The age of the paperless environment is finally upon us. Electronic document and record management (EDRM) provides the foundation on which most organisational systems, such as process automation and knowledge management solutions, are built. In the information age, it is essential that an organisation's information and knowledge - its most important intellectual property - is managed in a comprehensive and cohesive manner.
Unfortunately, there are still a number of organisations that do not recognise the need for a comprehensive EDRM solution. However, this is crucial in ensuring that data is accessible to all staff. Additionally, a comprehensive document management solution allows organisations to build a knowledge base - improving knowledge sharing. It can thus be seen that document management impacts on all areas of business operations, from staff collaboration to productivity. In addition, EDRM enables compliance with local legislation and corporate best practices.
Legislation such as the ECT Act is set to have a major impact on how local businesses view document management, due to the legal liability implications. One of the most significant aspects to the ECT Act is that electronic communications and transactions are now viewed as legally binding. This means that a person is able to place an order or change the contents of a contract via a mobile phone or e-mail message. Therefore, the implications of this Act are far reaching and it is hence vital for organisations to ensure that records of all electronic communication and documentation are maintained in a tamper proof environment.
However, as important as the legal compliance aspect of EDRM, is the fact that it allows for greater productivity and improved service delivery. In today's business world customers are impatient and require prompt responses to requests and queries. By implementing a document management solution, business leaders ensure that staff are able to access necessary and relevant documentation quickly and easily. Ultimately, this leads to improved customer service.
Moreover, in environments where there is a large volume of paper movement, it is necessary for information to be available and accessible to all necessary parties, at any given time and regardless of the source medium. This is critical in terms of customer service delivery. Unfortunately, many companies have difficulty in managing version control and have duplicate copies of documents residing on local machines and servers - often with no way of identifying which is the latest or correct version. In such instances, there is a risk that companies can provide inaccurate information to customers and other external stakeholders. This can damage the company image and negatively impact shareholder value. In addition to ease and speed of access to documentation, EDRM solutions enable the synchronisation of data - ensuring that the entire organisation utilises the same version of documents.
Many business leaders are under the misconception that centralised storage can lead to security challenges. However, document management and data centralisation provides a number of security benefits, in that it allows for reductions in security infrastructure requirements. As there are a limited number of access points, security solutions only need to be deployed at these entry points. Further, as data is accessed from a central point, information is easier to manage because management can control who has access and amendment rights for specific documentation.
The most fundamental challenge when introducing a document management solution into a paper-based environment comes in the form of the organisation's staff. For document management to be successful, the organisation needs to undergo a change in mindset: staff need to move away from the idea of document storage being a physical process that involves paper and filing systems and begin to think in terms of online electronic storage. For this reason, a comprehensive change management policy is required.
The challenge with EDRM implementations often lies not with the solution, but in the organisational change that needs to occur to utilise the solution correctly. Often, solution providers believe that their customer responsibility ends once the solution is delivered. Therefore, businesses should look for an EDRM provider that recognises the need for support and guidance around the implementation after rollout.
Implementations of this nature require a change management element, considering the pervasive nature of the technology. Therefore, a full gap analysis should be undertaken prior to execution and an education drive needs to be employed, to drive the effective use of the EDRM solution.
Document management should thus play an integral role in local businesses' ICT infrastructure strategies, as it provides the glue for an organisation's efficient functioning, by providing an effective manner in which to interface with information.