Document Management Systems

You should first consider:

  • Why do you want a document management system?
  • What do you want it to be able to do?
  • What are the business reasons for scanning and storing documents?
  • Do you need regular access to them whilst they are being worked on, or is it just for archiving?

There are three possible approaches to take:

  • Filing system
  • CRM system
  • Document management system

Simple & effective

If your current copier can scan and you have a shared disk drive with lots of space, then you already have all you need.

A filing system for scanned documents does not have to be any different from a normal paper filing system, if such a system works for your organisation and meets the need.

However, scans are pictures, i.e. image files, which can vary enormously in size.  You might wish to avoid storing thousands of massive images unnecessarily.  One possible approach would be to use OpenOffice for your scanning.  Once you have a driver for your scanner installed (and if you can already scan then you do), then you can scan directly into the equvalent of a Word document (which takes away the pain of any unfamiliar interfaces).  Then, using OpenOffice's built-in PDF printer, you save a PDF to your filing system on your shared drive.  Simple and effective.

Scanning Tip:

When scanning, do not scan in color unless you will need to see the end result in color.  Greyscale results in smaller file size.  Equally, a scan at a resolution of 300 DPI is overboard unless you wish to get your scan professionally printed.  75-150 DPI is plenty, and results in smaller file size.

A Client Centric Approach

You may wish to relate your documents to your individual clients using a CRM tool.  You may already be using CRM.  If so, it might allow you to attach a scanned document to a client's record.  CRM systems vary, so if using one, check out it's particular functionality in this regard.  It may or may not incorporate the scanning stage. It may only do the filing stage.

Document Management System

Does your organisation require strict and structured workflow patterns around the management of its documents?  Do you require the ability to tag and allocate documents such that they are connected to several places at once?  If so, then maybe a complex document management system is for you.  Document management systems can incorporate access restrictions, i.e. only certain people can access certain documents, version control and change tracking.

Durability

Whether your solution becomes obselete depends on your choice of solution.  Software typically gets upgraded, as the developers come up with new features and old problems get fixed.  Many people like to stay current, upgrading their software to the latest versions all the time.  This is relevant not only to document management, bu to all forms of software.

However, there is a strong school of thought that "if it aint broke, don't fix it."  If you upgrade your operating system, you may find incompatibilities with some of your applications.  Likewise, the latest version of some management tools may not work with older operating systems.

This is a constant problem/battle with software and its advance.  It is an area which requires thought and a strategy, lest an organisation find itself with obselete systems and a big bill to update the lot.

Access to the files

Even if the system becomes obselete in time, it is obviously important to be able to access your data.  So, when assessing a candidate solution, find out how the files are stored.  If each individual scanned document is stored as a unique file, then they will always be accessible.  However, if the individual files are not named in an intelligible manner, you may then have problems in figuring out which files are which.

Equally, if the system uses a standard database, e.g. MySQL or SQL Server, then this is an independent storage mechanism  and your data is held separately from the management system.  However, again, actually identifying the individual files might be a problem.

Free Stuff

As with most things in software, there are Open Source alternatives.
See
http://www.manageability.org/blog/stuff/open-source-document-repository
for a list of open source document management systems.  We've not tested them ourselves, but they would be worth exploring.

Otherwise, Microsoft's Sharepoint is a good alternative.  If you are a registered charity, you can get it for 4% of its value from www.encludeit.org

Support

With any system, support can be an issue.  Typically, commercial operations charge a licencing fee (or simliar) to cover some support.  Open Source projects often have active communities who populate free support forums.  This can often be a real selling point for one open source project over another!  If looking at a soution which has no licence fee, see what the support arrangements are: either paid or for free.  Equally, find out what is involved in moving your data out of the system, i.e. are you going to be stuck with the system for ever.

Standards

The ISO have published standards on electronic document management.  You can read about them here:
http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc/catalogue_tc_browse.htm?commid=53650&published=on
As far as we know, are no rules enforcing any particular document management standard on charities in Ireland at this time.  However, it may be useful for public perception and transparency to be able to say that you store your documents according to standards.