The right management solution to streamline business workflow is integral to every small business. A document management system (DMS) can save your company time and money by storing, managing and tracking electronic documents and images. There are several competitive solutions on the market for offices that predominantly operate on Microsoft devices.
We spoke with technology and operation experts about what software and features to look for when considering a DMS.
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How to choose a DMS that works on Microsoft devices
Microsoft users are at an advantage when looking for a DMS that is compatible across platforms — most document management systems can be used on Microsoft devices. Although you should verify Microsoft compatibility before you purchase a DMS, there are other capabilities you need to look for too.
“Microsoft’s greatest benefit is its ubiquity in that it is used by countless businesses in nearly every industry,” Pravin Vazirani, managing director and co-head of tech investing at Owl Rock Capital, told business.com. “While this ubiquity is excellent for uniform document sharing, the needs of a business for document management can be more industry- and even business-specific.”
Vazirani said to verify that your chosen DMS is compatible with other systems your business currently leverages (outside of the MS Office suite). Integration across multiple business systems can simplify several workplace processes.
“For instance, if you are looking to manage financial data, then it is imperative that the DMS you use is able to communicate with your accounting and finance software,” said Vazirani. “This will allow for improved process automation and remove data silos. To ensure that a platform is compatible, leverage custom software developers to create company-specific patches and programs to help these systems all interconnect and communicate.”
Since your industry and business needs play a major role in which document management software is the best for your business, follow this step-by-step guide for choosing a DMS.
Assess your needs.
Identify which industry- or business-specific regulations are applicable to you. This will help determine the purpose of your DMS and the needs it should meet. A DMS can do a lot for your business. Many companies benefit from features like document creation, version control, document imaging, single sign-on access, collaboration tools, mobile app capabilities, an intuitive user interface and seamless integration with other applications; however, if you are a small startup that just needs basic document management tools, you can opt for a less comprehensive DMS.
Every business, regardless of size or industry, should choose a DMS that can grow with it. For example, if you anticipate you will eventually acquire non-Microsoft devices, look for an option that is compatible across several platforms.
Create a budget.
Use your budget as a planning tool when searching for the best Microsoft DMS for your company. With your budget in mind, you can control spending, identify vendors out of your range, and understand how incorporating a DMS will affect your bottom line. Creating a budget will also help alleviate finding the “perfect” match you cannot afford.
Additionally, assess the cost of advanced versions. If your business grows and you need to scale your DMS, ensure you can afford the comprehensive version instead of switching to a completely different solution, which places you back at square one.
Research the market.
Explore the options available to you. Ask to review the vendor’s cloud services agreement to determine the system’s availability time. Also, see how many hours of maintenance they reserve. Billable hours can suffer when there is downtime in centralized software like a DMS.
Be forthright and ask why customers have left a vendor to go to a competitor. This question will often uncover a weakness that may or may not be a dealbreaker for your company. If you find a DMS that seems to fit what you are looking for, read the reviews and determine if other customers had a good experience. Also, look out for the vendor’s service credibility. Often one-size-fits-all software may have a lower rate that makes it seem more attractive, but they won’t be able to meet your specific business needs — and adapting is out of the question.
Determine the level of security.
What will you store in your DMS? Do you need varying levels of file-sharing permissions? The scope of security you need helps determine which DMS is best for your Microsoft devices. Your company’s information, as well as each client’s, must be protected against cyber attacks, breaches and theft.
Be sure the DMS you choose is compliant with the latest regulations and security protocols in your industry. Ask vendors how often they perform security updates to gauge if they will have an adequate level of protection to fit your needs. Working alongside your chosen vendor, stay adamant about updating and monitoring your security levels to prevent breach issues.
Take advantage of demos/trials.
Use free trials to get first-hand experience with the DMS you are researching. The try-before-you-buy mentality will help you make a more informed decision about the software and give you confidence when implementing the DMS you decided to choose.
During your demo phase, see if the vendor can connect you with active customers who have the same business background as your company. At this point, you will be familiar enough with the software that talking to current customers can provide you with specific DMS strengths and weaknesses. Check out their claims for yourself to see if the system will work for your needs.
