- Choosing a System
- Calculating Costs
- Purchasing Tips
- Comparison Checklist
- Glossary of Terms
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Overview of Document Management Software
It is the tracking capabilities of document management systems that give them their greatest value and appeal. There are many laws that require organizations to provide an audit trail for sensitive information. These include HIPAA (health records), Sarbanes-Oxley (financial records), ISO (government records), and other regulations concerning privacy and disclosure. A modern DMS keeps detailed records on document movement and alterations-protecting organizations from lawsuits, fines, and penalties while safeguarding confidentiality.
This guide reviews the latest trends in DMS along with the basic and advanced features you should expect from such a system. After exploring state-of-the-art DMS, you'll find a checklist for comparing vendors, and the top tips for purchasing a DMS.
Document management is undergoing a revolution the likes of which have not been seen since Gutenberg invented the printing press more than 600 years ago! The advent of cloud-based computing and cheap, unlimited storage has transformed the way that organizations handle complex documentation needs.
Consider these trends in document management systems:
- Cloud-Based Systems. Also known as "software-as-a-service," these are document management systems with a Web interface. With cloud-based DMS, the documents no longer live in physical premises, but reside in, and are backed up in, the cloud.
- Access from Multiple Devices. Is your DMS tablet-friendly? Can you store and retrieve documents with a smartphone? Are you able to log into your DMS from any airport or hotel with WiFi? These are the kinds of access features to look for when comparing DMS providers.
- Unlimited Storage of Revisions. When you combine the plummeting costs of data storage with the version-tracking capabilities of a modern DMS, you can record every change to a document since the day it was created. Most systems will allow you to reverse any of those changes and revert to any previous version of a document.
- Lifecycle Management. Documents used in law, medicine, education, real estate, the sciences, and other high-value fields often require security, verification, and auditing at the highest levels. Lifecycle management allows you to track not only all the changes in a document since it was created, but also every time the document has been accessed, by whom, and in what version. Advanced DMS solutions lay a paperless trail that can be audited as needed or required.
- Language Recognition and Translation. Advanced DMS can read documents in multiple languages and convert them into such. The number of languages a system can accommodate is often used to compare various DMS when purchasing.
- Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM is the budding science of protecting the digital content of rights holders. It is often applied to DVDs and other forms of entertainment media to reduce unlawful duplication. But DRM is much more than copy protection. It is used to control and track access to documents, and can be used to license content to others and even collect fees.
- Electronic Publishing. DMS isn't just about storing and protecting documents. With Web-based front ends, it's also the software used to search for and retrieve documents. Today, DMS can automate the publication of data to a website, into ebooks or other formats, and into the marketplace-pushing documents into retail outlets.
There has never been a better time to purchase DMS software or services. You'll seldom be asked any longer what operating system you use. With modern DMS, you can access your documents anytime, from anywhere, using your favorite device. Your data is more secure now and better backed up than it has ever been. And because DMS are priced in part by storage capacity, they're getting less expensive all the time as the cost of storage continues to drop.
Choosing a System
- On-premises, in the cloud, or both?
If you have to maintain your DMS on-premises, you will need both software and one or more file servers. Maintaining these servers and keeping the software up-to-date is usually your responsibility. If you're not required by law to keep your DMS on-premises, you may find it more convenient and even more secure to use a Web-based (or "cloud-based") DMS. A DMS in the cloud can be even more secure than a standalone system because access is easily monitored, you can force actions such as changing passwords, and you can tap into a nearly unlimited amount of storage for revisions and historical backups. Many DMS providers now offer packages that include both a local file server and a cloud-based interface, providing the local backups you require with the convenience of online access.
- What industry are you in? Any special rules?
Many sophisticated document management systems are designed to comply with laws and regulations concerning privacy and disclosure. Think about real estate mortgages, for example. During and after the recession of 2008, many financial institutions paid out large fines for improperly handling mortgage documents. Similarly, doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers are required to follow HIPAA privacy regulations. If your industry or field requires an intensive amount of regulation or oversight regarding document handling, you stand to benefit substantially by using modern document management services. When shopping for a DMS, look for providers with experience in your field and ask for references. Here's a good example: a review of accounting DMS that can handle tax forms.
