What is Document Management

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Document management is one of the oldest of the content management disciplines - and was essentially born out of the need to manage ever growing amounts of information being created within organisations.

In a world where only hardcopy information existed - there was always a physical limit to the amount of information that could be stored and retrieved. It could be argued that Microsoft with the introduction of MS-Office and MS-Windows released users from this physical limit - and with the exponential increase in information that has resulted, document management software has become an intrinsic part of most organisations as they seek to manage the vast quantities of data they hold.

Defining a Document Management System (DMS)

At the simplest level - all users who have a PC who set up folders into which they store word docs, PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets etc are effectively generating a basic document folder structure to allow them to easily store, retrieve and expire document content. The difference between this type of document management and that provided by DMS vendors is effectively the scale of what is being managed.

Document management systems are designed from the ground up to assist entire organisations seeking to manage the creation, storage, retrieval and expiry of information stored as documents. Unlike a file structure on your PC, a DMS revolves around a centralised repository that is used to manage the storage of any type of information that could be of value to an organisation - and protect the same against loss.

As content stored within a DMS is typically self contained (id est it cannot be assumed that it has any relationship with any other stored information), a well-designed document management system promotes finding and sharing information easily. It does this via sophisticated search tools - and the adding of classification schemes or taxonomies to the document information being stored.

    There are many different levels of document management software available on the market - but 'best of breed' document management systems will have the following features:

  • focused on managing documents, though they are often capable of managing other 'electronic information' such as images, movie files etc.
  • each unit of information (document) is self-contained
  • there are few (if any) links between documents (they may be associated by 'grouping' the items using a classification scheme or taxonomy)
  • focused primarily on storage and archiving and document life-cycle management including document expiry
  • includes powerful workflow for incorporating business processes into the management of the documents.
  • targeted at storing and presenting documents in their native format (not limited to MS-Office products but including many different information types)
  • document access may be restricted at a folder or document level - and other security models may be applied
  • limited ability to create web pages (suitable for intranets but not internets) typically produces one page for each document

Document Management has some overlap with the concepts of other types of Content Management and is often viewed as a component of Enterprise Content Management Systems and crosses over into Digital Asset Management, Document imaging, Business Process & Workflow systems and Records Management systems.

If you look at the Upper Quadrant of the Gartner ECM Magic Quadrant, the importance of DMS to the overall ECMS space is represented by the fact that all the top quadrant players are companies who have a strong presence in Document Management.

Further Reading

Generic information that assists with understanding the basics of document management