Getting Control of Your Documents

April 1, 2009
If you’re in business, you have documents.

Probably files and files of them. The cost of maintaining and retrieving documents can be staggering. The document management blog,, quotes a study, “IDC has estimated that the typical enterprise with 1,000 knowledge workers wastes $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year searching for nonexistent information, failing to find existing information or recreating information that can’t be found.”

The blog also cites a Coopers & Lybrand study revealing that 90 percent of corporate memory exists on paper, but that paper 90 percent of the time, on average, is merely shuffled and moved from place to place. The average document is copied 19 times. Most telling, professionals spend up to half of their time looking for information but spend only 5 percent to 15 percent reading that information.

Many, if not most, documents are essential records required for various governmental regulations. They could be required for patent searches, tax records, product history or many other purposes. Storage can be costly, and security is always a problem. Essential files can just walk out the door. Distribution of paper documents is costly and time consuming. The situation seems ripe for exploiting modern computing technologies such as Internet connectivity, document scanning, electronic distribution and Web storage.

In the clouds

Many computer-based document storage and retrieval products exist, but the use of software-as-a-service, or SaaS, is exploding in this market. With SaaS, documents are scanned and the electronic copy is stored on a server accessible over the Internet—often hosted by a supplier and stored in what is known as “the cloud.” Back-ups are easy and routine. Sorting, retrieval, searching and distribution become much easier. The process falls under the purview of the information technology (IT) department, so it can bring its governance procedures to the party—backup, security, corporate standards and the like. SaaS solutions make application upgrade, version control, patches and access cheaper and cleaner. IT’s role goes from software development and desktop maintenance to specification and governance supervision.

Knowledgetree, a San Francisco-based supplier of document management solutions, offers a few considerations for evaluating systems:

Is the software easy to use with a consistent user interface? Does it allow you the flexibility to adapt to your organization’s goals and culture? Is it accessible from existing tools such as Web browsers, Microsoft Office tools and email?

Does it have lightweight Web and graphical user interfaces that work well over your intranet, virtual private network and the Internet for mobile and remote users?

Does it provide support for common tools used for the volume digitization of paper documents and integration with other devices that generate digital documents such as fax servers?

If you intend on integrating the document management system with other software within your enterprise (for example, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning software), does it have an ecosystem of pre-built third-party application connectors and strong, standards-based integration technologies and developer application programming interfaces (APIs) that support further integration?

Correctly implemented document management systems will speed your time to market with new products, help you meet regulatory requirements economically and increase the productivity of your knowledge workers. Organizations must do more with their content—far beyond just filing it away. Modern tools can make all of this intellectual property work for the organization rather than being a cost sink.

If you are up to your ears in filing systems, forever looking for that crucial document, or if your electronic system does not support interfaces to your applications, then it is time to investigate better ways of handling  all of this accumulated corporate knowledge.

Gary Mintchell, [email protected], is Editor in Chief of Automation World.

Related Story: Read Jim Pinto's March column about SaaS

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