It’s inevitable. Electronic document management will soon be the only practical and acceptable way to retain, retrieve and distribute your critical business information. But don’t worry; this doesn’t have to be a daunting endeavor. Thousands of manufacturers have learned to leverage web-based technology to switch painlessly from paper-based filing and storage to an electronic document management solution. Consider it a business imperative, since continuing the status quo of paper-based information sharing will make it nearly impossible to compete successfully in today’s global economy.
Going paperless starts with converting paper files into well-organized digital content that’s instantly accessible from any computer with Internet access. This is accomplished through imaging or scanning. Documents are then indexed, stored, shared, retrieved, and distributed much more efficiently. Many document management systems also enable you to electronically transfer other files such as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, JPG files and even e-mail correspondence directly into your electronic filing cabinets for permanent retention and easy retrieval.
Like most manufacturing companies, you probably have many cabinets full of paper which occupy valuable square footage in your office or warehouse. Retrieving information involves flipping through file folders on your desk, or going to the cabinet, finding and pulling files, making copies or sending faxes, then re-filing everything in the right place. These few minutes quickly add up to expensive man-hours.
How much more productive could you be (and how much space could you save) if every document you needed was right at your fingertips – accessible in seconds with just a few clicks or keystrokes? Even departments like Sales, Human Resources, Compliance or Accounts Payable and Receivable can store their paperwork electronically.
Benefits of Electronic Document Management
There are many advantages to going paperless:
- Time savings. With document management, you can have instant access to files. Scan documents once and never print them again. View documents without leaving your desk, which means customers get answers immediately. While you are out of the office, you can easily access original files through any web-based document management system.
- Money savings. With a document management system, you can reduce the amount of paper you buy and virtually eliminate postage, photocopies, fax machines, couriers and off-site storage. You can also decrease your paper consumption costs because you can directly e-mail or fax documents instead of printing and mailing cumbersome paper files. Using this tool, you and your employees will quickly become more efficient and productive -- giving them more time to focus on other tasks -- which will save, if not make you, money.
- Space savings. The average 5-drawer file cabinet takes up 12 square feet of space. Eight file cabinets occupy almost 100 square feet. What would you do with an extra 100 square feet of prime office space? How much rent are you paying for the space occupied by your file cabinets?
- Improved communication. By placing e-mail correspondence in the same electronic filing cabinet as contracts, product specifications, invoices and other documents, it will be faster and easier for your employees to look at client information and correspondence. No more putting people on hold. Most document management systems will interface with your current contact management software, so you won’t need to store files in both places.
- Improved compliance. MSDS are a perfect example for this benefit. One Detroit-based manufacturer has begun to house their MSDS information online. “We started storing our MSDS data online using our document management system to ensure the latest information was available to all of our employees, regardless of where they are located,” the plant manager explained. “With chemicals in multiple locations throughout our facility, storing the information this way made more sense than trying to update a large number of manuals every time a new chemical was introduced or an updated MSDS came out.”
- Better backup. Since so many manufacturers use their warehouse space to house contracts and orders that aren’t used, but need to be retained, there is a real danger that those records could be lost if a piece of equipment caught on fire or if the sprinklers went off. By scanning and storing paperwork electronically, those threats are reduced and you’ll have created a back up of all your critical documents. A disaster-recovery plan is an added bonus.
- Go green. Going paperless is a great step toward going green. Paper production negatively impacts our environment and drains natural resources. As more and more documents arrive at your desk electronically, you can use a document management system to automatically add them to your web-based file cabinet.
Four Things to Consider When You Go Paperless:
There are four topics you should discuss with any document management provider you are considering: Security, Service, Scalability and Support.
Now more than ever, security must be at the forefront of any document management system. Customer and vendor information is highly confidential and you have a professional responsibility to protect people’s privacy. Storing documents on a remote server is safer than putting files in a cabinet without locks.
Document management providers should be storing data using state-of-the-art encryption technology and need to be prepared to enhance that security as newer technology becomes available. Keep in mind, it is important that similar encryption technology be employed to provide secure data transmission; think online bill pay from your bank.
Another component of security is data backup because information must always be recoverable. Physical storage systems are vulnerable to loss from fire, theft, wind, water, and vandalism. Ideally, data should be stored on redundant servers in at least two geographically separate data centers and backed up regularly.
You should also receive a monthly encrypted CD from your provider with all your previous month’s scanned images to keep in your office. This three-tiered level of information backup provides a fool-proof way to comply with records retention requirements as well as disaster recovery and business continuity policies.
Advances in computer systems have afforded us instant access to information on the Internet. A document management system must be equally as responsive, even when transmitting and storing millions of documents. Today’s Internet-based systems can easily meet or exceed the performance of a local server-based system.
Be mindful, too, of how easily your document management system will integrate or interface with your current business management software application. This will greatly increase its ease of use.
As your business grows, so will your need to provide document access to new employees. Be sure to choose a system that is completely scalable to meet your changing business needs without having to spend more money. Some document management providers will charge per workstation or user. This might not fit into your budget, so plan accordingly.
Internet-based software systems provide a real value to their customers in that every user is on the same version of the software. In other words, the vendor only has to support one version of their software so they can do their job extremely well. Since the occasional technical problem or password reset request is sure to arise, be certain that technical support is included in your cost.
An Internet-based document management system provides a paperless solution for manufacturers or businesses in any industry. Just remember, your paper will continue to grow until you scan it and shred it. Simply put, the sooner you let go of the paper the sooner you can experience the many benefits of electronic document management.
Stephanie L. Jones, MBA, is the Marketing Director for eBridge Solutions, a web-based document management company located in Tampa, Florida. She can be reached at sjones@eBridgeSolutions.com.