- How many people will be accessing the system?
Unlike most on-premises document management solutions, online DMS usually charge per user, per month. If you have a system that requires a large number of users, you may qualify for multi-user discount packages. Many companies require different levels of access for different users. Fortunately, most online and on-premises DMS now allow for different user access levels.
- How much data do you need to store?
While cloud-based data storage is getting cheaper all the time, it's not free. Some businesses will require enormous amounts of data storage. For example, if you must retain retail-establishment surveillance video for a certain period of time, the amount of storage you'll need could be enormous. Most DMS providers charge based on the amount of data you need to store, as well as the number of users.
- Creation Issues. A DMS is usually more than just a filing system for documents. Most systems allow documents to be created on the system using a Microsoft Word-style interface. Some systems include image-manipulating software, such as Photoshop. Look for a comfortable user interface with enough flexibility to meet your needs without having to bring in another application.
- Integration Issues. Does your DMS play nicely with other software? Can it integrate and exchange files with Microsoft Office? How about Outlook, Entourage, SharePoint, Salesforce, etc.?
- Capture Issues. Capture involves all the ways of pulling documents into the system. Most systems have Optical Character Recognition, or OCR, for scanning documents. More sophisticated systems can also scan and store images from documents. Some can scan from multiple languages and alphabets. Others will translate scanned documents into other languages. Look for a system that is compatible with your needs. For example, if your documents are rich with tables and charts, look for a DMS that can handle these hard-to-scan document elements.
- Conversion Issues. Conversion is the other side of capture: What formats can scanned documents or stored documents be converted into? Will the system handle language translation? Can it output documents in Word, Text, PDF, HTML, or other formats?
- Storage Issues. How much data do you anticipate having to store? Will that data be stored on-premises, remotely, or co-located between two or more places? Can additional storage be purchased as needed, or do you have to purchase a storage plan? What are the penalties for exceeding storage limits?
- Retrieval Issues. How easy is it to access the DMS? Can it be done remotely, or must it be done on-premises? How fast are file upload and download times when the system is accessed remotely? Can the system be accessed from a tablet? How about a smartphone?
- Search Issues. The size of some DMS solutions can make searching a difficult task. Every system, it seems, has its own method of search. A robust search functionality will include being able to search document descriptions as well as the documents themselves. It will facilitate searching metadata, will recognize common misspellings, and will auto-complete search inquiries.
- Distribution Issues. Are you able to distribute or syndicate documents from within the DMS? Some systems include an email component that allows you to use the DMS to distribute such items as support materials to a sales staff, or newsletters to subscribers. Distribution can even include printing labels and other packaging, printing, and binding documents; applying metered postage; and other mailing and shipping options.
- Publishing Issues. Can the DMS be used for the assembly of publications such as directories, catalogs, archives, and ebooks? Will it publish these creations in a variety of electronic interchange formats, such as those used for different e-reading devices? Does the system have a DRM component that can assign and track electronic rights, and control access to a document?
- Compliance Issues. If the industry you're in has legal regulations concerning capturing, storing, distributing, or allowing access to information, you might need a system that specifically addresses those particular regulatory needs. Examples include the securities industry, which is governed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and in particular, the Sarbanes-Oxley disclosures act. Those in the medical profession are obligated to follow the privacy protocols known as HIPAA. Many manufacturers are also obligated by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to handle documents in a specified manner. Make sure the DMS you invest in is capable of handling the documentation demands of your industry.
- Security Issues. Security begins with proper document storage and access procedures. You might want a DMS, for example, that forces users to change passwords at regular intervals. Advanced systems will allow multiple categories of users with different levels of access and permissions. Security systems usually include detailed access logs, showing every time a document was accessed, by whom, and from where. Tracking systems that record every single change made to a document are also part of a thorough security system.
- Destruction Issues. How does the system handle archiving old documents or deleting files? Does it allow for automatic document destruction based on date stamps or other criteria? Does the system provide the kind of destruction certification that will satisfy legal concerns?
