Increasing business efficiency is becoming more important in today's competitive world. This article outlines some best practices in document management in how to improve efficiency at a business and better manage documents. This includes not only tips and tricks to getting more out of your documents but also technologies that can help any organization go paperless.

Since the 1980's businesses have become ever increasingly focused on cutting costs and getting more efficient around management their information. For decades most of the valuable information that organizations had was trapped in their paper documents with limited practical use.

As technology advanced and better scanning tools were introduced by companies like Kodak, Kyocera, Sharp, Panasonic and more it became obvious that this data could be made virtual and meta data could be pulled. This struck the birth of the document management industry.

In the coming years, developers began to write a second type of system which could manage electronic documents. The earliest electronic document management (EDM) systems managed proprietary file types or a limited number of file formats. EDM systems enabled an organization to capture faxes and forms, to save copies of the documents as images, and to store the image files in the repository for security and quick retrieval. This large step forward saved hundreds of hours for an organization that adopted the technology.

EDM systems evolved to a point where systems could manage any file format that could be stored on the network. The applications grew to encompass electronic documents, collaboration tools, security, workflow, and auditing capabilities.

To better understand document management systems visit its topic page on Wikipedia.

Document Lifecycle

Content Management is very complex and is best understood by breaking it down into the major stages involved in managing the lifecycle of content.

Most content management books describe varying numbers of stages but are essentially pointing the same steps. The steps outlined below were developed from these pieces:

While differing on names and specifics, the authors mentioned above include the tools of access control, version control, editing, workflow, staging, personalization, and localization. From these, I believe there are seven primary phases in the Content Management Lifecycle.

Organization

While the primary sources I mention above are terrific, they miss a stage for organizing information and structuring it were possible which allows for necessary metadata to be added to any data element. Professionals in knowledge management are well aware of this step's importance as the organization of data often determines its usefulness and value. This phase is also vital for retrieval of data/info and allows for reuse or repurposing.

This is where categories are created, vocabularies are controlled, taxonomic hierarchies are designed, and faceted classification schemes are developed. Without careful structuring, information will be collected haphazardly and put in the wrong places, perhaps never to be found by workers who may need to recreate it at great expense. Importantly, this is the stage where your content strategy is matched to your business strategy by designing it with your users in mind, to ensure that they can and will use it.

Workflow

Business Rules/Policies and Procedures/Roles and Responsibilities/Content Owners/Editors and Publishers/Casual Contributors

Many hands and eyes may work on your content, some highly skilled editors and graphic artists, others will be subject matter experts or those with the tacit knowledge you captured to inform your business processes. For this to succeed, you must have carefully designed but flexible rules that keep the content moving, consistent with your business requirements and rules, your policies and procedures.

Creation

Whether your information is typed into your system by technical writers or ingested by special programs that reach out via Web service connectors to vast aggregate reams of data, this is the stage that classifies everything into the architectural categories designed in stage one.

Repositories

Will your content reside entirely in relational database structures, in file system objects, or a hybrid of both? Will it be stored as unstructured text and binary graphic images, or as XML elements tagged with the metadata from stage one? Will the system manage documents and records in their original physical form?

Versioning

Content changes and presentation changes. Not everyone can make a change on the same document at the same time. You must work around conflicts and be ready to critical roll back content when inevitable errors creep in.

Publishing

Your finished content will be delivered to users in many ways. Some you will push on a schedule, other information will be pulled by users as needed. Some will be traditional print, most via the Web or email, some over mobile devices like PDAs and cell phones. All of these delivery methods must be tested to ensure the quality of user experience that stage one was preparing you for.

Archives

Although publishing is probably your major objective, not all your content is ephemeral. Some must be protected to comply with internal or external requirements; some eliminated for similar reasons. Some may be so valuable you must make it part of your "institutional memory." It captures the business knowledge of your organization, allowing it to be shared with ever-changing generations of workers. It becomes your permanent knowledge base.

 

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