Most documents, especially policies, go through several revisions and edits as the people involved in their creation gather new information, gain more insights, and receive feedback from other stakeholders. As each person provides their input and feedback, you want to make sure they’re working on the latest version of the document, not something made obsolete two weeks earlier.
Also, as policies go through their regular reviews and updates, you want to ensure that everyone in the organization is using the same version of the policies. You don't want anyone acting on information that is actually two years out of date because they never received the updated policy or mistakenly read from the old version for guidance.
You can prevent these problems if your policy software has version control, which helps you ensure that everyone is working from a single source of truth.
What is policy version control?
To understand what policy version control is, let's talk about the bigger concept of version control.
Version control is a practice used for different areas of project management, policy creation, operating procedures, and software development. It's the way to keep control of the version of your project, policy, etc. to make sure everyone is only using the latest version.
For example, software developers need to track the changes they've made to their code, so they understand what they have already done and still need to do. You can even see an app's version history when you update it on the app store or read the About section of the software.
So, policy version control is the version control for your organization's policies. If you wrote a policy in 2014 and then update it at the start of every year, you want to make sure that there are not seven versions of that policy floating around your company, confusing anyone who's working with one of the seven different versions.
So what's a version control policy, then?
Of course, to have a strong policy version control, you also need a version control policy. That's the policy you create about version control, such as establishing who's in charge of maintaining the format, tracking the different versions, and how obsolete versions should be deleted or archived.
Examples of policy version control
Where does version control become important? Why would you need it? Here are a couple of examples where policy version control becomes important.
Example #1: A special committee has been created to create policies around the use of personal communication devices – mobile phones, tablets, laptops – in the workplace. Should they be allowed, or do they have to be left at home? Can people listen to music and podcasts on their mobile phones or only standalone MP3 players? Can people do work on their laptops, such as taking work home? And what security issues need to be addressed with people using wearable technology or bringing unauthorized USB thumb drives into work?
If this policy were written ten years ago, there would be issues around whether people could use MP3 players, but now that most people just use their mobile phones, it may be less of an issue. But if it's not updated, you could have gaping holes in your security as everyone is focused on MP3 players and have completely ignored wearable technology like Apple Watches and FitBits, smart rings, and even smart glasses.
So the committee writes the new policy and replaces it with the updated version. They send out an email telling people about the new policy, and they upload it in their policy management software, replacing the older version, which is now archived and unavailable.
Example #2: In updating this new policy, the committee needs to take several passes at it, especially as the members do their own research into wearable technology and the latest technological developments.
As the committee revised and rewrote the policy several times, one member missed a meeting and began making notes and changes to the previous version of the document. Some of the changes took hours and significantly affected future revisions. Other changes weren't even necessary because those sections were removed later.
In the end, this person spent several hours making all the changes and updates to the wrong version of the document. Some of their work is redundant, and some of it was completely unnecessary. If their document management solution had version control, this could have been avoided. The software would automatically archive out-of-date versions and make sure only one version of every draft exists.
Policy version control in PowerDMS
PowerDMS' policy management software provides unlimited storage for its customers, including their historical documents. That means that it's possible for previous versions of policies-in-progress to be archived and kept out of circulation.
It also means you can archive your old policies and historical documents, providing automatic version control with one draft and one published version. Only users with the proper access rights can view a document's entire audit history, including edits, comments, approvals, reviews, and signatures for both active and inactive users.
That means our committee members from the example above could refer to past versions of the policy to see how they have changed over the years. Plus the poor person from example #2 would never have been able to access the wrong version of the document-in-progress in the first place.
Our version control simplifies compliance audits
We track a complete history of every document in our system as a way to simplify your compliance audits. You can show the auditing personnel all the changes, reviews and approvals, comments, and every policy's signature history.
(Our baked-in signature tracking even saves you from keeping track of all the emails and messages of people who said they read the new policy. They can be reminded to sign the policy updates electronically within the system.)
Archived, not deleted
When a policy is updated and approved in the PowerDMS system, the old version is automatically archived, and only the most current version is available to users. Policies can also be archived manually or automatically on a specific date, as per your organization's retention rules and version control policies.
By default, PowerDMS does not delete a document, only archives it. And you can even specify who has the appropriate rights to view those archived documents or to delete them entirely. When a document is archived, the full document history is maintained, including the audit trail, signature history, and all previous revisions.