What is an Electronic Document Management System and why is it required?
A document is any readable material that is used for business processes. Documents can be in multiple formats – printed pages, word processing documents, spread sheet, fax, presentation documents, photos, internet pages, medical images, AutoCAD drawings etc. We are handling more of electronic documents these days and then converting it to paper based documents, where required, by printing them. What if the entire process can be handled electronically without having to use papers at all? Then comes the storage and retrieval of such printed documents – it always happens that the most important file we are looking for is always not available (like a copy of a purchase order/ invoice etc). So, if all the important documents are stored electronically, it would be much easier to locate an important document that we may want to reference at that instant. And then comes the electronic documents (like word documents, power point files, auto cad files, emails etc) – If the critical electronic documents are also indexed by a central document management system, they could also be searched using some keywords in their contents, tags like date of creation, person who saved etc.
So, basically an electronic document management system refers to the creation, capture, organization, storage, retrieval, manipulation and controlled circulation of documents in electronic format.
The advantages of electronic document management systems are numerous. Some of them are given below:
¤ The documents stored in EDMS can be easily searched and viewed from any computers ensuring their instant and fast access/availability.
¤ As the printed documents are scanned, they would retain their original look, colour etc.
¤ Optical Character Recognition technology is useful to digitize the entire text of a document and allows the users to search using any textual term contained in them.
¤ Documents can be quickly shared for collaboration on the network.
¤ Electronic documents can be stored in multiple places (useful for disaster recovery).
¤ The real estate costs of storing paper based documents is reduced.
¤ Internal processes like approvals etc. can be done faster as most of the companies are multi-location based and it would take a long time to send and get back individual documents.
A document management system consists of an imaging server which contains the EDMS software that allows to store, retrieve and access documents based on any combination of indexes, text (if the scanned documents have gone through an Optical Character Recognition process). EDMS generally use database management systems like MySQL, Oracle etc to store and organize the documents. Some EDMS can be integrated with the existing database system used by the company.
People are also an integral part of the Document Management System as they have the knowledge about the type of documents, how to segregate them in to various groups, how the communication lines flow and take decisions as to which processes/work-flows need to be automated. Equally important is the business processes which define the organization and the flow of documented information between people within and outside the organization.
Printed documents are generally scanned by using specialized high volume scanners or certain Multi-Function Printers/Copier’s etc which can be integrated with the document management systems. These documents are indexed using certain parameters like date of creation, person who created, time of creation etc, and they can be organized in to related groups of folders.
Some EDMS allow automated capture and storage of incoming/ outgoing email messages and their attachments in to the document management system folders so that they can be stored and accessed whenever required.
Storage and Retrieval:
The electronic documents are generally stored in servers and other permanent storage. The current documents (that are used frequently or recently at that point of time) can be stored in a server/ hard disks and the archived documents can be kept on tape drives, CD’s, DVD’s, Storage Area Networks, CD/Optical Jukeboxes etc. Mostly the documents are stored in pdf format (scanned ones) so that they can be instantly accessed, viewed and searched from any PC/workstation.
Generally, some security features are applied to the accessing of the documents to control which users can access which documents at what times. And only one user is allowed to modify a given document at a point of time (as the documents can be accessed by multiple users at the same time).
EDMS allow locating/searching documents based on the text they contain (if the scanned pages have gone through an OCR) or through any of the indexed parameters. Some times, compression mechanisms are applied to images before storing them in order to reduce the disk space required for storing them.
Some EDMS softwares allow the search module can be integrated in to the existing software applications that the employees use on a daily basis like CRM/ERP modules etc.
Manipulation and Controlled Circulation:
The EDMS check if the stored documents have undergone any changes and intimate to the respective personnel concerned when some changes happen to important documents before saving them. Some times, approvals might be needed to be obtained before saving the changes to the saved documents, and EDMS allow to do the same.
One of the biggest advantages of EDMS is to quickly share the documents over the network (Internet/Intranet). Another important function of EDMS is to apply work-flow routing to the documents. All companies have some processes where important tasks are required to go through multiple approvals. An Electronic Document Management System automates this process and lets the personnel to give approvals over the network. You could imagine how much time a manual system of approvals would have consumed with printed paper and multi-location offices.
Some EDMS can also be integrated with the web and the documents can be presented to the user via a normal browser and displayed as dynamically generated HTML pages.
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