Selecting the appropriate Document Management Solution (DMS) is no easy feat. The platform you choose will become the backbone of your business. Not only will it be used by every company employee, but it will become your organization’s digital “filing cabinet,” managing even your most sensitive corporate documents. Not to mention, you’ll need to ensure the solution complies with any industry regulations that apply to your business. 

With such a vast range of solutions available on the market -- each complete with its own set of features and functionalities -- the choice can quickly become overwhelming. This blog will help you comb through the chaos and walk you through the key questions to consider when choosing a DMS for your organization.  

What Is A Document Management System?

Put simply, a document management system (DMS) uses technology to store, manage, and track electronic documents and provide your organization with a platform to access those documents. Often associated with Enterprise Content Management (ECM), as AIIM clarifies, “document management is a common component found within an ECM environment.”

When it comes to functionality, all standard document management systems have common capabilities, summed up in three short verbs: scan, store, and retrieve: 

  • Scan: Functionality to scan paper documents and turn them into images (such as TIFF or image-only PDFs) or documents (typically PDFs).

  • Store: The core capability to serve as a storage repository for documents and classify them, provide security and audit capabilities, and enable retention and deletion as required.

  • Retrieve: A simple interface to provide search and retrieval capabilities.

Modern document management software incorporates document and content capture, workflow processes, document repositories, and information retrieval systems. Beyond these core capabilities, numerous other features that can help differentiate one DMS from the next. These include capabilities such as unified (or federated) access, workflows, and more - you can find the full list of the core components in a document management system in the Simflofy whitepaper “The Essential Guide to Document Management.”

Regardless of the system you choose, document storage and secure access to digital information are crucial to running a fruitful business, and a DMS can help you save time by effectively organizing those documents. But before you can reap the benefits of a robust DMS, you’ll have to select the right one.

Does the solution align with my business needs?

Choosing the right DMS begins with assessing your organizational needs. You’ll want to determine what features are most important to your business and measure your priorities against the top DM software options at hand. For example, what levels of control, collaboration, and flexibility are you looking to achieve? What types of documents and files will be stored? What are your primary use cases? 

Depending on your company size, you’ll likely want a solution that offers high levels of control over the documents stored, including control over access rights for the individual user and document. To ensure effective document collaboration, you’ll want to assess the solution’s version control capabilities as well as approval and review systems. In the same vein, you’ll want to ensure your solution provides security and audit capabilities, including an audit trail to permit the reconstruction of any document changes over time.

When it comes to file-sharing, does the solution allow you to easily share documents with both internal and external users in a secure, controlled way? Depending on your industry, you may even choose to prioritize a document management system that offers simple workflow capabilities to help automate specific document-centric processes. 

To Cloud or Not to Cloud?

When sifting through the different software options available, one of the most important aspects to consider is the solution’s deployment architecture. You can choose an on-premise solution, opt for a cloud-based alternative that centralizes your records in one secure location, or a hybrid of the two. 

Cloud-based document management systems allow for real-time collaboration and can be readily accessed anywhere by simply logging on through your web browser, even via a mobile device. This option may also curb certain IT expenditures like hardware and software licensing, ongoing maintenance, and the need to manage the system internally. 

When assessing the appropriate DMS architecture, you’ll need to consider the different database options available within each solution. Does your data necessitate SQL (structured query language) or NoSQL (Not only SQL)? In choosing between SQL vs. NoSQL, you’ll need to think about what your data looks like, how you’ll query it, and your scalability needs. Also, is the solution API-First, allowing for easier integration with your existing applications via a REST-API?

When selecting your deployment option, you will likely need to transfer content from your existing system to the new system. This process is known as migration - but the simplicity of the term belies the complexity of the operation. Migration requires careful management of the documents but also metadata, permissions, and more.

[TIP]  Talk to vendors and ensure that migration is an offering that they provide, and be sure to confirm specific requirements, costs, and timescales before committing to the new DMS. 

[Can add a link to the Migration WP once built here]

How easy is it to deploy?

Deployment requirements will depend on your chosen DMS architecture and cannot be overlooked. You’ll want to carefully evaluate the time and resources required to get the solution up and running and whether or not you’ll need to solicit the help of external specialists. 

But deployment is only half the battle--once the solution is implemented, you’ll need to make sure your employees can actually use it. Can it be seamlessly adopted company-wide? Is the solution intuitive, or will employees require training? What change management resources will be needed to adopt the new system successfully?

Content management solutions that have a steep learning curve often lead to low adoption rates. This could leave your organization in DMS limbo, juggling multiple solutions at once.

What kind of support does the vendor offer?

Does the vendor provide comprehensive ongoing support and maintenance? Are they responsive to requests and queries? Can support options be bent to accommodate future growth? Is the product actively being developed and improved?

The DMS you select for your organization should be easy to integrate and intuitive to use, but with quality support services, you can help guarantee more seamless and long-term adoption across your organization. 

What will it cost to implement?

For most small to midsize organizations, pricing is critical. When evaluating the overall cost of your DMS software, you’ll want to look at both the pricing model and the total cost of ownership. What types of pricing models exist for the solution (subscription model, per-user, per-project)? Are there different pricing tiers available? What are the additional costs for deployment, support, maintenance, and other services? 

You’ll want to conduct a thorough benchmark of the different pricing options available for your top-choice solutions before confirming a candidate. 

Phone a friend

If the answers to any of these questions are unclear, seeking out case studies and peer reviews from similarly-sized organizations in your industry or checking to see which vendors appear in analyst reports like Gartner or Forrester can help you refine your list.

Conclusions

Today’s document management systems range in size and scope from small, standalone systems to large-scale configurations serving the global enterprise. While document management has been delivering benefits to organizations for over two decades, modern-day ECM and DMS technologies have evolved to meet the demands of a modern, increasingly digital workplace, bringing better agility to companies like yours. 

In a saturated market, choosing the ideal document management software might seem like a lofty task, but with the right guidance, you’ll be up and running in no time on what could become one of the most powerful tools in your ECM toolbox.