A Guide to Document Management

Introduction to Document Management

When the desktop computer was introduced into the office it was predicted that there would be a major reduction on our dependence on paper. However, the paperless office has not become a reality, if anything the paper mountain appears to be increasing.

As organisations throughout the world produce ever-increasing volumes of paper documents this brings with it major headaches.

Some of the disadvantages to storing vast amounts of paper include:

  • accommodation required for storage, ranging from filing cabinets, rooms to building
  • paper files can be very easily damaged
  • documents are easily lost and / or misfiled
  • files are often not readily accessible
  • cannot (without several copies) be easily filed by more than one criterion
  • vast amounts of staff time tired-up gathering and collating documents
  • sharing documents with others can be difficult
  • disaster recovery can be very difficult when relying on a single data source
  • Managing your organisations documents electronically may be the answer. But serious consideration needs to be made of how you want individuals to access this information.

    Here we set out some of the advantages, and disadvantages of storing data electronically and some of the alternate systems available will also be discussed together with their relative merits.

    The Basic Principle to Document Management

    Generally this involves taking the hard copy original document(s) then scanning them to produce an electronic image of the page(s). The most frequently used format for such images is Tagged Image Format Files (TIFF) which can be single or multipage images.

    If you have smaller quantities and / or the time, this could be done by means of a standard flat-bed scanner but for larger industrial scale quantities this should be done using high-speed rotary scanners. Similar to photocopiers which have automatic document feeding capabilities that can scan in the region of 200 pages per minute.

    The obvious disadvantage of this type of scanner is their cost. A typical rotary scanner can cost £/$ 000’s plus and therefore might not be the type of equipment that most companies will consider or can afford to purchase unless they have a significant scanning requirement to warrant such a significant outlay.

    Having scanned the documents, they will need to be indexed by some means so that they can be search for and retrieved easily. This can be seen as a similar process to filing / cataloguing a document, for instance, in alphabetical order. Every image scanned is viewed and information, for example, invoice number or supplier name is identified and entered into a database.

    This can be a manual process or automated by using barcode reading or Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. OCR is a method by which each character within the scanned image is examined by the software and converted into a computer readable character code.

    When the index database has been created, your documents will then be easily found and can be sorted by any of their keywords held in the database. For instance, an invoice might be indexed by number, date and customer name. This is a major advantage of electronic storage: documents can now filed and / or sorted in several different ways and are consequently found far more easily than in their original paper filed format.

    An option to creating a database is to re-name the image(s) by the title of the document. For instance, sales invoices where all image are given a filename which corresponds to their invoice number. This has the obvious disadvantage as it only provides a single means of searching for a particular document image.

    After scanning and indexing, the images and their related database, (if one is created) they can then be written to CD, DVD or similar medium for storage or retention or to be returned to the customer. In general a CD can store in the region of 16,000 images. That’s comparable to two, four-drawer filing cabinets.

    There’s a whole host of differing image viewing software programmes and database formats available to organisations (regardless of size) on the market.

    TIFF versus PDF

    A lot of people know of the Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) for creating and viewing electronic documents. Basically, PDF is a widely used format that can be read by anybody who has Adobe Acrobat Reader (which provides an electronic image of text or text and graphics that looks like a printed document). Available free of charge from Adobe, PDF’s are often used when distributing documents or ideal for those people who want to publish information on the web.

    One of the disadvantage of PDF is that the file may be somewhat larger in size than the corresponding TIFF file but is still a widely accepted format.

    There are systems available to index PDF files and OCR can be used to generate “Image and Hidden Text” format PDF’s where the text of the document is not only viewable, it can also be edited. In addition, text can be copied and pasted into other formats for example Microsoft Word. Obviously this editable format should not be used for documents that have to be exact copies of the original paper document.

    ERM / COLD Files

    Electronic Reports Management / Computer Output to Laser Disc is technology that radically reduces the number of paper printouts that an organisation may normally produce. A COLD system will intercept the stream of data that is sent by a host computer to a printer. This information is intelligently indexed; past systems were designed to store the data onto optical disk as opposed to paper. With the massive reduction in costs for hard disk storage space, files are more likely to be stored on an organisations central server. COLD technology revolutionizes the way businesses view report documents.

