Document Management Systems
For most law firms, the importance of having an efficient document management system, or DMS for short, cannot be overstated. The idea behind DMS is to utilise computer systems and software to streamline and automate document management processes by “storing, locating, updating, and sharing data to advance…workflow and achieve business results”[i].
The popularisation of the paperless office movement in recent years has seen document management systems gain traction with organisations looking to maximise on document storage capacity with limited physical space.
Document management systems were initially conceived in the 1980s to address and manage the issue of increasing paper-based document loads. Since then, major developments have been made in such systems’ capabilities, particularly given advancements made in the realm of software development.
At its earliest stages, software was used as a way to offer better solutions for paper and print document storage by using image files that would display the contents of a document electronically. However, with growth in consumer demands, increases in regulatory requirements and proliferation in the availability of technological features, the practical utility and importance of document management systems came to be recognised by organisations. Thus, the modern DMS is no longer limited to electronic document display only. It also includes document creation tools, centralised storage, access controls, audit trails, scanning features as well as search and retrieval applications to simplify and streamline the entire document management process. These features make DMS particularly convenient in facilitating and tracking an organisation’s information-intensive projects.[ii] DMS also confers various other operational benefits, including cost savings for paper storage and disposal, environmental benefits, enhanced security and better team collaboration.
The average employee in a UK office runs through about 5k – 10k sheets of paper each year. Paper is an office item that tends to come at a low price but at a very high operational cost. This becomes apparent when focusing on an organisation’s overhead expenses when it comes to paper storage.
Space is expensive in London. According to research conducted by software developers at Reckon, the average cost to store a filing cabinet is roughly £360.00 per cabinet and this figure factors in the space that the cabinet takes up both when it is closed as well as when it is opened. The more employees an organisation has, the more paper it would need, and, thus, the more cabinets and the greater the need for storage capacity, so it is easy to see how that figure can rise. It does beg the question of how much money businesses are expending yearly for storage needs, considering how document-packed meeting rooms, desks and cabinets are a common reality for many organisations. Paper storage is, however, only one aspect of the cost savings that document management systems can offer.
Since documents cannot be stored in a cabinet infinitely, a business will eventually be faced with the need to dispose of such documents, which can result in high expenses.Where several copies are made of a single document, these costs increase further. Especially with organisations dealing with extensive amounts of sensitive client data, such as law firms, there are rules and regulations around ensuring that the right policy is in place to safely destroy sensitive information contained in documents and records.
It is a general matter of protocol that documents need to be shredded and destroyed after a certain period of time. Arguably, the best way to do this is to outsource to a company that follows confidential practices and can certify that these practices were followed when destroying a batch.
So, how much would disposal cost? Veolia Environmental Services UK estimates that the average cost for a small business to destroy waste is around £384.00 each year, but this does not take into account factors like wasted time and collection costs, which would compound disposal expenses. Additionally, costs are expected to increase with ongoing efforts to strengthen environmental policies and align business practices to them as well as with pressures from the government to make businesses accountable for the costs associated with their waste.[iii]
Outside of workflow improvements, the right document management system offers major environmental benefits. A discernable advantage comes in the form of a decrease in paper usage, but the benefits of a document management system can stretch even further when considering an organisation’s reduced reliance on the printing process and the beneficial impact that this can have on the environment.
Ink cartridges are notoriously detrimental to the environment, with an estimated 45 million being dumped yearly in the UK alone. These cartridges are comprised of materials that can take a millennium to biodegrade, and, all the while, they would continue to release dangerously toxic components into the environment over time. Consequently, by adopting an effective document management system where documents are electronically displayed and remotely accessible, organisations can reduce the need for printing, which in turn reduces the number of ink cartridges being used and disposed of, thereby decreasing the amount of waste generated by an organisation.
Enhanced Document Security
Another beneficial aspect of document management systems is enhanced document security and accessibility. The ability to secure files and documents serves as a crucial regulatory concern for organisations and is particularly relevant for compliance purposes. Hence, the advantage of DMS is that documents are stored in secure, access-controlled centralised servers.
Certain operational features in document management systems enable administrators to control and configure access controls to particular authorised personnel. Consequently, users would need to either be granted access or have within their posession the necessary security credentials to have access to certain documents for review and modification.
Team Collaboration and Auditing
The ability to seamlessly share documents is said to be one of the main purposes of document management alongside making them “secure, accessible, recoverable and interchangeable.”[iv] Thus, document management systems are deemed to facilitate better team collaboration by providing tools to enable inputs from various members to be consolidated onto “a single document in real-time”[v].
Moreover, with larger organisations that work across various sectors and practice areas, utilising a document management system is likely to facilitate easier team identification, engagement and collaboration across all departments working on the aspects of a shared project or matter. Document management systems also allow for the establishment of thorough digital auditing trails that identify individual users when they gain access to certain documents and when such documents’ content is edited.[vi]
As more organisations begin to adopt the approach of the paperless office, document management systems will become an essential and indispensable part of such work environments. The operational benefits of such systems are multitudinous by helping organisations save money on paper storage and disposal costs, aligning their business activities with more environmentally friendly and sustainable models, offering enhanced document security and enabling better team collaboration.
Ultimately, document management systems offer a great solution for organisations seeking to simplify and automate document management, maximise workflow, eliminate wasted time, increase productivity and lead to a more efficient organisation.
[i] Vasila Abbasova, ‘Main Concepts of the Document Management System Required for its Implementation in Enterprises’, (2020) 1(66) ScienceRise p.34
[ii] Ibid. p.32
[iii] Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and Environment Agency, ‘Our Waste, Our Resources: A Strategy for England’ (HM Government 2018) available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/765914/resources-waste-strategy-dec-2018.pdf
[iv] Vasila Abbasova, ‘Main Concepts of the Document Management System Required for its Implementation in Enterprises’, (2020) 1(66) ScienceRise p.35
[v] Gihan Wikramanayake, ‘Document Management Techniques and Technologies’ (Conference Paper, 2003) University of Colombo p.4
[vi] Forrester, ‘ The Total Economic Impact Of iManage Work: Cost Savings and Business Benefits Enabled by iManage Work’ (Forrester, 2021) p.1-2, 14 available to download at: https://lawsitesresources.com/resource/imanage-forrester-tei-study-building-a-business-case-for-modern-document-management