Electronic policy management and paper policy management
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February 1, 2018
    Article highlights
  • Different ways to manage policies and procedures.
  • Benefits of electronic vs. paper-based policy systems.
  • What to look for in a robust policy management solution.

Managing policies and procedures is an important aspect of maintaining operations in any organization. Policy management involves everything from creating, distributing, updating, publishing, and maintaining an organization’s policies and procedures.

Effective policy and procedure management empowers administrators to control document security, quickly distribute policies to employees, collaborate on policy updates, and publish content to the community.

There are many different policy management systems, but some are vastly more efficient than others. Here are some of the most common policy management systems:

Paper policy management

Paper-based policy management has long been the traditional way to handle important documents. For decades, it was the only option businesses had.

Keeping physical backups of policies can be helpful, but using a completely paper-based policy management can be a drain on company resources and time.

Paper-based policy management system

The average office employee prints 10,000 pages every year, costing companies thousands of dollars in paper and printing costs.

Filing cabinets

Between creating, printing, categorizing, labeling, and sorting, properly filing paper documents can take hours. And old files can be difficult to find, even with a highly structured filing system.

The longer an organization exists and the more it grows, the more filing cabinets it will require. This not only takes up valuable office space; it also gets expensive. According to some studies, it costs organizations an average of $20 in labor to file a paper document. Searching for a misfiled document can cost up to $120, and recreating a lost document can cost $220.

Paper policy binders

When it comes to distributing policies and procedures to employees, many organizations hand out paper binders. This puts necessary information in the hands of employees.

But too often, these binders end up ignored on a shelf or in a drawer. They also make distributing new policies difficult. Administrators must print and hand out a copy to every staff member.

If the binder is misplaced or a policy isn’t returned to its proper spot, employees can’t quickly reference policies when they need them most.

It’s easy for some staff members to get overlooked, which can leave different employees looking at conflicting copies of policies and procedures.

Mixed media policy management

As the Wall Street Journal points out, more and more organizations are attempting to cut down on paper use. Nowadays, companies are opting for policy management strategies that combine paper and digital files. These systems make documents easier to find and distribute. But they still fall flat.

Mixed policy management system

Problems with paper policy management:

Important information falls through the cracks

In a survey by Ponemon Institute, 71 percent of respondents said they were aware of a time when important paper documents got lost or misplaced.

When documents fall through the cracks, employees miss out on crucial information for doing their jobs.

Lost or misplaced documents can disrupt day-to-day operations, confuse employees, and create security issues.

Paper policy management systems also make it difficult to keep track of due dates for important documents. This can hurt an organization’s chances for accreditation.

And, especially in industries that require certifications and licenses, outdated documents pose serious liability risks.

Security risks

Paper documents also pose security risks. Other than locking filing cabinets, administrators have little control over who can view sensitive documents.

In the Ponemon survey, 61 percent of respondents said there were not enough controls to secure paper documents. In industries such as health care, a lack of document security can result in HIPAA violations.

Paper documents are also susceptible to damage. If a company doesn’t digitally back up its documents, it runs the risk of losing all its policies and essential paperwork to a fire, flood, or other disasters.

Time-consuming to maintain and update

The sheer volume of paperwork required for operations in many industries is often too much for one person to manage. As organizations grow, they may need to hire additional administrative help just to manage policies and procedures.

This can create budget strains and take up valuable administrative hours that could be better used on other projects. Paper policy management also complicates the policy revision process.

Most experts suggest that organizations update policies and procedures at least annually. But when policies only exist on paper, this gets difficult.

Administrators must distribute printed copies of policies to collaborators, collect and interpret the suggestions, and input all the edits. Then they pass out the revised version and the process starts all over again.

Inefficient policy management

Uploading to a shared (intranet) drive

An internal shared drive saves office space and allows for easier document access while in the office. However, employees can’t access shared drives remotely.

This poses problems for organizations whose employees need to reference policies while in the field. Also, documents on shared drives can easily get duplicated, lost, or deleted.

And since shared drives have limited tagging and linking capabilities, they can be confusing for employees to navigate.

Printing/signing/scanning

Effective policy and procedure management includes collecting signatures on important documents. For companies using mixed media policy management systems, the sign-off process often involves printing a PDF document, then scanning the signed version back onto the drive.

This leaves a lot of room for error. Signed documents go missing. Administrators lose track of which employees haven't signed policies. And ultimately, printing and scanning can be time-consuming and cumbersome. 

The problems with mixed media

It’s still inefficient

Using a shared drive may cut down on some of the costs associated with paper filing, but it has some of the same pitfalls. Administrators still must spend large percentages of their time maintaining and distributing policies and procedures.

Collaborations are still overly complicated, with administrators having to keep track of conflicting digital files.

Limited security preferences

Mixed media policy management systems don’t allow for customizable security options. On most shared drives, everyone has access to everything. Research has shown that 25 percent of data breaches were insider jobs, and 36 percent were the result of employee mistakes.

Mixed media document management solutions can pose even more security risks than paper systems, because employees can more easily alter, delete, or share files.

Plus, an on-site shared drive still leaves organizations at the risk of losing all their files. Hard drives crash. Computers break. Files get damaged. In-office backup systems aren’t always guaranteed to work.

Staff can access outdated versions of policies

When files are stored on a computer or shared drive, administrators may accidentally create duplicates of policies and procedures.

Or administrators may distribute paper or email copies of a new policy, but forget to update the version on the drive. This can leave employees referencing the wrong policy, which can hurt consistency, throw a wrench in operations, and create liability risks.

Crucial content can still fall through the cracks

Many organizations keep spreadsheets of important due dates. But without automated reminders, administrators will have to manually manage updates, due dates, employee sign-offs, and more.

And when leaders make policy changes, administrators have no way to easily track who made which changes and when.

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Electronic policy management

Dedicated policy solutions Like PowerDMS

PowerDMS's policy management software makes document management simple.

powerdms-assets-illustrations-004-policy-management-systems-electronic

PowerDMS’s secure, cloud-based location saves organizations office and server space. Employees can access the policies they need by simply logging in on any mobile device.

PowerDMS gives administrators the complete history, customized privacy controls, and version control for every document.

Built for policy, procedure, and training

PowerDMS is a one-stop-shop for all of your organization’s policy management needs. Instead of spending hours digging through filing cabinets or organizing folders on a shared drive, administrators can use PowerDMS’s centralized, online location to manage, update, and distribute important documents.

With PowerDMS, administrators can send out new or updated policies to employees with just the click of a button. They can archive old versions of policies, making sure employees never see conflicting copies.

PowerDMS allows employees to access the information they need on the go. It also simplifies the training process. Your organization can develop customized online training courses for employees to complete independently at their own pace.

Customizable tests

PowerDMS lets administrators track employee signatures to make sure every staff member has read and signed policies. It also lets organizations create tests to ensure that employees understand policies.

This encourages accountability and arms employees with the information they need to do their jobs well.

Collaboration “up the chain-of-command” through electronic workflows

With PowerDMS, administrators no longer need to organize policy update meetings. They can simply create a workflow to automatically send a document up the chain of command.

Collaborators can see each other’s changes and notes and quickly agree on a final draft. And instead of having to chase down feedback, administrators can track who needs to sign off next.

They can send reminders to make sure documents don't get stuck in the process.

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