Today many organisations are going ‘digital’ – i.e. eliminating time consuming, cumbersome paper processes in the business in an attempt to achieve ‘paperless office’ nirvana. The first step to this approach requires converting paper to a digital format. Electronic files are cost-effectively stored (eliminating the need for expensive physical spaces); and backed up for business continuity in safe and secure locations. This then allows organisations to institute document management processes and automation systems that instantly indexed and archive information and records for fast search, retrieval and re-use.
Grossly under-utilised and unrecognised for this functionality, document management systems serve as great tools for collaboration too. The document management function can be set up as a shared service – both to internal clients and customers. For instance, within an organisation, establishing a shared document management system as a collaboration tool between the human resource and accounts departments eliminates duplication of data and makes things like payroll, pensions, on-boarding new employees and so on timely and seamless across both functions.
Similar processes can be established with customers. A top 20 UK audit and accountancy firm has set up a collaboration site for every single client that the firm services via its document management system. Now customers use the system as a default, secure, single location to store and share all their accounts-related paperwork – completely eliminating the need to share information via email or other means. It’s worth noting that this approach encourages client “stickiness” – i.e. the convenience and ease of working with the firm is potentially likely to outweigh any advantages that another firm might offer.
Confidentiality is of course vital in collaborative initiatives. Document management processes can be configured for security based on confidentiality requirements and organisational policies. For example, security could be set at the folder or document level with users/documents automatically inheriting access rights – such as for how long the documents must be stored, who can access them, what folder structures should be used, etc. Automatic time-out sessions can be applied to documents so that information isn’t accidently kept open.
For organisations that are looking to embed document management processes, this is a good time to explore cloud technology and in particular the private hosted option. Undoubtedly, there will be immediate cost savings, but a private hosted approach will ensure that the document management function is completely secure, allaying any potential customer reservations regarding collaboration. Unlike a Software as a Service model, every organisation installs its own instance of software, runs on a version of the document management system that best fits its needs and crucially, has full control over data and documents.
Underpinned by a paper-free approach to business, there is a strong business rationale for using document management as a collaborative tool to strengthen relationships with clients – both external and internally in the organisation. It allows businesses to strengthen relationships, truly add value and differentiate themselves from competition.
By Jon Wainwright, Sales Director, Ascertus Limited