There are specific application benefits that can be achieved from effective document management, for instance anything to do with your CRM system, managing your contracts, sales proposals and all the documentation to do with your customers.
Additionally you are likely to have content from your ERP system, finding things like invoices, credit notes, batch notes and goods receipts notes. Fundamentally it's not necessarily an application that needs document management - it's the whole business that needs it. From a conceptual point of view most of the knowledge and information that resides inside the company is stored in electronic or printed documents which need to be scanned in and stored, or information can be locked in employees e-mail systems or in file servers.
All the document management system does is unlock that so it becomes easy to access and understand the material that's there. Everybody produces content - all the document management system does is make the content more usable.
The early bird catches the Worm
There is an erroneous idea that document management should begin only when employees get to the stage that you can't find anything. But ideally the time to start would be when there are only one or two employees, and then as you grow you can automatically retain and manage all your information. The bigger a firm is the more difficult it becomes to manage the process, and switch from a scenario of document anarchy to one of document management.
The most effective technology is generally something that is easy to use that doesn't change the way employees work. Typically this would be a web browser application or something that works through users' Microsoft environment, like Outlook, because a lot of people have this open on their desktop, so then they can work within the application they're used to using. This also helps user acceptance of the new product or system
Sourcing the matter
When weighting whether to in-source or out-source a document management solution, companies should consider the amount of infrastructure their firm has got and whether or not they want to have the capital outlay of putting in a decent server and what this involves - namely having technical support people on site.
For small companies I think it makes sense to go for an ASP service. For medium to larger companies I think it makes sense to bring it in-house, because most people like to feel their in control of their systems.
If you're dealing with large documents through an IP service, you are very bandwidth-restricted on your connection, whereas internally on a LAN (Local Area Network) that's not going to be an issue.
Also, if companies are taking their document management system internally they must consider administrative costs, back up costs and redundant server costs, so it can be expensive. If an ASP service is being used by a larger organisation its important to weigh up whether there are lots of users with requisite bandwidth needs.
SMEs can learn from companies that have already introduced document management - in that they needn't go for something too complicated that's overtly costly. With some of the bigger systems; you buy the system and then buy a fortune of consultancy to configure the system to your requirements, so you might go live six months or more after buying it. I think buying a solution where you can install it on day one and run it on day two has got to be a good idea for the SME.
Les Paul is managing director of Datum consulting. Datum is a software development company that specialises in delivering enterprise-wide Document, Knowledge and Business Process Management solutions for businesses of all sizes.