The electronic document management process is a system in which information is created and then organized and stored to be accessed for future use.
Electronic document management systems can be rudimentary, or they can be highly sophisticated. Let’s look at two examples…
- A bookkeeper sits at a desk processing receipts with a desktop scanner so they can be accessed when tax season rolls around.
- A corporation employs a network of scanners to automatically retrieve, process, and store information in a virtual filing software with features like rights access rules, scheduling and collaboration, and workflow management.
Both of these situations are examples of an electronic document management system, and when stripped down to the most fundamental level, all complete electronic document management systems follow the same basic steps.
Electronic document management step #1: GENERATE
All electronic document management processes start with information, plain and simple. Information is created, and with it, a need to manage the information presents itself. Information today exists in two forms: physical and digital. To understand the electronic document management process, it is best to think of it in this binary format, at least in the beginning. It can be created by humans or digital applications, in a vast array of formats, including (but certainly not limited to) paper documents, e-forms, rich media, and microfilm.
Electronic document management step #2: CAPTURE
In order to manage the information that has been generated, it must first be captured digitally. This either converts a physical file to digital or prepares a digitally generated file to enter the document management software. The capture step is where scanning, optical and intelligent content recognition (OCR and ICR), and bar code recognition come into play, to name a few of many.
Electronic document management step #3: MANAGE
Once captured, it is time for the information to be managed. Think of this step as an airport—the information comes in to be processed and then sent onward to its next destination. The next stop can be a co-worker’s desk or a customer’s inbox, or somewhere more permanent like storage or destruction. The information will continue to cycle through this step until it has reached the end of its use.
Electronic document management step #4: PRESERVE
If a file has reached the end of its immediate use, but may need to be accessed at a later time, it moves on to be stored. At any time, a file in storage can be quickly and easily pulled back into the management cycle, and likewise, stored again.
Even if a file may have reached the ultimate end of its use, there are many types of documents that have strict retention rules, requiring they be preserved for a certain amount of time after their creation. In those cases, more robust document management systems have automation and scheduling features to ensure compliance and easy access for audits.
Electronic document management step #5: DESTROY
The final step in the electronic document management process is destruction. When it comes to document management, storage and retrieval are often top-of-mind, however, disposition is a critical step. When a record has reached the end of its use for both purpose and regulation, it should be disposed of, but it’s important to make sure the process is properly carried out.
Destroying records may call up thoughts of paper shredders, but in today’s digital world, that’s not enough. There are several ways to make sure you have properly disposed of your digital information, like degaussing CDs and employing an overwriting software, for example. Simply deleting an item and sending it to your virtual recycling bin is enough for non-confidential material, but it’s imperative that sensitive documents do not fall into the wrong hands.