Intrigued by the concept of the paperless office? Business document management systems replace paper files with their electronic equivalents, promising a competitive advantage by helping your business manage and protect data more efficiently, facilitate collaboration, and streamline operations. Document management software, sometimes called content management software, typically delivers storage, indexing and retrieval, search, and version-control capabilities. A document management system has much to offer your business. It can help you: Reduce filing and distribution costs. Digital documents are easier to file and access than paper, and emailing documents is less expensive than printing and faxing them. You can also save money on office and warehouse space because you won't have to physically archive old paper records. Better protect company data. Document management systems enable companies to control access to digital files and to maintain a history of who reads which documents. Encryption options for email and stored files provide an even greater level of control. Improve access to information by allowing groups of employees to share digital files more readily than they can with paper. Facilitate compliance with government regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley (SoX) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Bring consistency to business processes. You can use document management systems to enforce naming conventions, for example, or to ensure that employees follow strict approval processes. Choosing the right document management system There are dozens of document management systems and they come in many different flavors. The pricing and costs of document management systems vary. Some systems are extremely complex and expensive, but others are simpler, cheaper and aimed at small business. Focus on data recovery and security Document management systems can help you safeguard your information by providing multiple layers of security, including audit trails, password protection and encryption. Be sure to drill down on the security and data recovery features of any package you consider. Consider a hosted or ASP document management offering Consider an "on-demand" or "hosted" document management product. These applications are accessible over the Web through a browser. Buyers typically pay a per-user, monthly license fee to rent the software. Don't forget the hardware If you opt for an on-premise document management system, you will have to invest in hardware, including storage servers, scanners and, in sophisticated setups, microfiche scanners, document storage services. Get a jump on compliance More and more industries are becoming subject to legislation that requires specific record-keeping procedures. For instance, Sarbanes-Oxley governs how companies must keep their financial records, while businesses in the health-care field have to comply with privacy regulations under HIPAA guidelines. Document management software can help companies across a variety of sectors stay on top of these laws. Zero in on a legal document management system The unique demands of legal document management have resulted in the creation of document management applications and system tailored the meet those needs, such as legal document management software. Don't get hung up on price. Document management systems are expensive so you need to do your due diligence to compare the investment against the costs associated with how you traditionally handle paper and documents. Storage requirements and security features are of utmost importance to the smooth operation of content management systems. Pay close attention to those aspects when evaluating them. Create a detailed data backup and recovery plan. You don't want to put the efficiencies and productivity boosts associated with the document management application at risk by not covering your bases in the event of system failure. Given the complexity of some of many business document management systems, opt for a service and support contract that includes unlimited support and upgrades, at least for the first year. That way you'll know more about what you need going forward.