An Expert Guide to Document Management Workflows

By: Kurt Meemken
April 28, 2020

Most businesses deal with tedious, document-heavy tasks during day to day operations. With expense reports, purchase orders, acquisition forms and payroll requiring approval or changes as they move from one department to the next, business operations can seem never-ending.

A document management workflow is, on the surface, exactly what the name implies. It's a system used to produce, track, edit, store and manage documents associated with a business process.

Problems with Manual Document Management

A workflow example of bubbles and arrows showing directional flow.

Without a document management workflow in place, an employee will: 

  1. See a certain item is needed
  2. Fill out a requisition form
  3. Pass the form to their manager
  4. Wait for approval
  5. Send the form to the accounting department
  6. Wait for the accounting department to approve 
  7. Have accounting create a purchase order
  8. Wait for the PO to send

Depending on the makeup of your company, there may be some differences, but you get it. Not only is it cumbersome, but there's a lot bouncing from one desk to another, which leads to a lot of opportunity for documents to get lost in the shuffle.

If paperwork gets misplaced or overlooked, it also slows down your business. And as you know, slow operations affect productivity and growth.

Document management software is a popular solution to these problems. 

What is Document Management Software? 

Document management software creates workflows that help streamline processes. The documents don't go away. They become digital and able to be processed more efficiently. By enabling electronic document management, paper documents become the lowest common denominator to transfer information; by decreasing paper shuffling, the unreliability and inefficiencies associated with this method of transfer are in turn reduced.

Streamline the Paper Shuffling

Document management software, such as M-Files and SharePoint, replace piles of paperwork with electronic versions, allowing users to edit, approve, file and pass along within this digital medium. Users can see documents that are in their queue for review, start a new document, follow the path of a document they've created and more. There is an icon for each stop in the process, making it easy to see a document’s status and location. Plus, all documents are viewed and stored within the software, and reviewing them is as simple as clicking or tapping "approve."

Improve the Process

With document workflow management software, users know when they have work to do, and managers can monitor every step within workflows. Alerts can be set up to:

  • Notify a user when there is work
  • Notify managers (and other user levels) when certain steps takes place
  • Alert users if a step in the workflow is taking longer than scheduled

But document management doesn't just help prevent missteps. It also helps automate complicated processes and keeps things from getting lost in the shuffle. Remember the example of what the process looks like when it's performed manually? It looks much different with document management software. If an employee notices a product is needed, they can:

  1. Generate the appropriate form
  2. Fill out the form
  3. Send the form to the person giving final approval

And yes, any others along the chain who would review or make changes will be notified by the software about the active form. Instead of shuffling from (and waiting on) one desk to another, the document goes to the right place, right away.

Customizing Document Workflows

Document workflows can be configured to forward a document when approved (the requisition form, for example) and automatically generate a notification that’s sent to the appropriate person. Setting certain parameters can also make things run even more smoothly.

For example, if a purchase order is over $1,000, send the document to person X; if it's below $1,000, send to person Y. Document management software is capable of many things, so the processes can be as simple or as complex as needed. 

Document workflow software also makes looking at the big picture easier and more natural. You can see which employees have a queue of work to do and which have lighter loads, making redistribution efforts more effective. A big picture view keeps projects moving.

What's the Benefit of Document Management Workflow?

Document management workflow software benefits businesses by improving internal productivity, collaboration, morale and accountability. It also decreases the resources required to complete work. 

All of these things combined work to save money and improve the bottom line. And in case you were wondering, the biggest benefit of document management workflow is the assurance that things will operate properly and efficiently. Document management software provides:

  • A central hub where all important documents are stored
  • A security system where only an approved person can view a document
  • Flexibility to meet the needs of any business
  • Easy access to materials employees need to do their jobs right the first time

How to Identify and Improve Your Document Management Workflow

Document management solutions are designed to provide your company with better business management and organization capabilities. As we've established, implementing a document management solution offers your company a number of benefits. But done incorrectly, these efforts can create more headaches than they solve. By assessing your current workflow process and document management style, you're most likely to implement an effective solutions for your company. 

Here are some questions and insights to help you choose a document management workflow solution.

Do You Have Security Protocols?

Your industry's document security compliance and regulatory demands will play a role in selecting the solution for your business. For example, healthcare firms need something HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant. Whether your company handles sensitive patient records or deals with tax/accounting paperwork from individuals or other firms, it is vital that your document management workflow solution provides reliable tools for the safe transmission and storage of sensitive documents.

Do You Value Collaboration?

Collaboration allows employees to share files and edit group documents in real time. It prevents needing to shuffle and track multiple versions of the same document. When selecting a new document management workflow solution, you’ll need to assess the importance of collaboration tools for you company.

  • Do you need/want to share documents in real time?
  • Is collective editing important?

The answers to these questions will help guide your business toward the right solution.

Do Third-Party Vendors Need Access?

There are two key factors to consider when analyzing access to business documents: internal and external access. From an internal perspective, is there a need within the company to provide employees with both on-site access (via workstations on the company network) and mobile access via a secure connection on a web browser, smartphone or tablet?

What about external, third-party vendors? If you have clients, either customers or vendors, that require access to your documents, you’ll need a system that provides them with secure access. One such example would be a web portal that gives your company the ability to push documents through a website to allow secure client access.

What about Integration?

You may want a document management workflow solution capable of integrating with other systems in your office. For example, if you operate an accounting firm, a document management system that integrates easily with QuickBooks may add a lot of efficiency. Additionally, you may find that integration with your email is desirable.

File Retention and Document Purging

Every company has a different policy for record retention and disposal. While some firms need to retain documents for months, if not years, others have no need for long-term storage. In either case, there will be a need to properly dispose of documents once they are no longer needed. Depending on the policies and regulations that apply to your industry, a document management workflow solution can aid in this process.

The right workflow solution will allow your employees to set firm policies for document retention periods when new files are created. It can also establish a system for reviewing files before purging, while also providing guidance on the destruction of backup and archive versions of documents.

Current Paper Processes

Last but not least, analyze the manner in which your company currently handles paper documents. Has your business already gone paperless? Or are there still certain components, such as PTO requests and invoices that are completed and submitted on paper? Document management workflow can help you manage both paper and paperless documents without creating confusion or disruption in the office.

Selecting the Best Document Management System

If you work with an IT services provider, a good firm will take the time to ask you these questions, and more, about your business – and then help analyze the information. Only after your business’s document management style has been analyzed, can a provider help select the workflow solution that meets your current demands in a manner that improves efficiency and productivity in the office.

Talk to a Document Management Specialist to discuss the opportunities available for your business.

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Topics: Security