Where you store your documents and electronic files is as much a function of what the file is as how that file is used. And like everything else in this world of abundance, there are many choices. There are electronic content management systems (“ECM”), electronic document management systems (“EDMS”), Imaging Systems and vast Cloud storage. In addition to these purpose built applications, most line of business applications also support document attachments. So which one is the best one to use?
Maybe the best place to start is to look at what the file is and how it is used and then look at the options for storing it. And by “it” we mean electronic files like spreadsheets, documents, photos, logos, images, etc.
Spreadsheets and word processor files are generally what are called active files because they are in the creation or manipulation stage. This applies to CAD and other drawing type files also. These files need to be actively tracked and version control is the most important aspect because there may be multiple contributors and many edits. The storage system has to efficiently and effectively manage those aspects so that the correct version is used. A slight variation of this is when access to the files is through an automated connection to another system.
When that spreadsheet becomes final or that document is printed and executed or the digital signature is put in place, then these documents become archival. An archival document needs to be organized well with security that permits approved access and the end user has to know that it is a document that can be relied on as Final. Fast access is important and so is the confidence that all relevant information was found when searching. Therefore, powerful search capabilities are important as is the ability to share those documents internally and externally.
As for the application type, here is a brief summary of the common focus of each one. The ECM has a particular focus on supporting web sites and organizing web content so that the appropriate and current information is posted. Think of the thousands of image files and descriptions used to host an online store catalog. Constant updates and additions being pushed to another application. That is the function of an ECM. ECM systems can be limited in their imaging capabilities and workflow functionality.
An EDMS tends to focus on active, in process documents like the creation of contracts, spreadsheets, drawings and many of the files that you might find on your local hard drive. These active documents require that users are aware and using the most current version as they make edits or want to pull the execution copy. There are controls over inputs that require users to specify the version and lock or unlock access to a document for other users. EDMS has a tendency to be feature rich which results in user confusion and frustration.
An imaging system of course focuses on storing the executed version of a document or the historical copy. Invoices are still primarily generated as paper copies and need to be scanned to enter a workflow or for building an accessible archive. An imaging system needs to focus on ease of capture and ease of access with powerful search and retrieval functions. An imaging system can become a silo of critical documents disconnected from related documents and information.
Cloud based storage is easily accessible, easily configurable online storage for files. The beauty of Cloud storage is generally that it is inexpensive and easy to get information in. In those respects it is not much different from locally hosted shared drive storage. The downside is that “easy in” generally means that it can quickly become unorganized and difficult to find information and security can be difficult to implement.
The ideal solution would be a system that does it all and does it well. We may get there some day, but as with anything that attempts to be all things to all people, it ends up being marginal at everything. The best solution is to find the application that best serves the most critical need. Other needs might function adequately within that application. An outside application can be used and integrated so you get the best of both worlds. EDMS and Imaging systems function extremely well together. One side of the house is usually producing all of the active documents while another side is focused on using the archive to manage the business. In my opinion, find the best applications for the needs and ensure that they work together to get the best result.
If your company struggles with figuring out what type of system is needed or where the optimal place to keep your electronic records, please contact us, we can help.