  • A dramatic reduction in cost associated with the creation of microfiche and printed reports.
  • Reduce recurring and time-consuming tasks of administrative personnel.
  • Enhances customer service by completing client requests for information immediately.
  • data is kept online and near line on high capacity storage reducing the large amounts of storage space required for microfiche or paper.
  • Choosing the System To best Suit Your Organisational Needs

    As previously mentioned, there are a huge number of options and solutions available on the market but for the most part they follow one of two patterns.

    They either, link images to a search database and software allows you to search and find a document by using keywords in search fields.

    Alternatively, an image is given specific filename that relate to the document and are then saved in a directory-tree format. For instance you might have a series of directories relating to the months of a year into which the files are stored by their invoice number.

    Clearly, the database system provides a greater degree of flexibility and offers easier searching for documents as the number of search fields could be virtually limitless.

    The majority of viewing software programmes perform the same functions; allowing you to see a documents image on screen, being able to print copies as well as emailing or faxing copies to others.

    A system may be stand-alone where images are stored on CD, or where images are transferred to hard disk or shared network drives. There are systems currently available where images are saved to remote web servers which are retrieved via the internet.

    If you’ve investigated purchasing a system you’ll be aware that the costs of software package vary greatly. You could look to install your own in-house system but the cost involved for appropriate hardware, sufficient software licenses and not forgetting the manpower required, would more than likely, make this option suitable only for those organisations with large volumes of scanning. Many businesses have taken this route, installed a system, only to find later that they have need assistance from external agencies.

    Cost Estimates

    Typically, costs associated with a project are based on:

  • collection
  • preparation
  • scanning
  • indexing
  • supplying CD’s or other media
  • software
  • Some companies might quote low scanning costs but charge heavily for other services, such as, the cost of CD’s for storage could vary from £5.00 to £100.00 each.

    Evaluate Paperwork

    Conduct a survey of the existing paperwork to be scanned to establish volume, this will enable you to calculate a more accurate time-scale for the scanning process.

    The main items that they will need to evaluate are:

    1. an estimation of the approximate number of pages to be scanned?

    Note: As a general guide a typical 4-drawer filing cabinet can contain in the region of 8,000 sheets and for documents stacked on their edge on a shelf one linear foot holds somewhere in the order of 1000 pages.

    2. Will the work to be carried out as a single operation or do you anticipate regular collections of documents?

    3. Have an appreciation of the quality of the paperwork?

    4. A useful way for categorising paperwork is as follows:

    A Quality - A4, single / double sided, uniform colour background, single orientation (e.g. reports etc.)

    B Quality - A4, single / double sided, various colour backgrounds, various orientations (e.g. sales invoices)

    C Quality - Various sizes up to A3, various colour backgrounds, various orientations (e.g. purchase invoices / expense claims)

    5. Are there any coloured documents to be scanned?

    6. Are there any drawings?

    7. How will you find your saved documents?

    It is possible to have any number of index fields but as each set of data will in all probability be entered manually, additional search fields means a higher cost. Longer search fields might also increase the cost as this is charged per keystroke used to enter the data.

    8. Does the organisation already have any of the search data available in electronic format?

    Many organisations can match existing data with scanned images. Typically a unique field is manually entered for each image and then this is matched with the existing data.

    For instance, your system may already have a list of customer names and addresses for each invoice. If proofs of delivery are to be scanned in, the invoice number on each POD is entered and matched to the existing data. You can then search by invoice number, customer name or address but will only be charged for the cost of entering the invoice number plus a small charge for data-matching.

    9. Will documents returned to you or do you want them destroyed?

    10. Will you want to publish information on the internet? If so, you may need to consider the PDF format.

    Some disadvantages to Electronic Document Storage

    One disadvantage of electronic document storage is the perceived cost of scanning and indexing. However, when compared to the cost of storing the vast amounts of paper and the noticeable time saved when retrieving documents, in general, substantial long term cost reductions are achieved by its use.

    Security might be a major consideration and if so, take care to ensure the system chosen will only be accessed by authorised staff.

    You may need to ensure that your organisations electronic records are acceptable to regulatory and government bodies. For example, at the time of writing, the Financial Standards Authority does not accept electronic records in all cases. However, Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise together with most other government bodies are perfectly happy to accept them.

    This free evaluation sheet may be of assistance in assessing your initial requirements ensuring that you are provided with an accurate quotation for the project.

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