Woman review documents on her desk, as well as through her document control software.
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April 11, 2019
    Article highlights
  • What is document control software?
  • Document control best practices.

Most jobs have a “not so fun but must be done” component to them, and document control might be one of them.

Regardless of your industry, your company most likely produces a lot of documents that require some level of a document control system to keep everything organized. If your business is a one-person venture, then you might make do with a simple filing cabinet to store all your paperwork.

But for most modern businesses, even small ones, you need a document control system – or more specifically, a document control software.

What Is Document Control Software?

For starters, what is document control? In general, it means establishing standard processes (often via a document control policy) for creating, approving, modifying, publishing, and distributing documents that employees can easily access.

In specific industries, such as manufacturing, companies produce an enormous volume of documentation to comply with local, state, and federal laws and regulation – all of which must be meticulously managed.

Documents vs records

It might help to break down the difference between a document and a record – a necessary distinction because they each need to be treated differently, especially in terms of quality control.

Think of these terms as being in the “before” and “after” phases of when they occur in business operations. When you are planning what needs to be accomplished, you create a document to guide you.

Documents can go through various changes based on research, discovery, and feedback you might get to help you tweak your approach to what needs to be accomplished. Examples: business plan, organizational chart, process map.

On the other hand, when you have already completed something, you create a record to keep track of the task or process after the fact.

Records should absolutely not change, as they accurately reflect and capture work already completed. Examples: employee training verification, internal audit reports, meeting minutes.

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Document management vs document control

With this understanding, your next questions might be what is document control and how does it differ from document management?

When employees are collaborating and sharing documents, there should be some way to manage all the information they are accessing, using, and changing. Document management helps facilitate what is being shared, where it is being stored, and who has access to it.

However, the more these documents are accessed, used, and changed, it becomes critical to maintain version control. (What changes were made? How does this current document compare to previous versions? Who made the changes? When were these changes made?)

If this document management process is handled poorly, it can lead to erroneous data and document duplication, both of which can create huge problems and become costly on many fronts (i.e., financially, legally, etc.).

This is where document control elevates the process beyond simple file sharing and storing. Document control takes into account the entire lifecycle of a document and establishes a framework for creating, sharing, modifying, approving, publishing and eventually archiving and/or destroying a document.

A strong document control system ensures that documents contain current, trustworthy, reliable, approved information. This system encompasses the entire workflow, maintains one master copy of each document, and includes an activity history.

In essence, document control is a more robust and, well, controlled way to manage your documents, and it is often best managed through document control software.

Employee tries to get control of documents the manual way, without a document control software.

Document control and ISO 9001

For special consideration, if you need to meet ISO 9001 requirements regarding quality management systems, then you know the critical importance of document control.

According to the International Organization for Standardization, these family of standards “provide guidance and tools for companies and organizations who want to ensure that their products and services consistently meet customer’s requirements, and that quality is consistently improved.”

In particular, ISO 9001:2015 provides criteria for a quality management system that companies of any size can be certified to.

Document Control Best Practices

If you are ready to move beyond simply sharing files and managing documents and tap into a robust document control system, you should adopt the following best practices.

Use a consistent naming convention

The most basic step in good document control begins with how you name your documents and organize your files. While there is no “right” or “wrong” method for doing this, the key is consistency throughout your company.

This becomes increasingly important when documents – especially critical documents like policies and procedures – go through many updates and/or revisions. You need to be able to track each version.

By establishing a naming and organizing convention that all employees use consistently, it will be easier to identify the most current version and access previous versions when needed. If you use document control software, it should automatically save each version of your document, using distinct names for each version.

Use consistent document templates

In addition to uniform naming conventions, you should use consistent templates for your documents to ensure they all contain accurate, thorough information every time, regardless of who creates them.

For example, you should develop a lifecycle management template for an efficient document workflow process. The template should include the author of each document and when the original was created. It should include who reviewed the document (including any fact-checkers), as well as who approved the document and when.

The template should include a current status (i.e., draft, revised, approved) so employees can tell at a glance where in the process the document lies. In the case of multiple document revisions, the template should include the revision number for employees to identify not only the latest version but also previous versions for comparison.

Use active directory to sync users and groups

Syncing your users and groups through active directory is a great way to keep everything up-to-date.

Each software operates a little differently, so look for tools that allow you to sync via active directory. That way, you can set your security and document controls on a group and role level and individual users will receive and lose access based on their active directory status.

It’s one more way to leverage document control software to automate processes so you spend less time managing permissions and more time on the things that matter to you.

Use a secure system to store all your documents

Information security tops the list of concerns when using a document control system, especially for those documents containing sensitive data. As mentioned above, your system should be able to restrict document access so only certain employees can open and read certain documents.

Beyond this, your document control system should also use one central, secure, password-protected repository to store all documents.

A document control software like PowerDMS can do all of this and more with customizable security settings. You can control who has access to documents and track and manage who has viewed them, whether you need controls on individual employees, departments, or other configurations.

Our robust solution manages the document lifecycle, drives accountability, tracks revisions easily, and provides secure on-the-go access, giving you the security you need to protect your digital business assets.

Employee uses PowerDMS to get control of documents.

Track all activities for compliance

As part of that control process, you want an activity log and/or document history to track what has changed, by whom, and when – crucial for being able to report on these for compliance. Why? Because, for some documents, you want to be able to track who has seen and acknowledged the contents for risk management and compliance purposes.

You need to be able to easily track your documents, manage where they are in their life cycle, and identify whether they are active, archived, or ready to be eliminated. This is especially important for your high-liability content, so make sure you meet document control requirements to avoid penalties and fines.

Again, this is a key area where PowerDMS can help, as it allows you to do all of this right from our robust platform.

As you can see, a good document control system goes way beyond just organizing your files. By choosing a robust document control software and incorporating the above best practices, you will boost your organization’s performance and efficiency in a sustainable, scalable manner. This all goes a long way to reducing risk and achieving compliance.

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