- What is an enterprise document management system?
- What are the key features of an EDMS?
- How an EDMS improves business processes
A company of any size is going to have paperwork. The bigger the company or the longer it's been around, the more paperwork it has. And the more complex the company, the larger its variety of documents.
There are sales-related files, including quotes, invoices, RFPs, packing lists, amendments, and so on. There are HR files, including applications, personnel information, disciplinary files, and payroll information. There are also governmental compliance forms, including financial disclosures, application forms, and of course, financial statements and tax statements.
And there is most certainly a policy and procedure manual. Once a corporation reaches the enterprise level, it has hundreds, if not thousands, of employees with policies and procedures for each position, as well as how the company should function as a whole.
An enterprise document management system is large enough to handle all the document storage, indexing, and accessibility of a large organization.
An efficient document management system will not only save your employees countless hours of trying to track down documents that have been misplaced or gone missing. It will also cut down on your commercial real estate costs and eliminate legacy office equipment costs, like printers, photocopiers, and filing cabinets. (Imagine being able to store all your company's documents on a single computer server and getting rid of all your filing cabinets and storage boxes. That's a document management system.)
Let's look at how an enterprise document management system works, the key features of enterprise document management software, and how an enterprise document management system will cut down your costs. We'll also highlight the difference between enterprise content management and a document management system.
What is an enterprise document management system?
It's more or less just what it sounds like: A system for managing an enterprise's documents.
A system is a way an organization stores, manages, disseminates, and tracks its documents. It's more than just shoving documents into a Google Drive folder without an organized process for retrieving the information. It's a method of classifying and organizing all of your documents so they're easy to understand and find.
You can have a paper-based process, which organizations did in the days before computers. (Although some still use it now, long after computers became a normal part of society.) This is where policy manuals are printed out, organized into 3-ring binders, and given to every employee in the organization. Other companies printed out their policy manuals and had them bound like books. This made it hard to update the manuals and oftentimes, sheets of updated policies were just stuffed into the pages.
Other documents were commonly crammed into filing cabinets lined up along the wall. Files were taken out and put back, sometimes in the wrong place, which meant wasted time trying to track it down – or, if it couldn't be found, even recreating the entire document to place it back in the right location.
You can also store electronic documents in an intranet server or on a private folder on Google Drive or OneDrive, which are only accessible by authorized personnel. But there's usually no definitive filing system, and even if there is, people can just place documents wherever they think they go.
Another common practice is a mishmash system of the two we just discussed, where you keep some of your documents stored in files and binders, and some of them are stored on emails and shared drives.
Learn more about the three types of document management systems on our website.
If none of this sounds ideal, you still have another, more convenient, and more efficient option: a souped-up version of the online document management system, where everything is stored on an enterprise document management system. With this method, all your documentation is stored in a cloud-based system that's available to all authorized employees via a mobile app or a web browser. That means employees can access the information with a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop/desktop computer. And it works with iOS and Android, Apple, and Microsoft.
This enterprise document management system (EDMS) lets you tie certain accreditation standards manuals or professional association manuals into the policy manual portion. The best enterprise document management systems even let you tie the training content into the policy manual.
Enterprise content management vs. document management system
So, what's the difference between a regular document management system and a content management system?
A content management system lets you incorporate third-party content from other providers. For example, importing your accrediting agency's policy manual or third-party training content into your system makes it a content management system.
However, the best EDMS solutions have this content feature available anyway, so if you're looking for new enterprise document management software, make sure it has content import features.
Key features of an EDMS
What else goes into an enterprise document management system? What makes it so special compared to just giving read-only access to a company's Google Drive where one or two people are responsible for maintaining the content?
Let's walk through the key features of an EDMS.
A good EDMS will have plenty of storage – gigabytes, if not terabytes of storage – so you can host your current policy and procedure manuals, plus any compliance documents, HR files, financial data, proprietary data, and intellectual property that you need to secure.
A good EDMS will also let you expand your storage capacity with the click of a mouse or a quick phone call. The expansions should only cost a few dollars more per month, and you can scale up or down as your business case changes.
You can create workflows with an EDMS using the collaboration tools available online. For example, when creating policies, it's common to have several team members working on a document at the same time. The problem with just passing around a regular Word doc is that you will often have several different versions of the same document floating around at once. Each person makes changes to their own versions, and you can end up with several versions of the same document.
