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The Basics of Electronic Document Management Systems

In today's world of collaborative working, information seems to be expanding exponentially. This growth is making it harder to effectively and securely store information while still providing easy access to those who need it. The answer for many is to use an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS).

Document Management Basics

Let's start with the basics of an EDMS and what constitutes a record that may be stored in any such system.

The fundamental components of any document management system are data fields, records, files (also referred to as documents), folders and cabinets, as described below.

Specific pieces of information about a record are contained in data fields which are sometimes referred to as indexes. For example, this may include the date of a record's creation, an employee number or the name of the last person to amend the record. To completely describe a record, a set of data fields is required. These fields, sometimes referred to as metadata, enable the record to be easily found in searches and retrieved when needed. Single or multiple records may be contained in a file which can then be considered as a single document.

Groupings of files that are related to each other, for example by subject or function, are called folders. A collection of similar folders is known as a cabinet.

Dependent upon the purpose for which they are being used, EDMS are often referred to by other names. They may be described as a Content Management System, Records Management, an Information Management System or an Enterprise Portal.

The Features of an EDMS

No matter what name is given to it, any EDMS will be designed for uploading, storage and retrieval of information in a systematic way according to the organisations' internal demands and any legal requirements. A typical EDMS will contain the following characteristic features:

  • Tools that allow the capture and loading of information into the system
  • Storage and archiving methods for files and documents
  • The ability to support and administer any compliance or legal requirements
  • Organisation of documents via an indexing system
  • Search tools that enable the finding and retrieval of information
  • Security and access controls to stop unauthorised access to data
  • An audit system to enable the tracking of the life-cycle of a document
  • A workflow system that allows the automatic routing of documents to people or departments

The Capabilities of an EDMS

Providing the basic capabilities of Storage, Indexing, Retrieval and Exchange, the EDMS will utilise the following features:

StorageThe system must provide a safe central repository for the electronic storage of records and data on a hard-drive or other type of memory device. To protect the system's integrity in the event of loss, the system will provide backup copies of stored data by the use of data replication facilities.
IndexingRecord indexing makes access, future retrieval and use of information possible. An organisation's current and future needs should be considered carefully so that an appropriate indexing strategy is chosen, allowing them to maximise the use of their EDMS technology.
RetrievalThe system's data retrieval capabilities will be centred on the interface that is used to access the storage solution. Careful planning of these operations will improve the performance of the system.
ExchangeThe solution must be capable of integrating with other information systems within the organisation. For a truly efficient enterprise system, it must be possible to exchange information with legacy systems and other databases as necessary.

The Components of an EDMS

Typically, the architecture for the EDMS will consist of components such as servers, workstations and additional hardware elements designed to fulfil specific system functionality.

Network

Local Area Networks (LAN) and Wide Area Networks (WAN)

  • Used to connect the various EDMS components
  • Acts as the gateway to the Internet

Servers

Separate servers or hosted "virtual" servers may be used to divide up the system operations

  • The processing power of the servers may affect the performance of the EDMS solution

Software

EDMS software may be assessed on the following levels:

  • Functional - all operations that the EDMS performs
  • Administration - configuration elements to accommodate user requirements
  • Interface - the ease with which the users interact with the system

Storage

The critical component of any EDMS solution

  • The storage system must be designed to include all working files and documents, backups and archived data

Enterprise-level Document Management

An organisation can be viewed as an enterprise made up of distinct departments, each performing specific functions. Each department carries out its own work and often has to work with other departments. Many EDMS solutions allow the organisation to co-ordinate and integrate these various departments' records stores to allow the sharing of information across the whole company.

An enterprise-level EDMS can also provide workflow automation and management of business processes that require the approval or insight of multiple departments within the business. These solutions often feature capabilities and operations such as:

  • Efficient communication within and between departments
  • Removing the need to physically move documents between areas
  • Automatic routing of electronic documents to the appropriate people

EDMS Strategy

To ensure that an EDMS is employed effectively in an organisation, it is important to have a strategy against which developments and usage can be compared. To be effective and to address an organisation's business, legal, operational needs and infrastructure requirements, an EDMS should be both flexible and scalable.

The strategy should reflect the actual use of information within the organisation as a whole and not just how one department wishes to use the information or how the IT department prefers to organise the data for system performance or architectural requirements. All perspectives from different departments should be considered when designing a solution to fit the organisation's culture and tailored to the company's actual needs and usage.

Importantly, an enterprise will need to develop a holistic strategy for EDMS if a department within the organisation intends to be an early adopter of the technology. This will ensure that the department does not later dominate proceedings and that the views of the whole organisation are represented from the beginning, providing for an EDMS solution that other departments can join successfully later, eventually enabling the whole organisation to benefit from investment in the EDMS.

Conclusion

This article has described the nature of EDMS, and highlighted the need for a coherent strategy if an organisation is to obtain the optimum benefits from investment in an EDMS solution.

All too often we see examples where this has not been the case, and difficult projects ensue to integrate existing disparate EDMS solutions throughout an organisation into a coherent whole. Oakleigh can help with this sort of project, should it be necessary, but we would rather help you develop a strategy at the outset and avoid the pain!


If you have any questions about the subjects covered in this white paper or you would like to find out more about how Oakleigh Consulting could help your organisation, please contact us on 0161 835 4100 or email us.

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