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7 steps to create a document management strategy

Information is the lifeblood of any organisation, yet too many are dependent on outdated document management practices that are inefficient and costly. A document management strategy that outlines precisely how to handle documents so that information can be easily created, shared, organised and stored is critical. Ultimately it helps to smooth the flow of information throughout the business. 

Having a document management strategy, particularly when implemented alongside an enterprise content management (ECM) solution, brings about several benefits, including:

Here are 7 steps to follow to help you develop a strategy that focuses on the right aspects of document management. 

Step 1: Assemble a document management team

To ensure the document needs of the entire organisation is built into the document management strategy, it’s essential to ensure there is at least one representative from all departments at the table. This team will then be responsible for creating and implementing the strategy from beginning to end.

Step 2: Evaluate your current processes

Once you’ve assembled your document management team, you will need to conduct a thorough assessment of your current document processes. In other words, how are documents:

  • received,
  • processed,
  • approved/rejected,
  • stored, and
  • deleted?

While it might seem like the easiest solution to simply replicate paper-based processes in your new strategy, by doing so, you risk perpetuating existing inefficiencies within this system.

This step is a key opportunity to identify those inefficiencies, so that when it comes to developing your strategy, you can create new workflows that decrease or even eliminate them. 

Step 3: Establish your goals

Many organisations make the mistake of implementing a document management strategy without first establishing what exactly they want to achieve with the strategy. 

For example, you need to understand if you’re trying to cut down the amount of time spent on certain processes. Or maybe you’re trying to improve customer response time or even take advantage of early payment discounts. Whatever you do, be sure to establish specific goals, along with KPIs, so you can not only determine your progress, but also communicate any successes to the rest of the organisation.

Step 4: Do an inventory of your documentation

Before you can implement your document management strategy, you need to determine what type of documentation you possess, where it’s stored and how it’s used. 

This will allow you to catalogue which documents are dealt with regularly (and therefore should be prioritised when implementing the new strategy), which need to be digitised and/or retained, and which can be securely discarded.

This is an excellent opportunity to consolidate data that is currently trapped in business silos, so, when seeking out your company’s data, be sure not to leave any stone unturned. (Some employees, for example, choose to store information on personal hard drives.)

Step 5: Develop your strategy

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, you and your team can now start to develop a strategy that will help you achieve the goals you set out in Step 3. Your strategy should factor in things like:

  • Standardising how documents are labelled, processed, reviewed, stored, retrieved and deleted (whether that’s across individual departments or across the entire organisation) 
  • Improving and automating existing workflows to ensure you get maximum benefits from your new document management strategy
  • Authorising users and establishing permissions to ensure document security
  • Establishing a data backup and recovery plan in the event of data loss or breaches

Many of these aspects are of course facilitated by the use of an ECM.

Be sure to also consider these document management best practices:

  • Capture content as close to the point of origin as possible: Think carefully how your system captures electronic data – there should be no need to print out documents and scan them in. Your system should ideally be able to capture information from emails, pdfs and electronic forms, thereby reducing the need for manual data entry.
  • Align indexing with business needs: Indexing helps you to process data and retrieve documents, but too many fields can become cumbersome, making it more difficult to capture documents without adding any useful information. Be mindful, therefore, that your indexing system matches your business needs, and that it’s not collecting unnecessary data.
  • Prioritise automation efforts: Many of the benefits that can be gleaned from a new document management strategy are further enhanced by automation. It’s prudent, therefore, to prioritise automation efforts, particularly when it comes to those processes that are most important to the business (and where, therefore, most advantage can be gained).
  • Don’t forget the employees: If you want your strategy to succeed, you must ensure that it makes your employees’ lives easier, not more difficult. This means things like ensuring interfaces are as simple as possible (not every employee needs access to every feature) and automating complex workflows to avoid the possibility of confusion or errors.

Step 6: Implement the strategy

It’s now time to put the strategy into action. You may want to roll out the new system across just one department in order to identify and resolve any issues before the system is implemented across the entire organisation.

It’s important that staff are thoroughly trained on the new system, particularly if the new workflows are markedly different from previous ones.

Step 7: Conduct regular maintenance

Even if the strategy has been successfully implemented, the work’s not over yet. It’s important to conduct routine checks to ensure employees are sticking with the strategy, and that it is helping you to achieve the goals you set out earlier. Don’t forget to communicate any successes with the organisation, to help encourage widespread adoption.

A strong document management strategy ensures that one of your business’s most important assets – its data – is at employees’ fingertips when and where they need it.

A new ECM will change how people work and affect the way documents are managed right across your organisation. It's not an easy or quick decision to make, but our Enterprise Content Management Checklist will help you consider your options and identify the right ECM to meet your business needs.