Beginner’s Guide to Electronic Document Management


Image source: Getty Images

The future of business is digital. But can you afford to go paperless? Find out what Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) can offer your small business.

Going paperless sounds good. Who wouldn’t want to turn the jumble of handwritten notes, receipts, documents, and records you shuffle every day into a tidy digital library that sorts, categorizes, and retrieves it all for you?

But getting there is a bit difficult. It’s not just the money, but the challenges of choosing the right system, integrating it with your existing applications, and migrating huge amounts of data.

With the many options available today, you can find an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) that will allow you to reap all the benefits of going digital with minimal cost and hassle.

Find out what to look for in an EDMS and how digital documents can transform your small business.

What is an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS)?

An EDMS is software that manages the creation, storage and control of documents electronically.

An EDMS lets you digitize everything from receipts to employee handbooks for online storage and use. The right system can make your business leaner and more agile, providing quick access to information, streamlined document management, and automated workflows.

9 Characteristics of an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS)

When shopping for the best electronic filing system, look for these features.

1. Integration with existing systems

Some electronic document systems can easily integrate with existing systems such as content management systems (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) systems and human resources (HR) software. Look for features like:

  • Integration with the platforms you already use.
  • A single dashboard that provides visibility into documents stored in multiple systems.
  • A system that can access data stored in the cloud and on your premises.

M-Files and DocSend are examples of systems with advanced integration capabilities.

2. Pricing and storage that’s right for your business

The range of electronic transmission solutions features, storage and pricing is broad enough to ensure a solution for every business.

Open source document management systems are available for free in basic versions. These systems are compatible with various operating environments, but their maintenance requires in-house expertise in coding and database management.

Most EDMS solutions include tiered pricing based on storage capacity, features, and customer support levels. It pays to look for a system that matches your document management needs.

Image promoting the unified user experience of M-Files.

M-Files integrates with platforms such as Microsoft Office, SalesForce and SAP. Image source: author

3. Fast and accurate scanning

EDMS systems do the heavy lifting of document creation and filing for you, offering features such as:

  • Fast scanning of large volumes of documents and advanced character recognition to extract data from scanned documents and forms.
  • Convert digital documents to optimal file types for storage as needed.
  • Automatically tagging documents with metadata such as creation date, access and review dates, document type, origin, and keywords for easy sorting and retrieval.
  • Name and index documents according to a logical file structure.
  • Provisions for electronic signatures, watermarks and other attributes.

4. Intelligent ranking and search functions

Your EDMS should make it easy to find and access all of your company’s documents and information with features such as:

  • A user-friendly interface for sorting and retrieving documents.
  • Easy document control for quality-related content, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs).
  • An intuitive and smart search function that users can navigate with minimal configuration and training.
  • The ability to filter by file attributes such as revision date or last user.

5. Sharing and access

An online document control system should also facilitate collaboration and control access to information. Look for a system that lets you:

  • Easily share documents between internal and external stakeholders such as team members, partners, vendors and vendors.
  • Assign user permissions such as read-only, editor, and owner at the user and document levels to prevent accidental sharing with the wrong people.
  • Hide secure files from view.
  • Assign tasks, add comments, and manage reviews from multiple contributors.

6. Version control

Version control is an essential function of an EDMS, preventing errors such as overwriting documents and accessing outdated content. Look for a system that:

  • Automatically creates an audit trail of reviews and approvals so you can always recover lost changes.
  • Streamlines information transfers between teams.
  • Archives outdated versions so they can’t be accidentally accessed.
  • Eliminates redundant content generation and maintenance.

7. Automated Workflows

An EDMS can automate many aspects of document management to improve accuracy and efficiency. Look for a system that:

  • Automatically forwards documents to users for review and publication.
  • Notifies of all changes and approvals.
  • Allows users to assign tasks, upload content, and track deadlines to completion.
  • Automatically manages documents according to established retention schedules to ensure compliance.
  • Lets you create custom workflows to automate your internal business processes and oversee projects.

8. Mobile Access

Many electronic document control systems include mobile apps so your teams can be even more productive. Useful features include:

  • Real-time access to your on-premises document repository from any device.
  • Ability to create, search and download content via mobile devices.
  • Compatibility with a range of phones and tablets.

9. Secure Storage

With so much data and documentation in a single repository, you need state-of-the-art security. An EDMS can protect your data with features such as:

  • Secure cloud storage with data encryption.
  • Fully encrypted password protection that is easy to apply to individual documents and batches of documents.
  • Automatic data backup and disaster recovery functions.
  • Advanced security for mobile access.

DocSend integration functionality with connections to Gmail, Salesforce, Zapier, etc.

DocSend integrates with many platforms and applications. Image source: author

Benefits of choosing an electronic document management system

An EDMS leaves its mark on your company. Here are the biggest benefits.

1. Efficiency and productivity

Providing easy access to all your documents and data reduces staff time spent searching and handling paper documents. It also ensures that employees don’t waste time keeping redundant documents. All those hours saved in the management of paper files contribute to increased productivity and efficiency in your business.

An EDMS also makes it easy to respond to audits and produce other official documents upon request. No more digging through filing boxes to find last year’s tax return—everything is at your fingertips.

2. Cooperation

Instead of sending documents through approval cycles, discussing changes over the phone, and sending attachments via email, your teams can review records and collaborate in real time, even with external stakeholders . An EDMS also provides visibility into business processes for better management.

3. Security

In many companies, documents are scattered across multiple systems, with individual users independently managing passwords, data security, and backups. An EDMS can eliminate these vulnerabilities by ensuring that all your documents are protected and backed up consistently.

4. Quality

Version control ensures your staff are working with the latest information, avoiding costly errors. With all your documents and records visible through one system, you can extract the information you need to track the progress of initiatives, inform decisions and strategy, and ensure compliance with company procedures.

5. Room to grow

Perhaps the most compelling reason to lose paper weight is the space it frees up in your offices. Paper files take up valuable square footage that you can use for better things. If you pay for offsite file storage, you can also put the money to better use.

Investing in an EDMS now positions your business for unlimited growth as more transactions migrate to a digital environment.

Living the Paperless Dream

Going paperless may seem like a pipe dream to some, but with the range of options available, from open source document management solutions to scalable services, there is an EDMS solution that can get you there with minimal disruption. The future of business is paperless. Now is the best time to take the step.

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