There are a multitude of hidden benefits that an organization can enjoy when document management becomes a part of their operations.
A knock on the door from an OSHA or FDA official is usually enough to send the average EHS manager into at least a mild panic. That sound usually means a dreaded regulatory inspection is upon them, bringing with it nightmarish visions of hefty fines, shutdown orders or costly reputational damages to the organization.
Some of these managers, however, tend to accept the predicament with considerably more calm and confidence than others. That’s because they know that when their uninvited guests inevitably ask to see documented proof that procedures were properly followed and regulations were adhered to, they will be able to produce that documentation in a quick and efficient manner.
They will be able to do so because they will have been using document control software as part of their EHS management system. It stores all the crucial files related to their business’s environment- or safety-related actions in electronic format, efficiently housed and organized for easy locating and retrieval. They will have moved on from their outdated and mistake-prone paper-based document management approach, leaving behind thousands of hours of wasted staff time spent trying to find misplaced files—and the worries that come from not having your evidentiary materials ready for that unwelcome surprise inspection.
For many outfits, attaining this peace of mind around regulatory affairs is the primary driver for adopting document control software, for obvious reasons. There are, however, a multitude of other hidden benefits that an organization can enjoy as soon as this type of platform becomes a part of their operations.
Benefits Beyond Compliance
According to recent research, 79 percent of surveyed companies experienced an identity-related data breach within the last two years (ISDA, 2020). This means that sensitive data fell into the wrong hands because whoever or whatever was charged with safekeeping that data did not know who was accessing it or what their intentions were.
In paper-dependent environments, sensitive documents can easily be compromised. A file left at a printer or sitting openly on a momentarily vacated desk is just waiting to be grabbed by anybody walking by. In organizations that utilize ad-hoc electronic document storage methods, sensitive files can be accessed by anybody with ill intentions and a properly functioning mouse.
Modern document control software mitigates these threats with Identity Access Management (IAM) features. Administrators can assign access levels to any document, guaranteeing that only the people with proper qualifications are able to retrieve and view it.
Document control software also eases the management burden of a company’s IT security team. Previously, passwords and privileges would have to be tracked and maintained manually, costing excessive time and effort. Additional staff time would be eaten up when the inevitable breach would need to be investigated. Implementing document control software means security pros can spend more time on other, higher-value initiatives.
Administrators or security teams can also set defined periods of access for certain workers and have the document control software automatically turn off access at the end of such a specified time frame. This is especially useful for firms working with third-party contractors. All too often, IT has no idea that a contractor has completed their work and are no longer working for the company, leaving their access to sensitive databases wide open, sometimes for months or even years.
While document control software steps up security to help keep bad actors out, it also makes it considerably easier for trusted individuals to get to the files they need quickly and efficiently. Once approved, an individual can instantly access files that match their level of access. Handy search functionality and clearly mapped content trees allow for speedy locating and retrieval of files. No more chasing down paper documents that could be anywhere, or even lost forever.
With older electronic storage environments, files are often kept anywhere and everywhere—sometimes buried in the depths of old servers or residing on someone’s desktop, accessible only to them. Locating these assets can take hours, days, maybe even weeks, and that is if the person seeking them doesn’t simply give up the chase. This results in broken communications and misaligned team efforts, leading to product delays, safety oversights and myriad other negative outcomes.
Recent research shows 83 percent of surveyed employees who work regularly with documents end up recreating files they can’t locate. Another finding revealed 46 percent of workers find it time-consuming and challenging to find documents (M-Files, 2019). The many advanced features of document control software eliminate these and other time-wasting exercises, dramatically increasing organizational efficiency. These features include:
- Standardized forms across facilities. Companies with multiple locations often run into trouble when different branches create their own versions of the same form. Document control software allows companies to develop one consistent-looking document to be used across the whole operation. Employees, regardless of their location, will instantly recognize what it is and be able to work with it. This is particularly valuable for multinational organizations.
- Prefilled form fields. Repeatable tasks, such as having to fill out the same fields with standard information across different forms, eat up valuable time and make for monotonous, unfulfilling work. Document control software allows employees to pre-populate such fields on forms that are used over and over again.
- Automatic calculations. Nothing slows down productivity like having to carry out a complex math equation. Document control software takes care of that trouble by performing many calculations automatically.
