How an ECM System Assists with Document Management

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Introduction

The several departments of a company produce large amounts of documents — such as, for example, legal documentation, customer agreements, receipts and reports. These documents also need to be immediately accessible and in perfect condition. In order to make their content available, companies need strategies to navigate the process of managing their documentation.

Documentation management is a set of processes of production, administration, control and maintenance of a company’s documents. By managing their documentation correctly, companies can cut down on time and money spent in finding information and specific documents.

Enterprise Content Management (ECM), in turn, is a combination of strategy, methods, and tools for managing a business’ documentation. It uses technologies to take capture documents, manage them, deal with their storage and preservation and to deliver information (making content available), and control access to scanned documents.

In this article, these options of documentation management of a company are discussed in detail, presenting an overview of how enterprise content management works and how different techniques and technologies can contribute to its functioning in organizations.

Documentation Life Cycle

Before delving into the topic of documentation management, it is essential to understand the life cycle of a document.

In general, a document is something that describes an event and proves a fact. Examples of printed documents are: legal documentation, customer contracts, records, ledgers, receipts, invoices, service and maintenance contracts, reports.

In a business, documents go through several stages — from their source to their end. This entire cycle, as well as tracking documents and monitoring of all processes related to them, is part of documentation management.

The steps in the life cycle of a document in a company are:

  • Acquisition: identifies the source of the document. It can be:
    • Internal: created internally, by the business itself;
    • External: received by the business from another institution;
  • Classification: categorization and classification of the document based on its content;
  • Placement: setting of the document into an organization criterion — numeric, alphabetical, or chronological;
  • Processing: tracking of the circulation of the document and identifying the parties responsible for the document during this circulation. Through this step, there is a record of the documents movements: when it was handed over to an employee of a specific department, when it was given to another interested party etc.;
  • Destination: after the document fulfills its purpose, it is necessary to establish its end. It can be:
  • Archived: it is necessary to verify whether the document will be archived for a specific amount of time and used soon or whether it will be archived for an indefinite period, with no plans of future use. If there is a need to store the document, it is necessary to have an appropriate archival place, somewhere organized and protected against physical, chemical or biological agents;
  • Discarded: in this case, it is important to consider the mode of disposal of the document, considering security of the document’s data. With physical documents, for example, a paper shredder can be used, with the disposal of the pieces of papers in different containers — thus ensuring that the information can not be retrieved after the document has been destroyed.
  • Recovery: when it is necessary to use the document, it is essential to know where it can be found and who has access to it.

 

The sequence of steps of a document’s life cycle described above does not apply to all documentation, as each document may have its own sequence of steps. The life cycle of a document does not have a pre-established order, it can start from the processing step, as well as from the recovery step. To generate the order of the steps to be performed, it is necessary to consider the document within the context of the business.

Documentation management

Documentation management is a set of processes that cover the entire life cycle of a company’s documentation, from its production to its archiving.

According to Article 3 of Brazilian Law No. 8,159, of January 8, 1991 “document management is considered to be the set of procedures and technical operations related to its production, processing, use, evaluation and archiving in the current and intermediate phase, aiming at its disposal or collection for permanent storage”.

Businesses tend to accumulate documents over the years. This accumulation is generated, for example, by the production of data by different departments in the absence of content management. Thus, it becomes necessary to keep track of all of this documentation.

Documentation management can be carried out through a classification that defines the correct destination of different types of documents — for example, which documents should be kept permanently, which should be archived for a limited time, and which should be discarded.

Therefore, when requested, a document — if administered correctly — must be available, in a good state of conservation, with immediate availability, due to the need of the business regarding the document.

Below, the purpose of documentation management:

  • Production, administration, control and maintenance of documents. Applying content management, the company have sustainable savings (responsible use of available financial resources, without unnecessary costs) and reduction of hours spent looking for documentation;
  • Availability of content through software, so its possible to locate documents through search tools;
  • Preservation of content.

While documentation management is essential to all types of businesses, managing physical documents can be complex and expensive as time goes on. Documentation storage, for example, requires specific conditions.

The places where documents are stored need to be organized — so that information can be retrieved with some ease — and secure, protected from theft or espionage. It is crucial that documents are protected against different types of physical (luminosity, temperature, humidity), chemical (paint, oil, metal objects) and biological (insects, rodents) agents. Therefore, in order to to keep the documents in good condition, the storage space must be sanitized and temperature-controlled.