Determine user accessibility.
How tech-savvy is your team? Choose a platform that employees across your organization can easily implement and learn. Minimum training for employees with the DMS should be a priority because employees shouldn’t have to refer to a user manual when operating the DMS. Additionally, the interface should be simple enough that employees don’t get frustrated or have difficulty learning the system.
Proper integration with the systems your employees are already using is also key. The goal should be for the DMS to streamline the daily tasks your team handles. Keep in mind that seamless integration will play a big factor in your team’s accessibility as you implement the DMS.
The scope of security you need helps determine which DMS is best for your Microsoft devices. Consider what you store in your DMS and whether or not you need varying levels of file-sharing permissions.
What is a document management system?
A document management system (DMS) is a digital system that is used to store, organize, track and manage documents. It is essentially an electronic filing cabinet. Some common DMS features include image scanning, optical character recognition (OCR), document sharing and collaboration capabilities, electronic signatures, version control, workflow automation, and user permissions. The right document management system can help your business with process efficiencies, data security, cross-collaboration and regulatory compliance.
Is Microsoft Office Suite a document management system?
Although it is often confused for one, Microsoft Office Suite (MS Office) is not a complete DMS. Many companies use MS Office in tandem with a DMS to create a comprehensive, scalable way to manage electronic documents.
Microsoft Office Suite
If Microsoft Office Suite is not considered a DMS, what is it? MS Office Suite is a combined set of programs that companies of all sizes can use for basic business productivity tasks. You can buy the software as a one-time purchase for use on a single PC or Mac device, or you can choose a SaaS plan and pay a monthly subscription fee.
“Due to its proliferation and holistic approach, it [MS Office Suite] is normally the de facto business software package that is leveraged by companies both large and small,” said Vazirani. “The collective nature of the MS Office experience enables office productivity and helps facilitate what we can consider as the lifecycle of documentation.”
MS Office Suite includes access to document creation capabilities like word processing (Word), spreadsheet generation (Excel) and presentation production (PowerPoint).
Document management systems
The main difference between MS Office and DMS is the basic functionality. While MS Office focuses on document creation, DMS addresses document organization and maintenance. Vazirani elaborated on each use case, providing examples of when a business might use one or the other solution.
“With DMS, companies can properly store documents and rapidly recall them for later use to advance business operations and decision-making,” said Vazirani. “MS Office offers several components that feature DMS, but it also features document generation and sharing capabilities as well.”
Vazirani said business owners should remember that just because MS Office has DMS features doesn’t mean that alternative DMS platforms are not worth considering. Your business’s document creation and storage needs will determine whether you will need one or both solutions.
Is Microsoft SharePoint a DMS?
Although Microsoft SharePoint can serve document management purposes for some businesses, it is not a DMS on its own. SharePoint has many use cases, primarily servicing enterprise content management and intranet building. That makes it a better option for large enterprises, as opposed to small businesses looking for Microsoft document management.
“It [SharePoint] is a flexible and customizable platform used for building multiple types of solutions, such as intranets, learning management systems, ticketing software and more,” said Sergey Golubenko, SharePoint department coordinator/solution architect at ScienceSoft. “However, this platform is best suited for building document management systems, as it offers rich capabilities for this particular use case.”
Golubenko added that SharePoint provides easy creation, structured and secure storage, fast search and retrieval of documents, real-time collaboration, versioning, audit trail, compliance support, and other relevant capabilities.
Look for a DMS that is compatible with other systems. Integration across multiple business systems can simplify workplace processes.
The best document management systems that integrate with Office 365
Office 365 is the cloud-based subscription version of the MS Office Suite. In addition to MS Office features (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), it includes calendar and email management (Outlook), database management for PC (Access), publishing for PC (Publisher), note-taking capabilities (OneNote), online storage (OneDrive), and regular software updates. It is available for use across multiple PCs and Macs, as well as Android and iOS devices.
Since most document management systems easily integrate with MS Office and Office 365, examine which features come with each platform to help you choose a document management system that best fits your needs.
Learn more about some of the best document management software in our review of DocuWare, our M-Files review and our review of FileHold.
Additional reporting by Skye Schooley.