Key Checkpoints in Document Management

Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group
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Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group

Douglas Duncan, CIO, Columbia Insurance Group

If you asked a Ford executive what the company does, you might be told they are in the transportation business, not the car or truck business.  Perhaps somebody at John Deere would say they are in the harvest automation business.  An insurance company?  The risk transfer business.  The police department?  Public safety. 

What business are you in?  Whatever you answered, it is safe to say, you are also in the document business. 

Your documents might be mostly paper or mostly digitized, but it is almost certain they are the lifeblood of how you operate on a day-to-day basis.  Larger companies will have more tools and processes around their documents, and how effective they are at managing that will play an ever larger role in their overall success.

  Every complex system setup is craft work, not mass production​  

Do you need to do a sanity check on how this is managed in your company?  Five basic checkpoints will help you evaluate where you stand, either on firm ground or shifting sands.  Ask yourself how well you address each of these checkpoints, then create a plan of action where you need improvement.

System performance 

Do you know how long it takes to upload or download a document?  Maybe your customers are complaining that it takes ‘forever!’, but do you really know?  Speed of download is the most critical measurement for assessing your document management system performance, at least from a user standpoint.  Understand this number and what factors impact it, such as user location, time of day and size of document.  Once you can measure this consistently you can improve it where needed, truly understanding the impact of each improvement.  

Other important system performance measures include the capacity of the system to scale as usage increases, for example, how well it handles peak usage during busy periods on a daily, weekly or monthly cycle.  With larger systems, efficiency of storage becomes important and a cost per megabyte metric is very useful.

Storage methodology

How efficient is your storage?  If you have a smaller shop this may not be an issue, but at larger scales you will not want all your documents kept at the same level of readiness and accessibility.  For example, documents that are rarely retrieved could be kept in a lower cost, but also slower access, storage solution.  A file that is retrieved once in five years can perhaps take a few seconds longer to retrieve without causing user pain.  However, this approach requires a sophisticated document knowledge and records policy so IT can really understand what documents go where.

Whether or not you have a multi-tier storage solution, you also need to consider your backup situation.  How often do you back up your documents?  What is your process for recovery?  Do you have the ability to handle versioning of documents, and if so, do you have solutions and policies around it that will keep your storage size from ballooning?

System interoperability

The more complex your company the more your document management system will interact with other tools and processes.  Consider to what extent your system supports your document printing services, robotic processes and document production tools.  How well do these systems talk to each other?  Do they utilize a common set of API’s?  Is there a framework they can use to make calls and pass information between services?  A great document management tool that does not play well with others will result in much custom code; this increases complexity, and therefore risk and cost.

Do you have a master data management system?  If so, how well does you document management system’s metadata support it?  Perhaps the biggest interdependence of all is workflow.  Your document management system must pair well with your workflow system.  You will often find these bundled together, but if not, take extra care that they are very compatible or you will have significant issues later as your organization grows.

Access management

A document management system that is easy for everyone to access may seem great to the users, but it is a cyber-criminal’s paradise.  Your system must have the minimum capability of providing secure user access and that you have a way to effectively manage it over time.  Ideally you should look for the ability of the system to give different levels of access based on user profiles, categories of documents and other dimensions related to your company security policies.  You will also need to consider data privacy policies and other needs unique to your industry.

Retention policy

Due to legal best practices, minimization of storage space and ability to manage large volumes of documents, it is important to have a retention policy that spells out how long each document is kept before being deleted.  If you do not have such a policy in place, life will seem good for a while, but it will catch up with you eventually.  A corporate document retention policy needs to be applied in whatever systems the documents reside.  The ability of your document management system to support this is a key factor in its overall effectiveness.  Many advanced systems do have a metadata structure designed to support retention policies, though you will need to validate it is actually being used.

Ultimately, every document management system, as part of an overall IT system landscape, is a unique piece of art. Every complex system setup is craft work, not mass production.  Therefore you cannot simply assume because you are using a standard system that it is properly setup to meet your needs.  You can use these five checkpoints to evaluate your situation and develop your own custom plan.

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