Document Management Systems

Document management systems, as the name implies, are systems that aid in the publishing, storage, indexing, and retrieval of documents. Although such systems deal almost exclusively with explicit knowledge, the sheer volume of documents that an organization has to deal with makes them useful and in some cases even mandatory. Often they are a part of content management systems.

Usually, a document management system will include the following functions:

  • Capturing: In order for paper documents to be useable by the document management system, they must be scanned in. For companies that need to carry out this process and who have numerous paper documents this may be time consuming and expensive.
  • Classification using metadata: Metadata (data about data) is used to identify the document so that it can be retrieved later. It can include keywords, date, author, etc. The user is often asked to input this metadata or the system may extract it from the document. Optical character recognition may be used to identify text on scanned images.
  • Indexing: There are many different forms, and a good indexing system is crucial. The index function will use metadata.
  • Searching & retrieval: The document management system's search function is one of its most important elements. Search functions can be more or less sophisticated, allowing for searches by elements of the document's metadata, or by searching the actual document for key words/phrases and using semantic analysis to determine relevance.
  • Versioning: Storage and management of different versions of documents - useful for documents that require frequent updating. Allows authorized users to return to earlier versions.
  • Administration & security: Any IT system needs to be regulated and policed. Users require different levels of authorization, with certain more sensitive functions/documents being available only to selected users/administrators. Document management systems will also have backup systems in place in case of mishaps.

Document management systems, as the name implies, are systems that aid in the publishing, storage, indexing, and retrieval of documents. Although such systems deal almost exclusively with explicit knowledge, the sheer volume of documents that an organization has to deal with makes them useful and in some cases even mandatory. Often they are a part of content management systems.

Usually, a document management system will include the following functions:

  • Capturing: In order for paper documents to be useable by the document management system, they must be scanned in. For companies that need to carry out this process and who have numerous paper documents this may be time consuming and expensive.
  • Classification using metadata: Metadata (data about data) is used to identify the document so that it can be retrieved later. It can include keywords, date, author, etc. The user is often asked to input this metadata or the system may extract it from the document. Optical character recognition may be used to identify text on scanned images.
  • Indexing: There are many different forms, and a good indexing system is crucial. The index function will use metadata.
  • Searching & retrieval: The document management system's search function is one of its most important elements. Search functions can be more or less sophisticated, allowing for searches by elements of the document's metadata, or by searching the actual document for key words/phrases and using semantic analysis to determine relevance.
  • Versioning: Storage and management of different versions of documents - useful for documents that require frequent updating. Allows authorized users to return to earlier versions.
  • Administration & security: Any IT system needs to be regulated and policed. Users require different levels of authorization, with certain more sensitive functions/documents being available only to selected users/administrators. Document management systems will also have backup systems in place in case of mishaps.

Beyond this, they may include a whole host of possible features, including multiple platform support, multiple/customizable interfaces, workflow modules, file/format conversions, etc. Prices vary accordingly and solutions should be carefully matched to organizational requirements. There is also an open source system called OpenKM that, despite its somewhat misleading use of the term "knowledge management", seems to have gathered a significant degree of popularity.

Compared to non-electronic systems, the document management systems offer reduced operational costs, improved efficiency and speed of retrieval, improved consistency, and more safety (both in terms of file backups and security measures). There are hundreds of systems out there, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The points to consider are: purchasing/set up costs, types of features, training, upkeep, ease of use etc. Be sure to assess each one in light of your specific needs and your organizational processes.


Alan Frost M.Sc., 2010

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Download "A Synthesis of Knowledge Management Failure Factors" by Alan Frost. Free paper released Jan. 2014.

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