policy management systems
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August 31, 2020
    Article highlights
  • The paper-based policy management system
  • The mixed media policy management system
  • The fully digital policy management system

What is a Policy Management System?

Without a modern policy management system, it’s all too easy for policy and process to slip through the cracks of your organization.

A policy management system is an organized method for, you guessed it, managing policies. There are many pieces to successful policy management, but a system connects those pieces together to create a unified whole.

In the absence of a single, unified system, policy management can resemble the Wild West more than an organized process. Sound familiar?

Maybe you can relate to some of these challenges:

  • Scattered policies: making it difficult to access and update them
  • Multiple versions: resulting in employees referencing old policies
  • Poor communication: making it difficult to send and track policy updates
  • Limited collaboration: leading to frustration with ineffective tools like email
  • Unsecure system: increasing risk of misplaced docs and privacy breaches
  • Lack of accountability: resulting in employee noncompliance risks

A policy and procedure management system lets you control document security, easily collaborate on policy updates, publish content to the community, distribute policies to employees, and track E-signatures on said documents.

There are many types of policy management systems, and some are way more efficient than others. What system, if any, does your organization currently use for managing policies?

In this article, we will explore the three types of policy management systems, their pros and cons, and which one is right for your organization: paper, mixed media, or digital.

Paper-based policy management system

1. Paper-based Policy Management

Paper. It seems rather quaint and traditional in this digital age, doesn’t it? Many organizations still rely on paper for managing their policies though, and it’s understandable why. For decades, it was the only option businesses had.

Paper-based policy management wouldn’t be possible without filing cabinets and binders. While these filing systems provide some order and structure, their shortcomings could be costing your organization.

Filing Cabinets

Filing cabinets aren’t a scalable solution. The filing of paper documents involves creating, printing, categorizing, labeling, and sorting thousands of documents over time. It can take hours, not to mention finding files once they’re logged away. Even with a highly structured filing system, tracking down old documents can be time intensive.

And it only gets worse over time. The longer an organization exists and the more it grows, the more filing cabinets it will require, taking up valuable office space.

According to some studies, it costs an average of $20 in labor to file a paper document. Searching for a misfiled document could cost up to $120, and recreating a lost document could cost $220.

The problem is these gaps and errors are rarely tracked, so organizations never get a sense of how much money they’re actually losing on an annual basis from ineffective policy management systems.

Binders

Employees need to be aware of policies in order for policies to do their job. What is a policy’s job? To keep your employees and organization aligned with best practices, industry standards, and regulations.

If this doesn’t happen, you know better than anyone what the consequences are: fines, lawsuits, brand disrepute, and more. Basically a PR nightmare.

What it comes down to is communication and access, both of which are limited with a paper-based system like binders.

Many organizations distribute policies to staff as paper binders. Yes, this puts necessary information in the hands of employees. But too often, these binders end up ignored on a shelf or in a drawer.

With binders, it’s difficult to distribute and track new/updated policies. When it comes to new policies, administrators have to print and hand out a copy to every staff member. When a policy binder is updated, old binders need to be thrown away. But what happens if it’s not? Various versions of documents get circulated and referenced, opening your organization up to liability.

What is paper costing you?

Now that we’ve looked at filing cabinets and binders and their pitfalls, let’s look at four additional ways that paper is costing you time, money, and effort.

Paper is easy to lose, damage, or misplace.

In a survey by Ponemon Institute, 71% of respondents said they were aware of a time when important paper documents got lost or misplaced. When important documents slip through the cracks, it can disrupt day-to-day operations, confuse employees, and create security issues.

With a paper system, it’s difficult keeping track of due dates for important documents, which hurts your organization’s chances for accreditation. In industries that require certifications and licenses, especially, outdated documents pose serious liability risks.

Paper comes with security risks.

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

In the same Ponemon survey, 61% of respondents said there weren’t enough controls to secure paper documents. In industries such as healthcare, 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.

Paper policies are time-consuming to maintain and update.

In many industries, the volume of paperwork required for operations is too much for one person to manage. As organizations grow, they may need to hire more administrators just to manage documents. But this can create budget strains and take up valuable administrative hours that would be better used on other projects.

Most experts suggest that organizations update policies and procedures at least annually. But if policies only exist on paper, it can be challenging to do so. Administrators must distribute printed copies of policies to collaborators, collect and interpret the suggestions, and input all the edits. Then they have to pass out the revised version and the process starts all over again.

Keeping physical backups of policies can be helpful, but using a completely paper-based system can be a drain on resources and time and expose your organization to risk.

Paper is expensive.

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

Mixed policy management system

2. Mixed Media Policy Management

Mixed media systems are a mix of digital and paper solutions. Chosen to reduce paper costs and inefficiencies, it’s the middle ground between paper and digital systems.

While mixed media solutions allow for file sharing and limited collaboration, they may fall short of your policy management needs. In this section, we’ll explore three common tools that organizations use in conjunction with paper.

