Essential guide to document management systems and software

Learn about document management systems and software, best practices, and how they can benefit your organization.

March 1, 2022

Article highlights

Businesses of any size collect documents over the years – files, policies, invoices, billing statements, work orders, memos, personnel files. And in the 21st century, companies have two options:

  1. Store everything on paper and keep it in physical storage.
  2. Go paperless and store everything in the cloud, where it's safely out of the way.

With a cloud-based document management system, files can't be misplaced because they can be found with a quick search. There's no worry about what version a certain document is. Policies and procedures can be created easily and without confusion, and then sent off to the executives for approval – all through automated workflows.

The right document management system can help organizations – from healthcare, enterprise, municipal, or other types – save time, money, and resources. It can reduce their risk of liability and help them meet the necessary compliance requirements to maintain licensing or accreditation.

In this essential guide, we'll explain what a document management system is, discuss best practices, show different examples of document management software, and share what features will benefit a healthcare organization or business enterprise.

What is a document management system?

A document management system does exactly what its name implies: it's a system to manage all of your organization's important documents, including:

  • A business that needs to keep track of sales information, quotes, invoices, business processes, and proprietary information.
  • A healthcare facility that needs to keep track of patient data, billing data, and the policy and procedure manual.
  • A law enforcement agency that keeps track of arrest reports, departmental memos, subpoenas, and, of course, your own policy and procedure manual.

A document management system describes the method and processes you use to keep all of those documents organized and accessible.

For example, you might use the old-school file-and-folder method, where all information is kept on paper documents and stored in file folders or binders. The files are stored in filing cabinets, the binders are stored on bookshelves.

Or you could use a cloud-based system where all documents are stored on either an in-house intranet server or they're kept on a server in another part of the country. All documents are password-protected and accessible only to authorized personnel. Depending on the system, the organization protocols may be created and developed by someone in the organization, which can make things hard to find. Access may also be difficult for anyone using a mobile phone or a tablet.

You also have the option to use a mixed-media system, which is a combination of electronic and paper-based documents. Some information is stored in the cloud, and some is kept in a folder or binder. Since new policies and updates are shared via email or printed documents, different people may have different content on their computers or on a small external drive in the office.

Read more about document management systems and how they work.

What is document management software? 

Document management software is a system, just like the mixed-media and file-and-folder.

Document management software is an electronic document management system. It's an improvement over the more generalized cloud-based system. With an electronic system, everything is stored in specialized document management software made specifically for that purpose.

Files, policy manuals, training content, and even accreditation-related data are all stored, cross-indexed, and easily accessible on any kind of device, whether it's a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop computer. 

Want to know more? We put together a comprehensive article about document management software and what they do to help you get started.

Document management system best practices

Regardless of which method you use, that is your system for document management. Even if you kept documents in neatly stacked piles around the room, that's still a system. The question is, do you have the right system that works best for your organization.

The best document management solutions follow these practices to ensure they're working as efficiently and effectively as possible. 

Consistent naming structures. Everyone has their own method for naming and filing documents, but it's impossible to keep track of hundreds of individuals' different standards. Specify one single naming structure for all your files and folders. Whichever method you choose, this will make sure you can easily find any file, even if it's filed in the wrong spot, because you know what to search for. So, set naming conventions and standards in the very beginning. There's no right or wrong method; just pick the one that works best for your organization.

Reduce version confusion. Another issue, especially with policy manuals, is version control. Some document management software doesn't allow for effective collaboration, and you end up with several different versions of the same document. Or your employees have different versions of certain policies, but they aren't the latest versions. To avoid this, use a document management system software that lets several people work on a document at the same time. You can also use a policy management software that ensures everyone has access to the latest version of policies. (Hint: This can be the same piece of software.)

Document and signature tracking. Some organizations, especially those that are accredited by a professional agency, need to track the number of people who have read an updated document, like a policy or professional standard. Rather than sending around a signature sheet to everyone in the office, the document management system can track signatures from people to show that they read and understood these digital documents. This can improve productivity and it can result in as much as 86% savings in documentation expenses.

