Document Management Systems vs. Traditional or Online File Storage

When Making the Switch to a Tailored DMS is a Smart Move

by Regan Wolfrom

As organizations accumulate more and more documents, the need for an efficient document management system (DMS) increases, particularly if that DMS is tailored for your processes and workflows. For some businesses, a paper-based system may have worked at the start, while others may have set up a file server or decided to use Google Drive or Dropbox to handle their documents in their early days.

At some point, these methods no longer work as well as they used to. Often the breaking points are related to the number of documents being stored and finding efficient ways to search those documents. Other times, the issue is around building out standard operating procedures into your document management, such as requiring a system to keep track of versions, or integrating with an eSignature service for contracts and agreements.

Not every organization needs to jump from a file cabinet or Google Drive account today, but most organizations that grow or even operate steadily over a number of years will see a strong benefit to migrating to a document management system that is suited to their needs.

Five Benefits of Document Management Systems

Here are five benefits of document management systems that might help an organization decide if it’s a good idea to jump in to a DMS now or in the near future, or if this is a decision that can be left for another quarter:

  1. Effiency

    Obviously a paper-based system will require manual searching to find documents, such as walking over to a file cabinet and looking for the write folder, and hoping that the document has been filed where it is supposed to be. But this is even an issue for organizations using a file server or an online service like Google Drive or Dropbox, as these systems require manual classification and organization of documents, and their search functionality is not designed to search with custom classification metadata or document content.

    A document management system can provide searching via metadata and by fulltext search of document content. Both metadata and fulltext search can be enhanced through optical character recognition and natural language processing. The ideal for an organization may be to have documents automatically classified based on a combination of source and content, while allowing manual review and classification as well.

  2. Security

    Paper-based documents have been receiving quite a bit of attention in the United States, related to the risk of classified paper files being left in an insecure location. For file servers or online file storage services, security is also a concern, but usually for varying reasons. File servers rely on configuration by an IT Team, and requires continual vigilance to patch security vulnerabilities; there is always a risk that a security bulletin will be missed, or an exploit may be found that is based on a configuration error or an as-yet-unpublished vulnerability. Online file storage systems like Google Drive present a different issue, that of being multi-tenanted worldwide; a mistake in setting permissions for a document could enable full access to anonymous users all over the internet.

    A document management system should include various methods of security, including anti-malware scanning, encryption of data, timely and reliable patching of security vulnerabilities, and access control to limit the risk of unauthorized viewing, editing, or sharing of documents.

    One key aspect of a tailored document management system is that they can provide encryption of documents based on a customer-controlled encryption key, which is not available for services like Google Drive.

  3. Compliance

    In some industries, a paper-based system often requires a document control person to track access in order to meet compliance requirements. For file servers, access logs may not be accessible or provide enough information, while online file systems generally do offer better visibility into user access and activity.

    A document management system often includes document control as part of its process, while reporting can be created to provide information needed for auditing. In addition, a document management system that can be hosted within specific geographic regions may fulfill some compliance needs, while an online file storage service may not provide that option.

  4. Cost Savings

    A document management system can often be more cost-effective than a paper-based system or a file server, but this isn’t always the case, and compared to an online file storage service like Google Drive, the monthly software license fee of a DMS is usually higher. Where the savings would be found is in process improvements, such as speeding up document discovery and retrieval, or reducing the manual work in classifying documents.

    There can also be ease-of-use benefits when using a DMS that is tailored for integration, as opposed to working with Google’s Drive API and its other related APIs.

    Cost efficiency at a higher license fee can come from reducing the need for team members to devote a large portion of their workday to managing documents or transferring documents between internal systems, using a solid document management system to reduce time and effort.

  5. Accessibility

    As companies move to remote work and global teams, having a document management system that is available online allows teams to coordinate and collaborate. While it’s obvious that a paper-based system cannot be used effectively by remote team members, file servers and online storage systems also bring drawbacks for global and remote teams. In the case of a file server, it is generally less efficient in providing data over a large distance compared to a cloud service’s backbone; while it’s possible to set up better connectivity, this configuration would require strong expertise outside of most IT responsibilities to implement and maintain.

    For an online storage service, there are often issues of access from some locations, such as China, and any customization built on top of the service (such as integrating with the Google Drive API) would need to be set up for efficient global distribution, similarly to the file server.

    A document management system that is tuned to remote and global accessibility can provide more reliability and better connectivity than other methods.

The right document management system can grow into an Enterprise Content Management Platform

There are other benefits that can be realized from specific document management systems; in the case of FormKiQ’s document management platform, the documents are stored within the customer’s cloud account, providing more control and flexibility than any other method of document storage or management. It’s possible through integrations and optional customizations to use a flexible and API-first document management system like FormKiQ as a control center for the entire organization, with workflows and integrations into various business applications, such as HR management, customer relationship management, and financial management.

This is where the right document management system can grow to become an enterprise content management platform, controlling the flow of documents and information within the organization and outward, to trusted customers, partners, and vendors.

That is far beyond what a filing cabinet, file server, or even the best cloud-based file storage system is capable of.