Document Management

Top Tips: Devising a document management strategy

11-11-2015-devising-a-document-management-strategyJon Wainwright is Sales Director at Ascertus Limited. Prior to Ascertus, he was Sales Director with responsibility for driving sales and growing the business at Solicitec. His experience in the document and case management sector spans more than 22 years. During this time, he has helped many legal and accounting firms as well as large corporate and government departments implement strategic end to end document life cycle management and automation solutions.

Jon shares his top tips on devising a document management strategy.

In the current 24 x7 digital business, multi-device and mobile environment, document management isn’t straightforward. Think about all the different types of documents that exist in organisations – employee contracts, supplier agreements, terms and conditions, policies, minutes, spreadsheets, letters, and the list goes on. Furthermore, in an organisation, there can be many locations where documents can be stored – it could reside in a physical file folder in an office cupboard, on an employee’s personal desktop, or in an Outlook inbox. In fact, email poses a significant challenge to organisations. As the default communication and collaborative platform, a large proportion of ‘knowledge’ in organisations reside in individual email accounts. Emails are no longer simply text briefs, they often are business-critical records and contain important file attachments that should really be stored in a secure location and be accessible by the relevant people.

Additionally, documents in general aren’t based on standard formats and key words, so archiving them in a user-friendly manner is difficult. Then throw into the mix communications mechanisms like voice mails, SMS and instance messages – the complexity compounds. 

A global IDC survey shows that information workers waste 12.1% of their time per week dealing with challenges related to document creation and management – all of which translates into loss of organisational productivity of 9.8%. Eliminating the time wasted related to creating and managing documents would be equivalent to adding 98 new employees in a 1000 person company. The time wasting tasks include searching for, but not finding information; recreating documents and pulling information that exists in different files and formats into a single document.

Against this backdrop, any organisation that is looking to adopt a document management solution must have a clear strategy behind implementing the system to ensure that it meets the requirements of the business. Here are some considerations when devising a document management strategy:


Evaluate what content exists – Elementary as it sounds, ascertain what content exists and where it’s stored – is it in email inboxes, shared network folders, physical files, intranet and so on. Think about the document management challenges that your organisation faces because of its business structure – i.e. are you a single or multi-office company, UK-based or multi-geography, and the like. What data is secure and what is not? What document retention policies are in place? How easy is it to audit the information stored, particularly for compliance and governance purposes? Discovering how things stack up will in turn help determine the initial composition of the strategy and the basis for the solution.


What technologies are currently used for document management? – Often departments (finance, accounting, legal, human resource, etc.) in organisations use different types of technology systems for their functions such as PeopleSoft, Microsoft SharePoint, Dropbox, Public File Shares etc. On the other hand, professional services firms offering high volume legal services like personal injury, debt recovery and conveyancing tend to use case management systems. Some of these technology solutions do offer limited, light-touch document management capability – templates for letters, specific documents etc., but recording emails, voicemails and correspondence are out of scope. Therefore, the document management solution you chose must be able to integrate with these varied function-specific systems.


Is mobility key to your business? – If your organisation supports Bring Your Own Device and staff are often on the move, using mobile devices (e.g. smartphones, iPhones, iPads, tablets) to work remotely or out of the office, the document management strategy must accommodate these requirements so that the resulting solution switches seamlessly between ‘in office’ and ‘on the road’ usage. For instance, often contract finalisations and authorisations get delayed because decision-makers are travelling. To overcome this difficulty, individuals share bulky documents via file sharing tools (e.g. Dropbox), which aren’t secure enough to transfer confidential information. So understand the extent of mobility requirements of your organisation. It may surface that the document management solution you chose must support mobile working beyond facilitating sharing of documents – it must also capture and collate related data and discussions while on the move – just as it does in an on-premise environment.


What are your internal document management policies? – Foremost, it’s important to assess how documents are currently being stored – i.e. in Microsoft Exchange Servers, public folders, or anywhere else. It’s necessary to identify the standard policies already in place with reference to how documents should be stored, for how long, who can access them, what folder structures currently exist in the various departments/company, what workflows are already in place, and so on. Given the complexity of both the technology environment and transactions, a matter/project-centric approach to document management is worth contemplating – it is the simplest and most intuitive.

It requires configuring the document management system so that all information and documents related to particular, unique issues are stored in matter-related workspaces from across data sources – everything from correspondence, images, data, presentations, pleadings, voicemails, emails, contracts and more. Such an approach enables the organisation to even capture dialogues and discussions that take place via email pertaining to matters that don’t necessarily form part of more formalised documents.


What compliance and governance rules need to be followed? – With ever stringent and growing complexity of compliance, records and documents are essential evidence that organisations must store. In addition, regulatory rules vary by industry sector too. Identify these requirements upfront so that the document management solution that is deployed follows an intuitive, logical process. In many sectors, organisations’ approach to document management is increasingly being driven by their clients, especially in view of the ever mounting challenge of cyber security. Frequently, customers want to know upfront the partner organisation’s approach to storing sensitive documents and the security implications those processes might have. Things like where the data repositories reside and in which jurisdictions top client queries and concerns.  

Understanding the ‘lay of the land’ in terms of the organisation’s existing approach to document storage and management, followed by articulation of the requirements of the business makes solution selection much easier. It becomes straightforward to design and implement, but more crucially adopt. Like most technologies, if there isn’t a firm-wide buy-in to follow certain processes, people automatically revert to the ‘old’ ways of working – it’s simply a case of familiarity.  If properly executed based on a strategy that incorporates the requirements of the business and especially, end users – document lifecycle management automation offers numerous benefits – from efficiency and productivity through to reduced risk and compliance. Finally, it’s imperative that the strategy for the solution is devised in a way that it seamlessly fits into the larger, overarching technology strategy of the organisation. Only then will it truly deliver value.


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