Set up approval workflows. Good document management software streamlines the process of creating, updating, and filing your critical documents. By creating an automated approval workflow, it ensures the right leaders read and approve the appropriate documents. Rather than emailing all parties a copy of the document and collecting approval signatures, your document management software can collect the signatures automatically and notify you when they're completed or even send reminders after a certain time period. This can cut approval time turnaround by as much as 80%.

Mobile access. Since many people work on their phones, it makes sense to give everyone access to necessary documents and manuals via a mobile device. Of course, you still want people to have access to the information on something larger, like a laptop or a tablet. But for some organizations, not all employees have desks or workstations. This means they don't have computers (i.e. nurses in hospitals) or they're rarely in the office to use the computers (i.e. law enforcement patrol officers). In these scenarios, easy mobile access makes document management more convenient for your organization.

Storage. Your documents can take up gigabytes, if not terabytes, of storage space. That can add up to anything from a few to several dozen filing cabinets and storage boxes. And since most people save their documents and policies in their own filing cabinets and storage areas, you can imagine how much square footage is being wasted just to store documents that someone might only need once a year – or just once ever.

Document security. Believe it or not, a cloud-based document management system is more secure than keeping your documents on an in-house server. That's because the traditional cloud-based servers (Google, Microsoft OneDrive, AWS) have very complex and robust AI-driven cybersecurity systems. These cybersecurity systems are expensive enough to require Fortune 500 budgets, which means your average healthcare facility, law enforcement office, business organization, or municipality will have the same kind of cybersecurity budget as the Fortune 500 corporations. Plus, those AI systems help further train the cybersecurity software to fend off new types of attacks. In-house servers don't have this kind of software, so they're more vulnerable. (You can read more about security for cloud-based software on our website.)

Learn more about how you can use document management system best practices to improve your organization's processes. Or learn more about the 

The best document management software

When it comes to selecting the best document management software for your organization, you have a wide array of options. Let's look at some of the top market contenders.

Microsoft SharePoint is a general system for document storage and management, and it integrates easily with the various Office products, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. This centralized storage system allows for collaboration and sharing, as well as mobile accessibility. It's complex enough that it will require a full-time developer to install and manage it. Read about how Sharepoint performs on our website.

Google Drive/G Suite is a cloud-based document management system that can replace Microsoft Office. It has its own word processor, spreadsheets, slide deck creator, and other apps. It lets you share documents and folders across a company-wide account, giving access control to specific people. And you can have unlimited storage and users, track changes in documents, and create automated approval workflows. Read more about it on our website.

Box for Business is another centralized cloud-based storage system. It integrates with Adobe, Slack, G Suite, Office 365, and other applications, but it doesn't have its own productivity apps. You can collaborate with others, synchronize any changes, and even view version histories to compare old and new versions of documents.

Dokkio is a document management solution that brings all your files together in a single web interface, whether they're stored in DropBox, Box, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive, as well as documents shared in Slack or via a Gmail message. Dokkio uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to suggest and automatically place files into categories and contexts themselves. But this is only a document storage system, so it doesn't let you manage version control, collaborate, create workflows, or track signatures.

Rubex by eFileCabinet. Rubex offers secure file sharing, encryption, version control, saving all versions of documents as they are edited. It integrates with Microsoft Office, QuickBooks, and SalesForce; it offers user-level access; and it has a mobile application. You can also track changes through audit trails, which show every action taken by every user, with a date and time stamp. Rubex also has manager and admin approvals and workflow automation.

VIENNA Advantage is an open-source document management software platform with a variety of key features and functions beyond simple document management, including ERP, CRM, and business intelligence. As a corporate-wide solution, VIENNA provides nearly every back-office function, including accounting, material management, purchasing, and warehouse management. You can add documents through a variety of methods, like email, scanner, web services, and bulk upload. You can also search documents through different attributes or metadata. It also lets you "check out" documents to make edits and changes before anyone else. That makes simultaneous collaboration a little difficult (see Google Drive), but it does prevent the multiple and contradictory changes that come with several people working on their own copies of an individual document.

