What is a document management system? | PowerDMS

Learn about the three types of document management systems – paper-based, mixed media, and electronic – and find out which is best for your organization.

December 29, 2020

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If you’ve ever looked at a room full of filing cabinets and wondered how to find a particular folder or single piece of paper, you know the frustrations of every office worker for the last 100+ years. And you know why digital document management systems have become such an integral part of 21st-century office life.

If you’ve ever had to deal with (i.e. print, file, keep, reference) forms, reports, briefs, releases, quotes, or packing lists, you know how difficult it can be to store all that paperwork.

Filing cabinets are bulky and take up a lot of space. And they’re a finite resource, which means you eventually need to add more so that you can store more paper. Ultimately, you could have enough paper to where there’s no more room in your office for any more filing cabinets, and so you box up your oldest folders and pay for warehouse space to store them all. And if yours is an old company or a large company, that can be a lot of boxes … all to store documents that you might need but probably won’t. Storage can run in the thousands of dollars per month.

But a digital document management system can streamline your file management operation, eliminate the need for paper files and filing cabinets, and make retrieving them as simple as a quick online search. Documents are easier to find, storage is measured in gigabytes, not square feet, and the costs are a fraction of traditional paper storage.

In this article, we’ll explore what a document management system is, different types of systems, and why an electronic document management system is your best bet.

What is a document management system?

At its most basic, a document management system is how you keep track of all your reports and files. A sales organization could keep all quotes, packing lists, and invoices in project folders or organize them in binders by date. A public safety office could store all its policies, memos, subpoenas, BOLOs, records, and other documents by date and precinct. A law office can organize case notes, subpoenas, billing records, and transcripts by attorney, date, or case.

There have been plenty of statistics used by document management proponents over the years (although the original 1998 source of this data may be somewhat apocryphal) that tell us the average document gets copied 19 times, and that companies spend $20 in labor to file a document, $120 to find a misfiled document, and $220 to reproduce a lost document. Or that 7.5% of all documents get lost, and 3% of the remainder get misfiled.

Whether or not these numbers are actually accurate, we do believe the broader trend of the pain and costs of lost documents are a problem for organizations. And that a digital document management system can save you a lot of headaches and money.

So let’s look at the three types of document management systems.


Paper-based document management system

We described this in the introduction: Forms go into file folders. Files go into hanging folders. Hanging folders go into drawers. Drawers go into filing cabinets. Filing cabinets are tucked into any empty space you can find. Eventually, the files go into boxes and the boxes go into warehouses.

The problem is, everything has a cost. Paper is relatively inexpensive, although boxes of paper are bulky and heavy. Printer ink costs $12,000 per gallon. Filing cabinets are a few hundred dollars. And you probably know what your office space costs per square foot per month. You could always store things in binders on bookshelves, but those cost money as well.

All in all, printing and storage can cost organizations tens of thousands of dollars per year.

There are also confidentiality and security issues. A paper file is never going to be 100% secure, which is a problem for issues like HIPAA, privileged information, or proprietary information.

The benefit of a paper-based document management system? Other than keeping the office supplies and furniture industries afloat? Not much.

Mixed media document management system

Mixed media is a combination of paper and digital forms and files. If you’ve ever received a PDF and been asked to print, sign, scan, and return it, you’ve experienced mixed media documents.

Most documents are still managed and stored in their paper form, but they can be shared digitally. This is a late 20th century/early 2000s solution and doesn’t save much time and money.

For example, most mixed media users are still printing documents, getting hard copy signatures, which are then scanned into digital storage. But the physical copies are often still kept, which almost renders the digital portion unnecessary.


Digital document management system

Basic electronic document management systems let you go completely paperless and upload all your documents to an online shared drive like Google Drive, Box, Microsoft OneDrive, DocuWare, and Bynder. These are useful tools if you have a small business and can create your own filing system.

The benefit of a shared cloud drive is that you can name documents anything you’d like, place the same document into several folders (rather than creating several copies), and search for file names or even unique phrases within a document. And these are free or very inexpensive storage management options. Certainly much cheaper than the paper-only management systems that can run you thousands of dollars per year.

However, you’re not able to update documents and have those changes sync through several documents. You can’t automatically notify people of those updates. And you can’t have people sign documents and then track those signatures. There are also a few security issues, and it’s possible to inadvertently update documents and create unnecessary duplicates, which can lead to a lot of confusion.

If you need to regularly update policy and procedure manuals or tie them into your accreditation process, you won’t be able to do that on these particular digital document management systems. For that, you need something more robust.

That’s when you need enterprise-level document management systems like Navex, Lexipol, and PowerDMS. These are geared toward policy and procedure manuals and helping you achieve and maintain accreditation. They offer centralized storage, remote access, automated workflows, and document tracking. But there are some downsides as well.

  • For example, Navex’s PolicyTech can be cumbersome and difficult to use. And you can’t save one copy of a document in multiple folders; you have to create new copies each time.
  • Lexipol is a risk management and content provider solution that updates its state-specific policies via subject matter experts. But it’s not ideal for document management (e.g., subpoenas, BOLOs, memos, etc.) and it can’t do custom testing or discussion boards.
  • Neither Navex nor Lexipol create a living connection between your policies, training, and accreditation, which means you can’t easily map your policies to standards within the software.

Some solutions, like PowerDMS, go a step further than the others. PowerDMS is the only digital document management system that creates a living connection between your policies and accreditation, letting you map your policies and proofs to standards to demonstrate compliance. You can even give your assesor/surveyor early access to your information before they arrive on site.

A digital document management system is ideal for any organization that needs to keep track of various documents, especially if they have to access older documents, which can be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world. You can learn more about the top policy management tools and how to choose the right policy & document management software on our website.

And check out our essential guide to document management systems for more information about their benefits, best practices, and options for your organization.

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