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Is that final? 5 reasons to use document version control software

Document version control

We’ve all been there. We’ve lovingly put the final touches to that important document and saved it to the shared drive. We’ve even labelled the document ‘final version’, so there could be no confusion about its status in the future. Then someone wants to change it.

Instantly, you’ve got another final version. And then it comes back from a client with further amends. Now there are three final versions. And you’ve got to create a fourth ‘final’ version to supersede them all. Maybe you’ll call that one ‘final_final_version’ just to make sure…

What is document version control?

Document version control is a systematic process for managing and tracking drafts of documents as they are updated over time, culminating in a ‘final issue’. Version control software is used by companies working on complex hi-tech projects and in regulated industries where traceability is essential for efficiency and compliance.

8 tips for improving the document review process

Version control tested to the limit

In a traditional shared drive or Google Docs arrangement, the integrity of improvised naming conventions are frequently tested to the limit. And when combing through those shared folders in the future it still may not be clear exactly which version of a file is the one we should all be working from.

In small businesses all this can be simply an irritant, with occasional, snippy emails flying around reminding you of the importance of correct version control. 

But as a business grows it can become a major issue causing you serious commercial problems. As the number of people in your business increases and the value of your client list expands, the chaos in your filing system may end up costing you revenue and reputation through:

  • Key documents being accidentally deleted or overwritten
  • Workers losing hours in the day looking for key documents
  • Workers wasting time reconstructing lost documents
  • Documents sent in error to clients
  • Bungled product upgrades and releases
  • Failed audits and certification attempts:

When documents matter they need to be subject to proper controls. You need document management software that can automate versioning, protect document integrity and bring order to the chaos.

Here are 5 reasons you need document version control software

1. Oversight and control

Underpinning great PM is the ability to find and share the latest versions of the hundreds of documents generated during a complex development process. From gathering and sharing initial requirements, to managing phased gated projects PMs need to have easy oversight of what is the latest approved iteration of each file. As new versions of documents are created and added to the system the right version control software should automatically name and index them in the system as the ‘latest approved draft’.

2. Ownership

When it comes to controlling the key quality and business documentation that holds your business together you need to have confidence that it is owned and managed effectively. With document control software you should be able to appoint named individuals (such as quality or project managers) as the owners of documents. This gives them responsibility for overseeing the lifecycle of the document - from requesting edits or comments from individuals to approving and publishing new versions. DMS software ensures accountability and control around vital documents from the moment they are created.

3. Keeping track of complex documents

Developers working with multiple versions of software releases need formal version control tools to keep track of bulky and complex documents. With coding documents it’s impossible to tell from sight the slight variations between them and which is the latest, approved version of a release. And it’s easy to get confused as they’re manually stored and indexed in your system. A good DMS will ensure each version is logically and uniquely labelled - with a record made of every change made in each iteration.

4. Team collaboration

As teams grow and change, document management software provides an important, single source of truth for an entire organisation to refer to. But opening up access to your system to so many disparate people represents a risk that documents might be overwritten, moved, or accessed without permission. Using dedicated document management systems with fine-grained access control will ensure that only authorised people can see specific files.   And with the right software automatically updating and reindexing our databases, they can ensure that workers are only ever seeing the latest approved version of any document published within a system.

5. Auditing

Systems like Google docs and DropBox might have the tools for rapid collaboration, but they lack the ability to forensically track version histories. Using the right version control software automatically captures the detailed information of a document’s evolution and keeps it forever. It shows the history of each iteration:

  • Who made changes to a document and when
  • Who accepted or approved changes
  • The notes and comments made about those changes

This is especially important if you have governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) or regulatory needs. Audit log history is especially key in the medical device and semiconductor industries, where you need to understand account for every step of your development process.

Ready to take control? Download our guide to digital document control for  medical device developers

There are online guides to manual version control that can help you develop internal policies to manage a do-it-yourself DMS. But they miss the point. They can’t eliminate human error and they won’t increase the speed or agility of your operations. Dedicated version control software, on the other hand, takes away the danger of a sprawling, self-regulated document management system spinning into chaos. They can:

  • Automate the processes that humans get wrong
  • Create logical naming conventions that can’t be changed
  • Capture metadata for better indexing and discoverability
  • Capture version histories in indelible ways to support future audits

And in the long term, they can stop a self-regulated document management system from spinning into unnavigable chaos.

Document control and ISO 13485

This blog was originally published on 01/03/22 and updated with new content on 21/12/22

Tags: Document management and control

Joe Byrne

Written by Joe Byrne

Joe Byrne is the CEO of Cognidox. With a career spanning medical device start-ups and fortune 500 companies, Joe has over 25 years of experience in the medical device and high-tech product development industries. With extensive experience in scaling businesses, process improvement, quality, medical devices and product development, Joe is a regular contributor to the Cognidox DMS Insights blog where he shares expertise on scaling and streamlining the entire product development cycle, empowering enterprises to achieve governance, compliance, and rigour.

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