There are different ways of how to manage documents using Document Management Systems (DMS). Which one is the best for your company? This blog discusses the question if it makes sense to manage the full document lifecycle in the DMS, or if only the most important document versions should be stored in a DMS, having the other documents created, managed and stored in other places.
I vote for the full approach. Why?
It is the collaboration idea that requires multiple users to work with the same document and have a full version history of information for all previous versions. The benefit of using a transparent chain of document versions is often underestimated. Even SharePoint technology is using this feature.
Document Management Phases
In the creation phase, Document Management Processes have special document access rights, which need to be considered differently, as you do not want to distribute the document to a larger audience, but at the same time you like to collaborate with the group of authors.
At this stage the system must be very flexible and user-centric. The focus here is on user interactions, where you prepare all meta-information in an intuitive way. This changes, when the document itself needs to step into a higher status and when leaving the authoring phase.
Now, it is more important that the document is following a workflow process for reviewing the document using the 4-eyes principle. And last but not least now follows the approval of the document for a designated business reason decided by a group of persons – the Approvers.
Document Management Approaches
Now let us discuss the paradigm of the title. Should a system focus on the classical document management lifecycle approach and support all stages a document has, like “Draft”, “Reviewed”, “Approved”, “Superseded” and “Obsolete”? Or should we focus more on using the system as a “Quasi-Archive” of final document versions only?
A good argument for the second option is that we most likely want to only have to concentrate on the most important ones, which is the actual valid version. So, why care about previous draft versions?
From the legal perspective this may be correct, but is it really the case for the whole business process?
Documents never exist without a wide range of linked information. For example you may see the actual valid document version from last year December, but your current parallel running business did already process a nearly finished new version. The actual version will become outdated, but is legally still valid for the past period. Draft versions of documents do have important information, maybe comments, which are useful for creating upcoming releases of the same document.
The answer from the business process perspective is always that people need to have the full overview, the whole past, with all their old superseded and outdated documents’ information, the actual valid legal version, but also the in-depth view of the new becoming “future valid” versions, for which all process members work hard for.
Arguments for a Full Size DMS Approach
Looking back to our blog title “Full Lifecycle Driven DMS vs. Managing Final Document Versions Only”, the answer is very easy and seems to be logic: “You need to have all the document phases on your fingertip – the whole past, the actual situation and the future.”
But coping with this challenge is not easy to manage. First of all, the used IT system should support you here with classic DMS functionalities, like versioning, status management and lifecycle permission management. For example, older draft versions should not be visible for the whole audience, but only for the authors.
Secondly, the usability of the front end application is a very important factor to get this managed in the best way possible. In other words, if your front end is not smart enough, intuitive, really fast and robust you may not like to work here. But most likely you will store everything in other places, where you find an easier way to do your daily business.
Thirdly, it is vital to focus on the benefit for the whole company and this might be the strongest argument for a full size DMS approach. The trust into this single source of information generated by a full Review Workflow and conducted by the exact selection of Approvers who are all signing the document in a full auditable timestamp.
A view to Costs and Time
However, if this is the best option – is a full size document management approach not too expensive and too time consuming to organize with all the required information?
And here is my argument– “please be fair and please have a look on the full business process”. Several studies did result in the same answers –the search of documents for the correct and final versions and the effort to manage the loss of missing information is much higher than any effort to manage your documents in a centric source system from the beginning.
So let us please consider and discuss to find the best way to reach that goal.