are a few points of consideration:
- Increased file redundancy – Unfortunately when dealing with paper documentation or electronic files, they can get lost or damaged; natural disasters can strike out of nowhere and when this happens, these files are gone forever… We also find in today’s market that there are more remote employees than ever before, and with a paper document management solution in play, these remote employees have essentially zero access to critical documentation. Whether it is a need for file protection or access, almost all digital document management solutions have sophisticated disaster protection and recovery solutions in play, along with robust file access solutions as well. This essentially makes it impossible for files to get lost or destroyed while giving remote employees the access to critical documents.
- Increased security – When it comes to file storage, your security is only as strong as the file cabinets your documents are stored in, and that’s if you even lock them. Most small businesses take employee trust a little too far and at times leave cabinets to some of the most sensitive corporate information unlocked. With fraud and lawsuits at an all-time high, quite honestly, this is just a vulnerability that should not be overlooked. Today’s solution providers have some of the most strict physical and digital security protocols known to man, ensuring that no one has access to your files unless they are allowed to have access.
- Document editing – If you manage your company reports via Excel, raise your hand. If you have more than one person working on an Excel, Word Document or PowerPoint, raise your other hand… Almost every company has Excels, Word Documents, and PowerPoints being worked on by multiple people at any given time. Inherently, the way those products are designed, only one person can modify a document at any given time… However, most Content Management Solutions today have created solutions that allow for multiple editors to work on the same document at the same time with full visibility to who is doing what.
- Version controls – Similarly, when multiple people are working on the same document, whether printed or in digital format, it is almost impossible to know who made what changes and went or if the document is even the latest version. Again, most solution providers have built in version controls within their solutions to know who made changes and when.
- Process control – A majority of documents created have a process they must follow. As an example, sales agreements must be created, edited, approved, sent for signature and so on… Typically this is a completely manual process. Typically, sales creates the agreement, forwards to their management for review and approval, management sends the contract back to sales, and sales sends the agreement to their contact. These processes and others are extremely manual, time consuming, and prone to errors… Errors such as someone opening an email, but forgetting to process the document. There are some Content Management solutions that have process controls built directly into them allowing for a more automated and error-free process.
The above are just a few reasons why a digital document management system makes sense, and again, the cost of storage and technology offerings now make a solution more cost effective and easier than ever. As an example, companies such as Microsoft, Google, Dropbox, and others give away storage for free, and most free solutions fit the needs of Small Businesses perfectly. There is also the real risk of documents getting lost or damaged, which when these events happen, means those documents are lost forever! Furthermore, with remote workers becoming more predominant in the industry, there is a real need to give them access to critical documentation at anytime and anywhere.
Setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science, as again, most solution providers have made solutions extremely user friendly. However, when looking into a digital document solution for a small business, there are a few things an organization needs to consider:
- Existing paper document digitization – Digitizing file cabinets stuffed with documents going back decades, in some cases, is no small task for any organization. With that in mind, the first thing to consider when going digital is which documents will be digitized and how far back those documents should go, as not all documents need to be digitized. Once a decision has been made, you can either look into a company that provides digitization (which can get costly), or look into another option like hiring a few interns or temp employees to take on the task for you.
- Folder and file name structure – At the surface, file structure doesn’t seem that important. However, folder and file name structure are most likely two of the most important items to consider up front; a lack of consistency across both can lead to a cumbersome folder and file structure, making it impossible to find documents. This means every department should have a clearly defined folder name and subfolder structure. File names need to be straight forward as well… As an example, a sale contract should be named something such as ClientName-Product-agreement-date.pdf. A folder and file structure should be set up in a way that is completely self-explanatory, leaving nothing to question.
- Document access controls – This simply means who should have access to what folders and files. Free solutions typically do not have access controls built in, however others do… If going this route, there should be a lot of thought around which departments or employees have access to what documents upfront.
- Process definition – There needs to be a defined process around who has responsibility for what action, and this process should clearly be communicated with the team. As without a clear process, people will assume someone else is responsible for the process of uploading documents and nothing will get done. As an example, when sales gets in a new signed agreement, who is going to be responsible for uploading the agreement? Sales, Finance, Sales Ops?
- Signatures – Are they still inked or digital? This is not something organizations think of when first looking into content management, however increasingly, digital signatures are becoming a more efficient way of executing agreements and authorizing paperwork. Digital signature solutions are now extremely cost effective, and if you are moving to a digital content solution, this should be a natural solution to implement at the same time.
Again, setting up a digital content management solution is not rocket science. However, if proper thought is not put into the planning around the structure and access, things can get out of control quickly, and it is hard to fix once in place. It is also important to keep things as simple as possible and resist the urge to over-complicate the folder and file structure; over-complicating can lead to confusion and difficulty of finding documents when needed and reduce the value of efficiency of a digital content management solution. Some organizations, to save cost, may opt not to use a prepackaged solution and go with a DIY central server and mapped drive solution . This is something we highly recommend against. Although the upfront cost may be lower than a paid solution, the long term risk should outweigh the cost. For instance, there are costs to maintaining the server, the VPN for secured connections, and data backup. But, there are also other risks, such as loss of power or natural disasters that wipe out access to these servers.
Going digital should be a top priority for organizations, as the longer you wait to implement the solution, the more risk you are putting your business in….