Choosing a Document Management System? How to Find the Best One for You

By Karina Fabian
Business.com / Technology Solutions / Last Modified: May 17, 2017

A document management system cuts down on paper waste and lets you collaborate on files electronically. Read more of what these paperless programs can do.

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The paperless office has long been a goal for businesses. As cloud-based file sharing grows, it's becoming a reality, but there are still old files and new paper documents to contend with. Further, most offices are challenged with keeping even electronic files organized, easily accessible and collaboration-enabled.

Document management software (DMS) handles these issues. It combines scanning, storage, organizational and search tools, and collaboration features into a comprehensive system to handle all your documentation needs.

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Primary tools

DMS applications generally work with a stand-alone document scanner for scanning in paper documents. The software then converts the document into the appropriate file – at least PDF or TIFF, but some may convert to DOC or other file formats.

The software also contains tools and templates to properly label documents, some with search terms, and imports them into the central directory. Many allow the saving of versions to preserve past copies of edited documents, aiding in collaboration.

Finally, the system needs storage, which may be in an on-premise server or based in the cloud.

Costs

On-premise system

If you buy your own system and host it on the premises, you own it outright. You have complete control over every aspect of the system, but you are also responsible for security, compliance, upgrades, increased memory needs and upkeep. You may also need an IT professional to maintain it.

To purchase an on-site DMS, you're looking at $350 to $500 in licensing fees and up to $6,000 for the hardware (scanners and servers). If you want to get a maintenance plan, it can run up to $40 per seat per year.

A cloud-based SaaS model has all the software and documents accessible through the internet. The company stores your files on its servers, and you may share the files with other businesses as well. The company maintains the servers and the software, upgrades the software and systems, and provides help if you have problems with the system. However, it also secure its own systems. You need to be sure any DMS service you hire is compliant with regulations for your industry. You also need to be sure it can provide enough storage.

Cloud-based SaaS

A SaaS model requires monthly payments, but the company takes care of upgrades, repairs and storage. Costs range from $10 to $50 per month. On-site installation may be a separate fee of $30 to $800. You may have to purchase scanners yourself, but cloud-based systems usually provide cloud storage that the company maintains.

Before signing a contract, however, make sure you understand what you are paying for. Are repairs included in the regular fees? How about licensing? Will the prices change after the first year? What if you need more storage?

Features

Most document management systems have some basic features like search tools to find specific files, the ability to mail documents as attachments, and version control, which lets you save different versions as changes are made. In addition, be sure to check for these specifics:

  • Compatibility. Be sure the DMS works with your operating system, whether Mac or PC, Linux or Windows 10. This is an especially important consideration for self-hosted, on-premise systems.

  • Regulation compliance. Does the software support the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the FDA Good Manufacturing Practices, or ISO 9000/9001 regulatory compliance requirements? Is the system DoD 5015.2 and VERS certified?

  • Integration. Does the program integrate with Microsoft Outlook, your CRM, accounting software or document-signing programs? Is there an API capability to integrate it with your in-house software?

  • Security. Can you password-protect or restrict access to certain documents? Can you monitor who is accessing certain files or get alerts when someone changes a file? Can you set rules for deleting outdated files?

  • Mobile access. This is especially convenient if you have employees who work out of the office.

  • Forms. Does the system provide templates that allow for metatags to aid searches? Does it have a forms module, and if so, how easy is it to use?

  • Installation. Can the company modify the software or installation to suit your needs? Does it allow you to install the software yourself?

  • Service, maintenance and ongoing support. If you get support for an on-premise or SaaS system, ask about what maintenance it provides, response times and (in the case of SaaS) the storage system reliability – backups, how outages are handled, and how it's secured. Look on the support site for FAQs and tutorials.

With any software, one of the prime considerations is how easy it is to use. Ask to see a demo or watch some online tutorials. Also ask about breakdown rates of the equipment and whether they are compatible with your operating systems.

The paperless office used to be a joke, but technology has improved enough to make it a plausible reality. DMS software can go a long way toward making your office less cluttered and more efficient, which often means more profitable as well.

Image from koya979/Shutterstock

Karina Fabian
Karina Fabian is a full-time writer and mother of four. By day, she writes reviews of business products and services for Top Ten Reviews and articles for Business.com, Business News Daily and Tom’s IT Pro. As a freelancer, she writes for Catholic educational sites and teaches writing skills. She has 17 published novels of science fiction and fantasy. Learn more at http://fabianspace.com.

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