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How to evaluate a document management system

evaluate document management system

A document management system (DMS) can measurably improve your productivity and efficiency. A good DMS helps manage information, control operations, and achieve fast, sustainable ISO certification.

But some DMS platforms can be over-complicated, bloated and rigid. Before you begin the search for the right DMS for your organisation, it would be wise to understand how you will use it and, therefore, what features will be the most important.

We’re not here to tell you which features to look for. Rather, we’re suggesting that an understanding of your business use cases will help you focus on the features that will enhance your business activities; your product development, your sales process, and your delivery to customers.

We’ve put together the following to help you when it comes to evaluating a document management system features list.

Be clear on what you want it to achieve

What are the frustrations among your team? Would it make things easier if you could search more easily for documents? Or have you noted an increase in wasted engineering effort, required re-work, or missed deadlines which could be addressed with a more structured and controlled development process? Or perhaps, documents have been lost entirely in the past, or you’ve suffered a security breach.

Once you are clear on exactly what it is you want to achieve, your search becomes more meaningful. You will understand how DMS features such as full text search and flexible workflows could improve your daily operations.

Gather your team(s) together and encourage them to be honest about any daily frustrations. What are the difficulties and challenges that are affecting their productivity? If any of those challenges are related to information access and control (the right information at the right time) or the flow of projects then a good DMS might be able to help.

And here it’s worth noting that many people have misconceptions about what constitutes a good DMS. Not all document management systems are created equal. So, while you are identifying your challenges, it might be wise also to understand the ways a smart, lean DMS can be invaluable for effective product development.

Know your business use cases

If someone could wave a magic wand and help your business achieve one thing, what would it be? Improved project governance? Regulatory compliance? Controlled, secure critical information sharing with third parties? A leaner business model?

If you can be clear on what you want to achieve, you’ll better understand how each of the tools and features of a potential vendor’s software will measure up to your goals. If you begin discussing your options with potential vendors, explain your use cases to them. They will be in a better position to explain how their system might be able to help you. This knowledge makes it easier from day one to filter the useful from the superfluous.

In the same breath, you should recognise what you don’t want from a system. Sometimes features come with undesirable “side effects.” For example, in order to achieve good document control, some document management systems require users to change the way they work. Any gains made through better control can be offset by the pain of having to modify all your processes and workflows.

Evaluate the supplier

The relationship you’ll have with your DMS supplier will likely be a long-term one, so be sure to check their track record, customer testimonials, and even trial their system and support teams.

Also consider the people working for the vendor - are they knowledgeable, friendly and approachable. Are both of your teams compatible? You’ll want to have confidence not only in the solution but also in the team behind it.

A document management system is something you and your teams will interact with everyday. For the first few weeks following implementation there will probably be a learning curve, but if the vendor is available and helpful, that’s an added value that could be hard to find elsewhere.

Also, how responsive will they be to your needs? The features you require at the outset are not necessarily the ones you’ll need a year or five years down the road. How able are they to be flexible and to work with you? Or will you have to dance to their roadmap?

Put together a checklist

Once you’ve established the above, you’ll know which items and tools are ‘essential’, which are ‘nice to have’ and which are ‘unnecessary’. Consider compiling a checklist and assigning the most common features into one of these three categories. Armed with this checklist, you’ll be sure you’re not in danger of committing to a version which costs extra for tools you may not even use.

Remember, it’s not a case of searching for the DMS provider with the longest features list or the fanciest website. Think strategically about how this will be used in everyday operations.It will pay to be prepared and to take your time when evaluating vendors.

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Tags: Document Management, DMS