Businesses that have a high volume of physical documents need to store them on site or at companies specialized in storing physical content. Often, these places that are not close to the business or are difficult to access, so that, when the company needs a piece of information in an archived document, there is a cost and time to be spent for its recovery.

Therefore, there are challenges in maintaining documents in physical format. There are also challenges in its acquisition, maintenance and tracking, if done manually. Given this, ECM is an interesting option, carrying out the management of documentation digitally, with the help of methodologies and technologies.

ECM

The ECM system manages physical documents in digital content, offering security in storage, control when sharing of documents and ease in locating them through online queries. The system also provides records organization and the interpretation of data, generating content relevant to business strategies.

Some of the objectives of the ECM system are to:

  • Facilitate process and document management;
  • Collaborate, by sharing digital content online;
  • Provide practicality and intelligence in the management of records;
  • Avoid paper accumulation in physical files;
  • End document losses;
  • Ensure information security;
  • Achieve goals in companies processes;
  • Reduce time and costs in the search for information.

However, the ECM system does not simply comprise the digitization of documents, it optimizes process and improves the day-to-day of all parties involved. Through ECM, businesses achieve greater gains compared to through simple documentation management, as there the same physical documents are accessible in digital format, content can be shared online, accumulation of physical papers and files can be minimized, content can be found easily and time and costs can be cut down.

How does an ECM system work?

In an ECM system, processes related to business documentation apply technologies that modify how they work. There are some essential steps and technologies that carry out the transformation of documentation management processes through ECM.

For example, a first step in an ECM process is Document Capture. It can be done by scanning the document, capturing its picture with a mobile device, importing an electronic document, among others options. With the resources available today, the process of documentation capture can be much quicker and simpler.

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology used in ECM systems to extract information in documents and images. This technology identifies the characters present in the images and extracts the data from the document, organizing it in the system. The advantage of using this technology is the ability to search for information in the digitized document.

Then, the Format Converting can be carried out. In this step, there is the conversion of files of different extensions to a format that is capable of being read on any device. For example, converting a .jpg source file into a .pdf file. The advantage of file converting is that it ensures that documents can be read on mobile, desktop and tablet devices.

The process of Integrated Digital Signature in documents ends up generating more mobility, agility and cost reduction. With a digital signature, there is no need for the parties involved to be physically present, it is enough to send the document through the system and have it be signed electronically. However, there are differences between electronic signatures and digital signatures:

  • Electronic signature: involves all methods/ways to sign or validate an electronic document. The methods/ways can be: digitized hand signature, password use on a document, fingerprint (biometrics) or even digital signature;
  • Digital Signature: it is a type of electronic signature that uses encryption linked to the electronic document to ensure extra protection. If there is a change in the document, the digital signature becomes invalid. There is a need for Digital Certificates, issued by Certificate Authorities.

There are three digital signature characteristics that guarantee its authenticity: integrity, authorship and non-repudiation:

  • Integrity and authorship: through a cryptographic key, the link between the document and the author of the signature is created. Therefore, any change to the original document invalidates the signature;
  • Non-repudiation: it is impossible for the author to deny the authenticity of the document or their responsibility for its content.

All scanned documents are registered in the ECM system. To find and retrieve information, the process of Information Retrieval and Management  — a means for searching, retrieving and viewing documents — is used. In it, all actions respect the access permissions for each document. Sharing them can be done through secure links. Thus, information becomes fast and easily accessible, available 24 hours a day.

Conclusion

Document management is a set of processes aimed at managing documents, from their production to their archiving. With the correct administration, when requested, a document must be made available immediately and be in a state of conservation for use.

With proper documentation management, a company can maintain responsible use of financial resources, without unnecessary expenses, and make its processes more agile, which enables the recovery of documentation information and preservation of its content.

The ECM system is an option for documentation management that combines strategies, methods, tools and technologies. Its purpose is the management of physical documents as digital content.

The ECM system seeks to make processes and documentation management easier. It allows online digital content sharing, increases practicality and efficiency in record management, avoids accumulation and loss of documents, ensures information security and reduces time and costs for content management.

Thus, through the ECM system, it is possible to obtain optimization of processes and ease of access to information by those parties involved, since the system guarantees immediate and secure availability of documentation, making it an option that improves and speeds up all processes related to business documents.

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