If you consider how people often treat business documents, it would appear that it’s common to view them as static items that fulfill a purpose at just a single point in time. As one example, take contracts: while a great deal of effort goes into negotiations, once an agreement is signed, it’s all too typical to file it away and never refer to it again. In other words, many treat the development of the contract as the primary objective, while managing the document after the fact is given little thought.
But in truth, documents are dynamic, vital organizational assets that should be treated accordingly. Though not all documents are the same, most do have a common lifecycle, fulfilling specific needs and requiring different functions and approaches at each distinct stage.
What Are the Stages of the Document Lifecycle?
To understand what functions are crucial to document management, it’s essential to first define the end-to-end document lifecycle and the objectives of each phase.
The document management lifecycle begins when a document is created and evolves through to the point it is either archived or destroyed. The stages in between consist of:
Classification/categorization - determining and tagging the contents of the document so that it may be stored appropriately;
Storage - migrating the document to a secure storage repository, from which it may be retrieved as needed;
Performance - performing any tasks and actions that are required to ensure the document fulfills its intended purpose;
Archiving and/or destruction - to reduce clutter and manage risks, such as requirements for protecting personally identifiable information (PII) and other sensitive data, it’s crucial to ensure that inactive and/or expired documents are either archived or properly destroyed.
5 Key Functions for Successfully Managing the Document Lifecycle
Once you understand the objectives of each stage of the document management lifecycle, the functions required to administer each start to become clearer. And whether your documents consist of contracts, customer records, or other types of data, experts agree some common functions improve the ease of navigating these stages. These include:
Optical character recognition: While we often use the word “document” as a uniform term, in fact, documents can exist in a variety of formats including text, images, charts and other types of media. This can pose a challenge for document management, and electronic document management in particular, as some formats are easier for computers to read than others. And if your computer cannot read the contents of your document, it won’t be able to search within it or perform AI-enabled tasks such as automation. Optical character recognition (OCR) resolves this issue by converting images and other formats that are not easily read by computers into text, which can then be searched or subjected to AI-based processes.
Tagging: Before you can effectively store your documents, you need to know what’s inside them so that you can organize them appropriately. Tagging allows you to add a simple label or series of labels to each document, indicating important information about its contents and how they must be handled. Effective tagging can help you to find stored documents more easily and identify what tasks must be performed and when. Tagging can also provide valuable information about your document portfolio as a whole, such as an overview of the types of documents you have or of documents that are related to specific activities or business lines. Tagging can be done manually - where a person must reach each document and assign the relevant tags - or automatically - where a computer crawls the contents of the document and automatically suggests tags based upon keywords and other information.
Secure storage: Having a place to store your documents in a secure and organized manner is one of the most basic requirements for effective document management. Traditionally, it was common to store documents in filing cabinets and other physical locations; increasingly many businesses are moving to online document repositories, which can resolve access and security issues and improve the ease and speed of information retrieval. Wherever you store your documents, the sensitive nature of the information they contain makes security a key consideration. If your solution is in the cloud, look for best-in-class protection measures such as encryption and onsite datacenter security.
Organization tools: The ability to organize your documents in an organized fashion is another fundamental function required for effective document management. An organized repository - which includes separate sections for active and archival documents - promotes better visibility into your documents, reduces clutter, and improves the ease and speed of access. While organizational features may vary, these are most useful when they are familiar and intuitive - such as tools based on common folder structures.
Access control: It’s not uncommon for numerous stakeholders - across teams and job functions - to require access to specific documents during their lifecycle. As such, a method of streamlining access is another crucial function. Permission-based roles allow an administrator to set up secure self-serve access to individual documents for designated users, reducing bottlenecks and ensuring that the right people can access crucial information on demand.