Onehub is a cloud-based document sharing and editing solution that lets you organize your company's knowledge and information. It offers drag-and-drop uploading, which means you can bulk upload documents or even entire folders. Drag the contents of an entire drive into Onehub, and it will use its secure FTP (file transfer protocol) to upload everything and keep the original folder structure. You can also collaborate with colleagues by adding Microsoft Office Online or Google Drive integration. But there's no signature tracking and only a few workflow automation tools.

M-Files includes image scanning and OCR, which means you can upload old paper files into the system and make them as easily accessible as newly created digital files. You can also automate certain workflows, use version control to keep track of each document's history, allow different access levels based on a person's role, and share documents with colleagues without sending email attachments each time a document is updated. On the downside, M-Files uses local storage, such as a user's hard drive, which requires installing software and giving permissions. 

Q-Pulse supports document management, co-authoring and review, and policy management. This last feature helps you acknowledge regulatory requirements and turn them into actionable items. Colleagues can collaborate on documents, create new policies to share across the entire organization, select user-based access levels, and manage the documents' version control. It cannot perform document archiving, which means you need a separate archiving solution. It also doesn't offer electronic signature tracking.

PowerDMS. The PowerDMS policy management platform helps you create a living connection between your policies, training, and accreditation. Our cloud-based system allows for policy creation and collaboration, version control, organization-wide distribution, mobile apps for 24/7 access, signature tracking, and more. It can manage new policies and procedures for healthcare, municipalities, fire/EMS, and businesses in general. The platform also offers access through a variety of devices, automated workflows, signature tracking, version control, and automatic distribution.

Looking for more insight into document management software options? Check out our top 10 list of solutions and how to choose the best one for your organization.

Benefits of a document management system for healthcare and enterprises

We've covered the advantages of implementing a document management software. So, let's highlight the most important benefits for healthcare and enterprise organizations.


Healthcare organizations can absolutely benefit from a document management system, especially one that's geared to healthcare's specific requirements.

Your document management system should include: 

  • Document access control. Give control of certain documents only to those authorized to view them.
  • The ability to demonstrate regulatory compliance. During accreditation and compliance audits, you want to be able to show the necessary information quickly and easily.
  • Signature and review tracking. Gathering signatures electronically can save hours per document.
  • The ability to adjust to changing requirements. Professional associations change their requirements frequently. You want to be able to easily adjust as those changes are made.
  • Workflows to help approve changes. You can automate the approval review process to get feedback and approval from compliance team members, as well as executive leadership. 
  • Version control. Control which version of a policy or document is available to your employees. No more working from contradictory versions.
  • Collaboration tools. Work together with your compliance team to write policies by working on the same document instead of passing around different versions.


Large businesses have some of their own specialized needs. They may not have to comply with HIPAA and other healthcare laws, but they have their own regulatory compliance issues for things like tax law, financial disclosures, and so on.

An enterprise document management system also needs:

  • Document storage. Off-site, cloud-based storage is more secure, easily scalable, and saves money over an in-house server system.
  • Workflows. Automate workflows to improve policy creation and updates.
  • Audit trails. These let your accreditation and compliance professionals see what changes have been made to your policies and compliance documents.
  • Version control. You can ensure that people only have access to the latest version of a company policy or process.
  • Document security. You need to protect your proprietary information and personal/private data. This helps you control access to sensitive information.

Learn more about how document management systems can help your enterprise organization.

Final thoughts

A cloud-based document management system can offer many benefits and advantages over the older, legacy document management systems, like ones that rely on paper-based documents or even a mixed-media system.

The right document management software can let you:

  • Share documents only with the appropriate people
  • Ensure everyone is getting the right version of a document
  • Collaborate with colleagues on document creation and managing the lifecycle
  • Automate workflows to speed up creation and approval steps

Learn how the right document management  system can benefit your organization. Schedule a no-obligation demo today.

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