- Intelligent suggestions. Document control software can recognize common text entries and other information that is routinely entered into documents. It can also automatically populate forms with esoteric industry terms to help tailor the user experience based on industry.
- Audit trails. Teams do not have to waste time trying to find out who made what edit to a particular document, or when. All work on a file is tracked and recorded for complete visibility.
Improved Workflows and Collaboration
Document control software can establish digital workflows for common, repeatable tasks, such as the generation and completion of standard OSHA 300 or 300A forms. Once one person has completed their work on a document, they can simply mark it complete, at which point the next individual in the process is automatically notified and can retrieve the updated file to complete their work on it.
Various collaboration features help teams work together more efficiently and transparently on documents. Simultaneous editing allows multiple employees to carry out updates and edits, a particularly valuable feature as more companies move to a remote working model with employees working in separate locations. Document control software will also include a common space for discussions, where feedback and comments can be posted and commented upon.
Document Preservation and Safety
Paper files are bulky and can quickly take up valuable real estate within a company’s premises. Often, the file collection becomes so large that off-site storage facilities have to be rented, incurring costly fees and creating accessibility issues. Hard copies are also susceptible to physical damage, such as that caused by water, heat or fire.
Transitioning to electronic file formats removes the need to take up prime office space that can be used for other more useful purposes, as digital files take up nothing more than space on a server. If organizations are utilizing cloud-based document control software, no physical company space is required.
Turning hard-copy files into electronic ones saves paper, which reduces a company’s impact on the environment. While creating a sense of satisfaction and pride throughout the organization, taking this kind of step to protect the planet can also bolster brand reputation and help to attract talent that values a potential employer’s commitment to larger societal causes.
Your organization has committed to a digital approach to document management, scouted the available options, made a decision and implemented the chosen solution. Now what?
To ensure your company enjoys the maximum benefit from the new document control software, a few post-install best practices should be followed.
First is the task of actually getting all of those hard-copy documents into the system. This can be one of the most daunting requirements involved with a move to digital document control software, considering just how many paper documents an organization may have. A few tips, however, can make the job go smoothly.
First, spread the work across your various departments. Don’t pin the responsibility of finding and cataloging what can be thousands of files on just a few people. Appoint one member of your implementation team to work with the different departments and guide them through what’s required—and then let them do the work. They will be the best people for the job, too, given their intimate knowledge of their department’s specific subject matter and file history.
Set deadlines and stick to them. Offer fun rewards to teams that do meet them, such as restaurant gift cards or small gifts, if budgets permit. If there is grumbling, remind those doing it that the work being carried out is a small price to pay for the time-savings they will see in the very near future.
Ask department leaders to identify prioritized content—that which is most crucial to their everyday operations. The implementation team can then ensure that this material is input first. Such prioritization can help get the software in use quicker, especially if the total amount of organizational data to be converted is large.
Next, set up training sessions for staff members who will be using the new document control software. The last thing anyone wants is unnecessary confusion and frustration amongst users once it is available for use. Training sessions should be led by a qualified member of the implementation team who can present the information in a succinct and lively manner and be able to answer any questions that attendees may have. Be sure to consult with your solution vendor to see what resources they can provide.
The training sessions should convey the benefits of the new system and the improvements it will bring to the company and individual users. Instruction should lead staff through the basic usage workflows and will ideally include a demo of the tool in action.
As the system is more widely adopted and accepted, it’s important to follow a plan of continuous improvement. Document control software is not a static tool that requires only the odd version update. It is a living system that can be adjusted to suit an individual organization’s evolving needs. Those needs will only become apparent as the system is used. Companies should, therefore, set up an ongoing feedback capability to fully understand what is working well and what aspects may need to be refined.
As we have seen, there are countless hidden benefits that accompany document control software implementation.
The main driver for adoption, however, will likely continue to be compliance. This, of course, is not a bad thing, as the ultimate goal of safety or quality regulation is to save lives—which document control software helps do in a tangible and impactful way. Combined with so many additional benefits, it’s clear that these solutions will be a crucial element for success in any modern organization.
Identity Defined Security Alliance (IDSA), Identity Security: A Work in Progress, 2020.
M-Files, 2019 Intelligent Information Management Benchmark Report, 2019. https://financesonline.com/cloud-file-document-management-statistics/