For an on-premises DMS solution that charges for a software package rather than the number of users or the amount of data stored, expect to pay about:
- Basic Software $60 - $200
- Advanced Software $500 - $1,500
- Custom Software $2,000 and up
For an online DMS (or a hybrid online and on-premises DMS), expect to pay from $15 to $40 per user, per month, depending on how many fancy features you require. Discounts on multi-user licenses are usually available. A typical five-user license is $1,000 to $5,000 per year.
In addition to per-year fees and per-user fees, many DMS charge storage fees based on the amount of data you keep stored on the system. Storage fees can run from as little as 5 cents per gigabyte per month to as high as 10 cents per gigabyte per month. The cost of storage space has declined at a rate of 50% every couple of years for decades now, so you can expect this price to continue dropping.
DMS users with stringent compliance requirements, such as securities firms, medical-records handlers, and government agencies, may require a custom solution that is beyond the scope of this guide. Such compliance-heavy systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars to install and maintain.
- Look for a specialist first. If you're in an industry that has intense documentation regulations, it would be best to find a provider with experience in that same field. If there is no DMS specialist for your field, then try to find a provider with clients in your industry whom you can call upon for a reference.
- Negotiate a multi-user package. If your needs require a large number of users, investigate multi-user discounts. For example, if you have 8 people who need to access the system, it might be cheaper to buy a 10-user package than pay for just 8.
- Avoid long-term contracts. If your DMS is priced mostly based on the amount of storage space you reserve or use, then stay away from long-term contracts that don't allow you to renegotiate the rate. The cost of file storage has consistently dropped by 50% every 18 months for the past several decades. The rate per terabyte you're paying for storage should be cut in half every couple of years. Make sure you don't get locked into a long-term contract that doesn't take this factor into account.
Some of the key factors you should take into consideration when comparing vendors are listed below.
Glossary of Terms
- Capture: The process of entering existing data into a DMS (as opposed to creating it inside the DMS). Capture includes such issues as what languages an OCR will read; what languages a DMS will translate into; and how images, tables, and other graphic elements are dealt with.
- Digital Rights Management (DRM): The science of managing the intellectual property rights associated with documents, images, and other media exchanged digitally. DRM software can include such features as anti-copy features, anti-print features, timed access, login-logout access, encryption, digital watermarking, and other access and duplication restrictions.
- Digital Watermarking: A string of code added as a marker to a digital file to give it a unique identity. It is used not only to combat unauthorized duplication or distribution of documents, but also to track their legitimate migration over time. Digital watermarks are usually hidden in the code of a file and difficult to identify by anyone other than the document's legitimate owners.
- Document Management System (DMS): The term for a filing system for documentation, usually in the form of computer files. The DMS may contain capture and creation features for adding documents to the system, as well as assembly and distribution features. Most systems include tracking features as well.
- Electronic Document Management (EDM): An earlier name for a DMS that is still in use today. It usually refers to an on-premises DMS as opposed to an online DMS.
- HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. Among other things, it specifies the actions medical professionals must take to safeguard patient privacy. DMS for medical professionals is basically built around these rules for tracking document access and revisions.
- Metadata: Bibliographical information that travels along with a document in most document management systems. Metadata includes such information as creation date, modification date, author name, document format, document language, document location, title of document, subjects, categories, keywords, summary of document, etc.
- Optical Character Recognition (OCR) Software: Enables scanning a printed document by recognizing the letter shapes and converting it into text or other formats that can be manipulated using word processing or publishing software. OCR software works in conjunction with a mechanical scanner that parses the document as the original passes across the bed of the scanner.
- Revision Control (also called Versioning): Refers to the ability to store and restore previous versions of a document. Some systems will record every change made to a document; others will record all the changes made in one editing session, but not each individual change. Some systems will store these revisions forever, while others may only show revisions made in the previous year, for example.
- Wiki: A specialized DMS that allows website users to easily create, collaborate on, and manage documents.
- Workflow: Allows for the automation of some aspects of document management. For example, a set of rules can be established as to who has access to a document first, where it is sent when that person is finished with it, how approvals are handled, how the document will be released, and how it will be stored. Workflow is usually integrated with calendar software. The look and feel of the workflow application is a major distinguishing feature among different vendors.
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