The relevance of document management in this social day and age

Earlier this week I travelled to Luxembourg to deliver a document management project we have been working on for the last few months. A migration to Docova (Domino based Document Management system) of over 100GB of data that was previously stored in a Domino Document Manager (IBM product that has been discontinued) and Docushare (Xerox) environment. Thousands of legal documents and contracts that needed a new centralized and unified way of storage with some very strict maintenance and compliance regulations.

On talking about the trip and project I got asked what the relevance was of document management with the rise of social business and social file sharing and why I still do a lot of document management projects, seeing as I’ve been really active in promoting social tools and file sharing. And if that isn’t causing a conflict of interests.

Well, where to start…

Structured versus unstructured

Where social business tools offer a platform to share and distribute unstructured data, document management is about handling the ‘structured’ data. Data that requires centralized, controlled and predictable accessibility and that is often core to the functioning of the business process. Information for instance like legal documentation, contracts, HR records, invoices and technical documentation.

It’s not just about storing

But it is much more than just storing it in a controlled environment. It’s also about controlling the information during it’s life cycle to ensure processing, updates and review are taking place and about making sure the documents adhere to regulatory and compliance requirements.

It’s not about numbers

But isn’t that more something for large environments?” No it isn’t. Every company has data that requires certain procedures and structure. Often these are maintained by individuals who keep lists of actions to be taken or have certain ways of keeping track. But how do you ensure that when those people leave, or fall sick those same procedures are maintained, and how do you keep control? Questions relevant to companies of any size but maybe especially to those where processes often reverberate around a single employee ‘that knows where to find it‘. Dependency on a single individuals knowledge and diligence can be a major threat to the stability of any business process.

Document management is about controlling the data process, not just the data itself

What makes document management what it is?

  • meta data: Defining document types with information fields and enforcing input control, allows for additional data to be associated for each type of data document. Information that can then be used to index the document, perform processing and ensure better findability.
  • Versioning: Granular and multi-tier version control (e.g. Major, minor and revision releases) allow for each change in the document or its meta data to be stored and indexed according to it’s importance. Making it clear how the information came to be and who was responsible for what change.
  • Life cycle management: having life cycle management ensures drafting of documents is possible, while still keeping access to the last released version of the document for the public without having to take the document out of the system (and controlled process). It also allows for controlled release of data to the main public. For instance after formal approval or processing has been done.
  • Processing / workflow: Often additional actions are required when new data is stored. Contracts need to be approved, scanned invoices need to be cross checked and information needs to be transferred to other systems. Based on meta data or document type, processing or workflows can help make sure this happens. By formalizing it in technical procedures better control can be exerted over the execution.
  • Monitoring / review: Information is only relevant if it is regularly reviewed and updated. By having regular reviews and monitoring alerts based on the document type or meta data specific to the document, information is kept up to date and relevant. But it’s not just the fact that this is possible, it’s the fact that the process and system is guarding it which makes it valuable as it no longer just depends on individuals taking responsibility and can be monitored centrally.
  • Record management: More and more regulations and legislation demand specific control on what happens to business process information. Controlling what happens to data at which state of its life cycle; how long information needs to be accessible, when it has to be archived or removed and who, if any, is allowed to delete data, are all key factors in complying with these requirements.
  • Auditing: Knowing not just who theoretically has access but also who has accessed (even just as a reader) documents, who has edited them and who has send them, makes it possible to better understand and account for what happens with information. Especially where information is critical to the business process and highly sensitive.


Document management & social file sharing

So where does document management stand in the social revolution? Well to me, document management and social file sharing platforms stand firmly next to each other. Social platforms are a fantastic way to capture information and to collaborate on it but at the same time it is not about predictable structure. Document management is, but because of that has trouble handling unstructured data. As is recognized by IBM for instance who is  actively building integration between their social platform IBM Connections and document management / ECM systems like Filenet, Alfresco and even Sharepoint.

So coming back to that question on why I still work with both; it’s because they complement each other and allow me to work on both ends of the data spectrum. Building controlled and strict process driven document management environments to capture that structured data, while on the other hand utilizing social platforms to effectively capture the loose, elusive unstructured data out there.

Social tools therefore aren’t replacing my love or specialty for document management, they are expanding it. So, No. They don’t offer a conflict of interests when talking about data management. Only opportunities to capture even more of its fast array of appearances and I feel lucky that I have a job where I get to work with both.


ps. in one of my upcoming blogs I will try to go a bit more into some of the document management functionalities we’ve implemented in our projects with some real life examples of problems and solutions we used. keep an eye on this blog for that one if you’re interested or contact me if you want to know more about document management.

3 thoughts on “The relevance of document management in this social day and age

  1. Femke, an absolutely outstanding desciption of the difference between ‘Social’ files and ‘Document Management’.

    Until ‘Social’ file tools have the ability to perform document control, workflow, lifecycle and extended meta-data management there will always be a place for ‘formal’ Document Management systems within an organisation.

    When organisations also come to realise that FileShare 1.0 (or even 2.0, Ah-hem! … Sharepoint) + Email is a HORRIBLE way to manage documents the better off we will all be.

    +1, Like, Retweet, Great post Champ!

  2. Thanks Mat, yes there will always be a place for both as document management really is much more process driven while social file sharing is more people centric. Using the right tools for the right situation is key with effective data management.

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