No matter how you look at it, there are some scary facts and figures about the growth of data. A Berkeley University study revealed that mankind produced 12 exabytes of data in all history up to 1999, another 12 exabytes from 1999 to 2002 and another 12 exabytes in 2003. That’s a lot of data to deal with, a problem recognised by large corporations a decade ago but one that’s only recently been recognised by smaller businesses.

Interestingly, despite the advent of computers, paper document generation, while dropping as a proportion of all documents, continues to grow in absolute terms. Ten years ago, only about 10 percent of documents were presented in digital form, e.g. Word or Excel files. Analysts predict an eventual decline in paper documents to about 30 percent in the near future. Nevertheless, as a result of the rapid growth in data, the number of printed pages will actually double by 2005 and double again by 2010. For most organisations, computer printouts, photocopies, and fax transmissions will remain a predominant part of many core business functions.

Business success depends on the ability to secure, centrally manage, and quickly disseminate critical information assets. But in most organisations, as much as 80 percent of its information is locked up on user’s computers and e-mail servers, in Outlook PST files or piled up in an in-tray. This content is difficult to access and it is almost impossible to ensure that the most current versions of documents are shared across the organisation. What’s more, this vital business content can easily be corrupted or lost and is extremely costly to re-create if an employee leaves the organisation or it is not properly backed up.
Document management (DM) is becoming a major productivity problem at a time when businesses are doing everything they can to decrease costs and increase productivity: companies are awash with data and failing to manage it properly is costing them money.

Buying in to DM
Enter document management, whose aim is to create an environment in which a piece of information can be easily located, tracked, accessed and sent instantly to the people who need it. Document management systems are now expected to integrate and provide all the information necessary to make business decisions quickly, regardless of the data’s source and form, from a variety of qualitative and quantitative sources.
Converting paper documents into scanned digital images is often regarded as the primary value of DM. The prospect of being able to merge the worlds of paper and digital documents into one and access them instantly via your PC is tantalising. As a result, document management can unify document types that hitherto were worlds apart.

A caveat: OK, so your company can make a business case for DM. But before rushing out to spend money on hardware and software it’s important to remember that the principal benefits of DM derive from a change in business process and practice and not purely from the technology alone. Before you purchase a system, examine your processes and see if they can be improved before, during or after the purchase of new Document Management systems. Only then will you receive the full benefit of the technology improvement.

The DM Process
The DM process comprises several components:

Image Capture
When you scan a paper document, you capture a digital image of that document. For some small offices or departments, scanning and saving digital images in TIFF or PDF format may be a big improvement over the paperbound way of managing documents.

Storage
Consider how much hard disk space you’ll need if you intend to convert a floor full of filing in to digital format.

Data Capture
Indexing your documents, either scanned or digital, is vital, as this is how users will be able to find what they’re looking for. Users can manually index a document based on keywords, (or metadata) as they scan documents. In addition, if the DM program can perform optical character recognition (OCR) the computer can index every word in the document or pre-defined areas on a page and auto-populate the index fields.

Retrieval
It goes without saying that it’s got to be easy to locate the document you’re looking for.

Access rights
It’s important to determine which members of staff have access to which documents.

DM Benefits
There are several advantages of digital document storage over relying on files stored in file cabinets. First, electronic files cannot get misfiled in the way paper files can. Firms can also save costs because they no longer have to expand office space to accommodate ever-increasing onsite storage needs. Filing cabinets are no longer needed, too.

Most importantly, using a document management system can be vastly more efficient. Staff no longer need to walk over to a centrally-located file cabinet, open the file drawer, pull out the appropriate records and return to their desk. With a document management system, you turn to a PC, search for a document and display the file that you want on your monitor. With such a system, all your files become true resources for you and these files can then easily be faxed or emailed to someone else.
Modern document management systems also allow the opening up some parts of it to the outside world in a secure way: this would allow customers or suppliers to access specific documents through your website or extranet in a controlled way.

Another huge benefit of electronic document storage is the security of knowing that you can backup your documents and store them offsite for quick retrieval in the event of an emergency. Being able to search every e-mail or fax as well as letters and memos is tremendously useful to companies as this data was typically ‘lost’ to them, before the days of DM. Legal compliance is also much simplified thanks to DM. In the US, the ability to produce documentary evidence in court is now mandatory, thanks to the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation.

DM and the SMB
Although it’s true that small businesses usually have limited IT resources, today’s modern document management systems have matured greatly. They come with plenty of ready-to-use features and are easy to install and maintain. It’s also easy to integrate them with archiving and back-up products.
During the past decade, document management was a solution afforded only by larger organisations. Today, system costs have become reasonable. A small office can pay less than a thousand pounds to obtain a starter document management system. This would include a mid-level scanner (£200), a computer system to store the files and application (£600), and the necessary software (£100). Often, organisations can implement a department-scale system for less than the cost of hiring another staff member or bringing in a new printer or copier. This kind of ‘per head’ investment is relatively cheap given the potential returns in terms of cost saving, efficiency and compliance.