Shared (Intranet) Drives

Uploading Documents

An internal shared drive saves office space and allows for easier document access while in the office. The problem is employees can’t access shared drives remotely, which is exacerbated if your employees need to reference policies in the field to do their jobs.

Not to mention, 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.

Signing and Tracking Documents

Quality policy management tools let you collect signatures on important documents.

If you’re using a shared drive, the sign-off process usually involves printing a PDF document, signing it, and scanning it back onto the drive. Not only is this process time consuming, but it leaves room for error.

  • Signed documents can easily get misplaced
  • It’s hard tracking who has signed a document
  • You have to manually remind staff to sign
  • Lack of data security while documents lay on desks

Email

While email is still an important tool for communication, it doesn’t have workflow, smart editing, or tracking functionality. Some organization is possible via folders, but how many of your coworkers have organized email accounts? It’s far too easy for emails to get deleted, lost, or stored improperly for it to be a reliable policy management tool.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams helps small to medium sized teams communicate and collaborate. The larger your organization, or the more teams you have, the more disorganized the app becomes. Why? Teams is highly compartmentalized. You can create teams, channels within those teams, and tabs within channels, but as you create more, the number of places housing information increases exponentially, making it difficult to access important content.

Designed to be a central hub for all communication, Teams lets you co-author documents, track revision history, and integrate with various apps to expand its capabilities. Unfortunately, workflow functionality is limited, you can’t map policies to standards, and there’s no training component.

Learn more about Microsoft Teams here.

What is mixed media costing you?

Inefficiency

Using a shared drive may cut down on some of the costs associated with paper filing, but it has some of the same pitfalls. You’ll still have to spend a lot of time maintaining and distributing documents.

Collaboration is overly complicated as well, with administrators having to keep track of conflicting digital files.

Limited Security

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

Mixed media systems can pose even more security risks than paper systems, because it’s easier for employees to alter, delete, or share files.

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

Outdated Policies

When files are stored on a computer or shared drive, accidents happen. It’s easy to unintentionally create duplicates of documents.

Let’s say you 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 throw a wrench in operations, lead to fines, and create liability risks.

Manual Processes

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.

When leaders make policy changes, there’s no easy way to track who made a change and when.

In the digital age, there’s no need to keep relying on these cumbersome, manual processes.

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Digital Policy Management

There are many digital policy management systems on the market. These cloud-based systems do what paper-based and mixed media systems can’t. Though more expensive upfront, they save you money in the long run. Let’s explore two popular, but very different, digital solutions.

Microsoft SharePoint

Many organizations use or consider using SharePoint as their digital policy management system. But its ubiquity alone shouldn’t compel you to get it. Here are some of the pros and cons.

Pros

SharePoint is a system for document storage and management. As a platform, SharePoint is super customizable, meaning if you have the expertise and time, it can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs. As part of Microsoft Office, it integrates with the entire Microsoft Office suite, so you can easily use Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Finally, SharePoint lets you manage document security, track changes in a limited capacity, and go paperless.

Cons

SharePoint has limited out-of-the-box functionality. Most organizations can’t simply buy the platform and start using it. SharePoint takes significant setup and will require help from a developer to customize the platform for your needs. While you may have an in-house developer, getting the most out of SharePoint and maintaining it often takes a developer experienced with SharePoint specifically.

For many organizations, SharePoint requires employee training. And from a cost and time perspective, it’s not cheap if you have more than a few employees. Lastly, SharePoint has poor search functionality, making it difficult to access the many policies stored in the system.

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PowerDMS

PowerDMS is a policy management software that creates a living connection between your policies, accreditation, and training. Forged in the public safety sector, PowerDMS now serves 3,500+ public and private sector organizations worldwide with secure, cloud-based solutions.

Pros

PowerDMS allows for policy creation, workflows, version control, distribution, attestation tracking, and much more. Key data, like who revised or signed a document and when, is grouped with each respective policy to create a library of living documents. Built with policy managers in mind, it lets you customize admin rights, map policies to standards, and upload a variety of content (images, videos, audio, documents). Here are some additional features:

  • Centralized storage
  • Automated workflows
  • Acknowledgement tracking
  • Real-time notifications
  • Version control
  • Access control
  • Powerful search
  • Side-by-side comparison
  • Integrations (Microsoft Office, Adobe)
  • Mobile functionality
Cons

PowerDMS is not a content provider, but they do have content partners they can connect you with, as well as a tool for subscribing to relevant policy content from publishers. With policy, accreditation, and training features, PowerDMS is a fairly comprehensive solution. So while it can save you time and money long term, it will take an investment of time upfront to learn the platform.

What is a digital system costing you?

Although digital policy management systems are more expensive upfront, the good ones will ultimately save you time and money. The trick is doing the research to find the right solution for your organization.

The right solution is one that checks every box on your list of non-negotiables. Conversely, the wrong solution can create gaps in your compliance, leading to inefficiencies, wasted time, fines, lawsuits, and brand disrepute.

Taking the time to research solutions, schedule demos, and experiment with free trials will pay dividends in the long run. Consider these resources to continue your research:

Ready to save time and money?

See firsthand how PowerDMS can help your organization.