With the EDMS collaboration tools, you can work from the same digital document, see the changes that have been made, and then work from the same version. Changes won't be lost, but people can go back and see past changes and versions.
Once the policies have been updated and shared with employees, it's possible for those employees and the policy management team to follow the audit trails of past policies.
You can track any comments your executive leadership makes as they review the policies that are already in progress. Then, you can send out automated emails to remind them when you need their feedback, incorporate their changes into the documents, and collect their approval signatures.
The EDMS also lets you track the signatures of employees to show they read and understood the new policies.
Version control lets you manage the versions of documents that are out "in the wild." With paper-based documents, there's always a risk that someone doesn't have the updated policies or they won't review them in a timely manner.
With version control, you can ensure that everyone has the same information at the same time because everyone accesses it from the same source as soon as the updates are published. And with some EDMS solutions, like PowerDMS, employees can even compare new policy updates to the old version to see what changed. That way, they can easily find and review the updates rather than glossing over them or missing them completely.
It's important to keep your organization's policy and procedure documents out of the hands of most external users. That's why a good EDMS will have a robust security system in place. This either means using a virtual private network (VPN) so your staff can only access the digital assets when they're connected to the network, or it means having the required login information that gives your staff the right level of access.
Some EDMS solutions also have additional features like a mobile app for phones and tablets. While it's easy to access your document management enterprise software via a webpage on your mobile browser, it's much faster and easier to navigate with a dedicated mobile app.
A good EDMS will also import accreditation documents and manuals from your accrediting or licensing body. For example, a law enforcement agency should be able to easily import the policy manual from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). Likewise, a healthcare facility should have the ability to import the standards from the Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care.
Finally, make sure your EDMS can integrate training content from third-party providers. This saves you from hiring trainers to create content for your organization.
How an EDMS improves business processes
Enterprise document management systems can improve your business in more ways than one.
We covered how an EDMS saves on paper and printing costs – a 100-person organization can save as much as $100,000 per year by eliminating printer and binder costs. Not to mention the toner, which costs around $27,000 per gallon.
We also covered how document control software can save on commercial real estate. A filing cabinet takes up roughly 9 square feet, and the older and bigger your company is, the more business documents you need stored in filing cabinets. (Here in Orlando, commercial real estate costs as much as $38 per square foot. That's roughly $342 per filing cabinet per year.)
But there are other benefits of having an EDMS to help you manage your policy and compliance processes.
For one, it's faster and easier to maintain compliance with regulatory requirements. If you work in a regulated industry, your organization needs to comply with certain laws and regulations. Since these compliance rules can be included in your policy manual, you can import all of the necessary standards into the enterprise document management software and then sync it up to your own policies and training. Plus, you can collect all the necessary compliance data – updates, signatures, testing – and share that with your compliance monitors.
You also get increased information and document security with an EDMS. In an era of increasing malware attacks, personal data and intellectual property are more at risk. By using a cloud-based system, your data is actually safer than if you tried to maintain it all in-house. That's because in-house servers are more vulnerable to hacks and cyberattacks than services like Google and AWS. They use artificial intelligence to create some of the most robust and sophisticated security systems available.
An EDMS also helps you build a culture of compliance. By making policy manuals and compliance manuals part of every employee's responsibility, and giving them 24/7 access to the system, you can make sure every staff member complies with your policies and rules. This also helps ensure the organization meets the compliance requirements for external laws, governmental regulations, and industry standards.
Finally, the right EDMS can help you streamline your organization's onboarding process. New hires onboard faster when they have quick and ready access to your policies and procedures. There's no need to print out a policy binder – you can just give them access and they can begin reviewing the policies right away. This helps new employees learn your company's best practices faster, and your operations will run more efficiently.
An enterprise document management system will not only help your organization save money – it will also:
- Save a lot of time
- Help you achieve regulatory compliance more quickly
- Improve cybersecurity around your digital files
- Let you control all versions of your policies
- Simplify your business process management
PowerDMS is one of the leading electronic document management systems available, working in law enforcement, fire, rescue, and government municipalities. We provide training management, policy management, and accreditation management for a number of organizations around the country.
You can read more about the essentials of document management systems and software on our website.