Electronic policy management and paper policy management
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June 8, 2020
    Article highlights
  • Common challenges of not having a policy management system
  • Pros and cons of a paper-based system
  • Pros and cons of a mixed media system
  • Advantages of electronic policy management systems

Without a good 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 most common policy management systems and help you determine which is right for your organization.

Paper Policy Management

Paper-based policy management system

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.

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.

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, the filing of 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 takes up valuable office space and 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 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 ineffectual policy management systems.

Paper Policy Binders

Employees need to be aware of policies in order for policies to do their job. It comes down to effective communication, which is limited with a paper-based policy management system like binders.

Many organizations distribute policies to employees via 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 reference policies when they need them most.

Plus it’s easy for staff members to get overlooked, which can lead to multiple versions of policies and procedures being referenced and circulated.

Paper Policy Disadvantages

Easy to Lose & 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 policy management 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.

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.

Time-consuming to Maintain & Update

The 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 and procedure management also complicates the revision process.

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.

Mixed Media Policy Management

Mixed policy management system

As the Wall Street Journal points out, more organizations are attempting to cut down on paper use. They are opting for policy management systems that combine paper and digital files, making documents easier to find and distribute.

While mixed media solutions allow for file sharing and limited collaboration, they still fall short for most organizations’ policy management needs.

Uploading to a Shared (Intranet) Drive

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.

Printing, Signing, and Scanning

An effective policy and procedure management system can collect 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 often go missing. Administrators lose track of which employees haven’t signed policies. And ultimately, printing and scanning can be time-consuming and cumbersome.

Mixed Media Disadvantages

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. Administrators still have to spend a lot of their time maintaining and distributing policies and procedures.

Collaboration is overly complicated as well, 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 by Forrester has shown that 25% of data breaches were insider jobs, and 36% were the result of employee mistakes.

Mixed media document management solutions 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.

Staff Accessing Outdated Versions of Policies

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

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 Falls 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 Systems

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

There are many electronic 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 long-term on resources, printing, double work, and more.

SharePoint Document Management

Many organizations consider SharePoint when searching for a policy management system. Let’s take a look at the most common pros and cons.

SharePoint Advantages

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.

SharePoint Disadvantages

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.

PowerDMS Document Management & Control

PowerDMS’s policy management system makes document management simple. Our secure, cloud-based location can save you office space and server space. With powerful search capabilities, 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 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 software, administrators can send out new or updated policies to employees with 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. You can even develop customized online training courses for employees to go through at their own pace.

Customizable Tests

The PowerDMS policy management system 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.

Integrations

Our software is fully integrated with Microsoft Office, Adobe, and more, so you can edit policies directly in PowerDMS with your preferred applications.

Collaboration Via Workflows

With PowerDMS software, 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 view each other’s changes and notes and quickly agree on a final draft. 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 process.

If you need a secure and reliable policy management system, learn how PowerDMS can help your organization.

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