Managing, storing and using data, forms a substantial part of most business operations. Doing this in a way which impacts in as positive a manner as possible on day-to-day work, is key to a smooth running and efficient organisation. For many years, paper-based filing systems have been widely used, regardless of the issues and problems caused, largely due to a lack of viable and realistic alternatives. Document Management Systems (DMS), such as Volume by Watermark, offer a way in which companies can look to move away from antiquated notions of data retention and towards a new, more streamlined and effective way of working.
Combining many files into a single place and integrating fully with Microsoft Office, using a DMS results in very little disruption to working practices; meaning the benefits will swiftly be felt and appreciated in full.

What are the issues with paper based filing?

Data security
Considering how secure the data you possess is, forms a large part of any decision on storage methods. Keeping large amounts of paper records can, on the surface, seem to be a secure option. Rooms and areas can be locked or even guarded, and access restricted. While this approach may be seen to be safe, significant problems lie just below the surface. Perhaps the most notable issue is the potential for irreparable damage caused by an unpredicted event such as a flood or fire within the building; something impossible to foresee and even harder to rectify. Alongside this lies the risk of documents falling into the wrong hands, regardless of any methods of working practice in place to stop this. While physical copies of documents exist, they can be readily and easy copied, removed and stolen with evidence trails hard to follow.

When thinking about paper documents in terms of complexity, there are different viewpoints. One train of thought is that paperwork is far less complex than relying on any electronic method of storing data; it is easy to find, easy to look at, and is all in one manageable place. Whilst this may be true in part, the lack of perceived complexity on this level makes potential information dissemination into the wrong hands a major concern. If no specialist or exclusive knowledge is required, any file or document can potentially be easily found by employees, regardless of their status within the company. An alternative viewpoint on paper based files is that rather than being simple, they actually add levels of complexity that electronic storage removes. Locating specific documents can be time consuming, as can be returning them to their correct position. Labelling and organising requires effort, and if paper documents cannot all be stored at the same site, complexity may be added in the form of requesting and transferring items. There can also be issues around different people using different systems of filing, which can cause confusion as individuals attempt to do things their own way.

Degradation and legibility
By their very nature, even well-kept paper documents are subject to the ravages of time and the subsequent degradation that follows. When coupled with events that can’t be predicted such as damp, insect or rodent infestation and spillages, documents can be rendered useless or illegible in a relatively short time frame. It is important also to take into account the many issues with legibility that can be caused by humans whose handwriting and style of documentation can often prove difficult to decipher. Without any electronic source to refer to, an individual leaving a company and no longer being able to translate to colleagues what their additions to paperwork mean, can move from being somewhat of an annoyance to quite a serious ongoing problem.

Physical storage space
An obvious concern when faced with large amounts of paper files and documents is exactly where and how to physically store them. If a company has been trading for a long period, or is in an industry that naturally accumulates a large amount of paperwork, storage solutions can pose significant issues. Often entire new buildings are needed in order to house an ever-growing amount of paper, and take away valuable space from being used for other operations; something that electronic storage could free up quickly and easily.

Potential for human error
Colloquially known in many businesses and companies as ‘five to five on a Friday syndrome’, the notion of employees taking short-cuts when wishing to save on time is not a new phenomenon, but one that can cause major issues when it comes to paperwork. Files can be quickly shoved into the nearest drawer or cupboard, incorrectly filed, or simply forgotten about as the natural rush of a busy working environment takes over, or the lure of leaving the office exerts its pull. Human error is not something that any industry is totally immune too, but can be combatted by moving away from a paperwork based approach, to an electronic one. Documents and files can easily and quickly be saved and closed, meaning the temptation to find a quick way to deal with something that should take a little longer simply does not exist. Likewise, any natural mistake made innocently or via tiredness or distraction that may result in a file being mislaid or filed incorrectly, can be warded off and prevented.

What are the benefits of using a Document Management System (DMS)?

