According to at least one telling of human history, the potter’s wheel invented by the ancients existed in its horizontal form for a thousand years before someone thought of mounting the wheel upright, and using it to push a cart.
Going paperless in the digital transformation game involves moving analog documentation processes into the digital realm. Of course, simply storing documents digitally in the cloud would meet the most basic requirement. However, truly embracing digital transformation opens up a world of opportunities that go well beyond the prosaic function of storage. Can a business be successful with merely the horizontal pottery wheel? Or does success in the post-covid world require you to explore the possibilities beyond the horizon that open up by virtue of a true paperless environment.
A document management system is all too often confused with cloud storage applications like Google Drive and Dropbox. The difference starts to become apparent in the name. What do you need? Management or Storage? Cloud storage is widely used at low, or even zero cost and does have immense utility. It makes sense to fully understand the terrain of your requirements and map it to the most appropriate technological solution.
WHAT IS CLOUD STORAGE?
Indicative, as the name is, cloud storage offers a virtual space to simply store your documents. Think of it as a storeroom where you keep dumping your digital content – whether it’s because you are running out of space, you need to share it, or you simply wish to preserve it. Cloud services like Google Drive, iCloud, and OneDrive have been extensively used to store and share data at the level of the individual user. It is easy and intuitive at this scale. The clutter it creates isn’t unmanageable and is fairly searchable. The most common use of cloud storage in organizations is for data/documents that must be merely stored – mostly as a backup.
WHAT IS A DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM?
A document management system, on the other hand, is a software that lets you do a lot more than simply stacking or storing documents. Imagine the same storeroom with intelligent mechanisms that help you find things you stored weeks, months, even years ago. Or even better – a self-organizing storeroom! It helps you ‘manage’ your documents which includes functions like indexing, tagging, operating, versioning and preservation, in addition to storage.
For large file inventories that need frequent and easy access, there’s no alternative to an efficient document management system. And given the range of features it comes with, a document management system must be customizable to the needs of the organization. That includes features ranging from selective or restricted access to report generation and document lifecycle audits. Moreover, it allows third party integrations that automate manual tasks that are otherwise nothing but impedance to efficiency. Think of it as the foundational layer on which your business processes are mounted.
Often, document management systems feature cloud storage. And cloud storage applications too offer a cursory level of document management. By no means are they mutually exclusive silos. However, learning the key differences in principle, will help you zero in on the choice that best meets your purpose.
Document management systems are purpose-built to route documents through the various stages of a project/task pipeline in a seamless way. Once a repeatable workflow is algorithmically determined, the passing of files between departments and personnel happens automatically. On cloud storage applications this must be managed manually each time, or the workflows need to be created by programming or using a 3rd party tool, leaving great scope for confusion and human error. Not to mention, the inefficiency.
Flexibility of files and formats
What is the nature of documents that need to be stored/ organized? What is the volume you are looking at? If it runs into multiple terabytes, it is always better to have an efficient document management system in place to ensure that it is not stacked aimlessly but stored and indexed in a more organized manner. A document management system allows multiple file types to be stored together quite effortlessly. Moreover the barriers between file formats are eased with indexing technologies that make physical documents, captured as images, keyword searchable.
Accessibility and Access Control
It is taxing to think of strict folder hierarchies and rules of file nomenclature while creating a new document. Yet, without those, retrieving an old document from a cloud storage can be like searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. According to the 2019 Intelligent Information Management Benchmarks Report, 42% of employees say that documents named or labelled incorrectly as the most likely challenge faced when searching for information. In the same report, 26% mention “not knowing if you are working on a current version due to duplication” as the most likely challenge.
A document management system enables a business to establish a pre-defined storage and indexing method, so that you aren’t burdened by it while working on a document. This makes all files created and stored on the system responsive to a range of functions like filter and sort, in addition to simple search functions. Thus enabling a user to access a particular file later in just a few clicks. Further, having a robust database will help you analyze relevant data, improve the accuracy of information and reduce the time you spend managing and forecasting data.
While file sharing with multi-tiered access privileges is a feature common to both, document management systems provide an added layer of rules-based access permissions that not only ensures that the document does not accidentally reach the wrong hands, but also maintains the integrity of documents within the system. The dog can’t eat your homework.
As you add more and more files to your cloud storage, the greater the amorphous clutter. A document management system, however, improves with increasing data. Cloud storage scales towards chaos, whereas a document management system scales towards order. Trite, but true. If you are looking to scale, a document management system will be a better choice as it allows a proportional expansion of the infrastructure at manageable cost. Its flexibility will allow you to expand or even reduce the storage space depending on your needs, at any given time.
Data integrity and security
Cloud storage is like an apartment you take on lease. Your landlady has a copy of the key, but you trust her not to use it. Cloud storage services always come with a third party risk attached, with physical servers located way outside your jurisdiction. Therefore storing confidential and business-critical information on the public cloud is non-negligible exposure, at the very least. When it comes to document management, the permissions granted to users are fully customizable. Databases can be hosted in secure purpose built data centers or on your physical server, even when shared. Which means your files are better protected from external malicious actors. Who accessed which file and when, are all details routinely captured as metadata which can be easily tracked and converted into an audit trail report. Leaving you less vulnerable to data theft and sabotage, the level of security a document management system offers ensures a multi-layer security for all your information assets.
Ease of Compliance
If you are in a business that needs to be compliant, you need to have a structured way of storing your documents that can be easily retrieved, reproduced, and submitted in an organized manner that is recognized as valid by its intended receiver. In a document management system, protocols of archival and deletion of documents automatically maintain your historical data for as long as it’s necessary. Additionally, it enforces the structure needed to comply with regulatory requirements while easing the tedium of audit significantly. Whereas a regular cloud storage may not be able to provide you any support in this regard.
Cloud storage has its advantages. It may suffice to simply store and share non-critical documents or files for immediate use. You don’t need a Samurai sword to chop onions.
However, A well thought-out and robust document management system not only stores your data, but gives you the levers to optimize your organization’s performance in a very tangible way. It also comes with reduced dependency on IT infrastructure / personnel. Cloud storage, on the other hand, is generally self-service and use-at-your-own-risk.
In today’s age of business digitization, data is the new currency. Safe and secure storage is only a small piece of the puzzle. Your data must be structured, accessible, shareable, and agile, all at the same time. Your data must be intelligent and mineable for insight. Your data must enable you to see into the future while informing your business decisions in the present, in real time. Cloud storage without document management is a cushy retirement plan for your data. A document management system makes your data work for you. Choose wisely. At stake, is your ability to scale, and possibly your competitive advantage.