Document management (particularly older document management systems) are often loathed, regarded as annoying and prohibitive tools that inhibit efficiency and require too much overhead. In some organisations their use is mandated but not followed, others enforce their use across the board and some prefer an organic approach to let the author choose his poison.
Let’s face it, we’ve all used them (or at least heard others cursing at them) and likely been frustrated at a seemingly simple ‘save’ action taken an unnecessarily long amount of time. So why do a select few push their use so so strongly? Do the perceived benefits really outweigh the annoying overhead required in their day-to-day use? To answer the question let me first describe the ‘organic’ world of no document management.
Organic (or no) document management
Some organisations prefer not to, or simply haven’t found reason to, enforce use of a document management system. In such an environment, the main document ‘store’ will likely be the ubiquitous ‘network share’ – that extremely well-organized set of nested folders and wide assortment of filenames. The person who created and/or maintains the folder structure has no problem finding what they need (every other employee struggles and constantly emails for the same document link) and the systems works well until Mark from accounting (* no real names or job titles used of course!) accidentally deletes the project folder and the backup from yesterday loses your days work. Sarcasm aside, the system can work in smaller environments with less than 20 or so employees but even they would benefit from a more structured approach.
Versioning? (which version was that again)
Another familiar scenario: Once the document you were after has been located, you scratch your head and wonder if v0.13 is the current version or whether what John was saying about still using the approved v0.11 still holds true. A quick email/call/rush-to-his-desk would clear that up, but he’s not there….
We know the problem – multiple versions of the same thing and we usually go with the latest, which is always a best guess and there are many reasons why the highest version isn’t necessarily the right answer (pending PCR, unapproved feedback, draft mistakes in latest etc.). Explicitly knowing the right version to use without needing to ask saves time – and saves rework, but is it worth the hassle?
Concerns with document management systems
So why don’t people warm to the concepts of document management? Let’s take a look at a few common complaints:
- It takes too much time to make a simple save
- It asks for too much extra information
- It’s too slow
- I can’t figure out how to save something
- What’s a check in?
Most of the above issues are related purely to usability, with some down to implementation, but the main inhibitor always seems to the systems usability. A document management solution needs to be ubiquitous and provide no more (or only slightly more) effort than hitting the Word save icon.
Some of these issues are inherently present in the design of the solution, particularly from the bigger industry players, but a lot of pain can be saved in the implementation by not saddling the users with too much metadata to complete and providing seamless integration into MS Office and popular document creation products.
Cost vs. Benefits? Is the value proposition really worth it?
Without debating the pros/cons of particular product offerings (an entire post on it’s own), is the benefit of using a document management offering really worth the pain/annoyances of their day-to-day use?
To me the answer is a resounding yes, but proportional to the overhead required by the particular implementation. For me, coming from a technical SharePoint consulting background, I am able to easily setup a painless and almost seamless document management experience for my projects with the required admin access and up-front planning (or help from IT team to get what I need created)*. What takes a day (max) to create upfront before a project saves not just me, but each team member, multiple days of frustrating effort attempting to locate and share documents.
* I reference SharePoint as it is commonly available in organisations, but the same holds true for other platforms with configurable ECM/DMS functionality
It has benefit when working with co-located teams, multiple vendors with different networks, distributed authors of single documents, serving up different views of static content and provides a static baseline for activities such as traceability (a topic of discussion in upcoming posts).
To pain that is associated with document management in my view comes down largely to product selection and implementation decisions and I appreciate there isn’t a lot that the average user can do to influence in these cases, but that’s not to say it isn’t worth asking. There may be regulatory reasons for enforcing strict rules around document management but often in it’s a poor understanding of the user base and a medium between ease of use and information capture.
Is there a better way?
For now I think it depends entirely on your organisations current situation and strategic direction, but the potential for influence is strong. While cloud-based solutions will unlikely be the answer due to unanswered security questions take a look at your current options and see if there are options to streamline the process. The key to a successful document management solution lies with a single word: seamless.