The ability to search quickly
Attempting to find a specific document quickly for brief referencing is something that can be made especially challenging when confronted with paper based filing systems. Time consuming activities, such as going through many files to locate desired documents, can be compounded by the tendency of many businesses to have so much paperwork that storage is often in entirely separate areas, and may require requests for access to be made. With a DMS, finding a document can be instant and can be done from a desktop, meaning that significant time savings can be maximised and enjoyed. This can be expanded on by using some of the more in-depth features provided by a DMS, such as sub-folders, which users can customise to suit their own needs, personalised ‘indexing’ methods and different levels of access, depending on employee level.

Within a DMS, documents can easily be shared in order that different employee’s inputs and thoughts can be added. As they are checked out and altered, the many different versions are saved, giving users the ability to look at previous versions, see what alterations have been made by whom and when they have done so; something that a system like Windows is sorely lacking. Work can easily be resumed from the point it was ceased, and previous copies are always available for referencing, giving an extensive and useful history of the document. Many users can also be viewing and using the same document at any one time, meaning that issues around sharing paperwork and files vanish; a big advantage in a busy working environment.

No individual filing structures
A major problem that many working environments find when wishing to manage and share documents, is the many different filing and naming structures people will initiate when faced with saving things to a Windows operating system. Shared drives containing folders and subfolders, as well as personal folders containing individual renamed components can lead to confusion and time wasted spent trying to locate things that could easily be found. As a result of these added complications, many companies and businesses naturally fall back on a reliance on paper based documentation. Individual filing structures can be well managed however, via using the customised software and processes that a DMS can provide. With a universal method, used across the network of employees, files and documents can be easily found, and an organised structure implemented.

Linked in with advantages derived from eliminating individual filing structures are more widespread standardisation practices provided by a DMS. Again, adopting a universal approach to the way in which documents are stored means that finding data is made easier. Files can be assigned numbers, names or dates, amongst other things, which can then be searched for by any authorised user swiftly and efficiently. With the DMS offering a standardised approach to the way in which it finds files, documents will not be missed or misplaced by searches, resulting in a streamlined operation in which information is readily available.

Environmentally and aesthetically friendly
As concern and awareness about the environment continues to be a focus, pressure for businesses to implement policies that reflect this are coming not just from engaged employees, but also from customers and clients, who view companies that embrace green procedures as progressive and forward thinking. Making a committed effort to cut back on paper usage and utilise a DMS can feed into this view, and thus increase the credentials of an environmentally friendly business. An added bonus to this is the creation of a much more aesthetically pleasing and spacious working environment, uncluttered with paperwork; something especially important if regularly visited by current or potential customers and clients.

Lessening of cost
Alongside the time savings resulting from increased efficiency of staff, referenced above, comes the fact that DMS software can eradicate the need to spend costs on paperwork and other requisite materials. The cost of the paper itself, photocopiers and their maintenance and filing equipment, can be radically reduced or potentially cut altogether.

Increased access and efficiency
As customers and clients look for and expect ever more efficient and swift services and responses, a successful business needs to respond to the demand. Use of a DMS can offer increased access; meaning that employees no longer need to be on-site to access documents. Remote access to records can mean that work can be conducted wherever the employee may be, making response times faster than ever. For organisations dealing with large documents that need to be read through and digested, the opportunity to do this in an office environment may be limited, something that having the files accessible remotely will help with. Likewise, transferring documents from one site to another is no longer necessary. With the fact that documents can be accessed anywhere, at any time comes a major increase in efficiency.

GDPR compliance
Replacing the Data Protection Act, in 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is placed to come into use, something that is set to have an impact on how data is kept and stored across Europe. With large fines possible, compliance with GDPR is being taken seriously. With concern mounting about how this will manifest itself in terms of paper records, use of a DMS can offer assistance. As the GDPR incorporates ‘the right to erasure’, or ‘the right to be forgotten’, it is possible for individuals to request the removal of their personal data from a system if there is no ‘compelling reason’ for it to remain there. Finding all this information within paper files could prove challenging, as could the notion that there may be more than one copy, in different locations, of the date. With a DMS this information can be easily located, and erased. In a similar vein, privacy is stressed in the GDPR, something which is far easier to maintain when paperwork isn’t involved. The potential for loss or misplacement of data due to simple human error is removed. Retention periods for data are also easy to monitor and maintain in a DMS, something which the GDPR stipulates.