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Perfecting Your Paper Management System In The Digital Age

paper management in the digital ageAlthough the technology for digital document management and enterprise content management has been available for decades, paper still plays an important role in business processes at many organizations. These paper-based processes often have room for improvement in terms of efficiency and user-friendliness.

Whether your company is using paper-based filing or digital document management, you need to develop a well-structured system for storing your documents. Just what that structure is depends on what you need for your business processes.

You might need the ability to retrieve documents by looking up the name of the supplier, customer or business contact at a company. For other tasks, you might need them to be organized by date range or document type, such as contracts, invoices and reports. When you’ve identified and combined your criteria, the best solution for a paper-based filing system could be to have separate drawers for different document types, and organize each drawer by customer or supplier name, for example.

The planning process is equally important with an electronic document management system. The big difference is that a paper-based system, in most cases, needs to have dual storage. In a paper-based accounting system, you typically need the ability to retrieve information by invoice number or by date, while other business users need to access this information by customer name. In this situation, the solution is often to photocopy the accounting department’s invoices and create a second filing system that’s sorted by first by customer name and then by date.

With paper filing, you also need to determine how you’ll handle records that you receive electronically, such as PDFs and important emails. To avoid splitting your records between email and paper files, you might have to print out these electronic records and file the hard copies.

Another important consideration is how to route documents to people in your organization, such as routing invoices for approval. In a paper-based system, you typically photocopy the invoice and file the copy in the accounting department while the original circulates, collecting approvals and stamps. You want to be sure accounting has a copy to refer to as long as this original is being processed.

When the process is complete and the invoice has been booked and paid, the original document gets filed with accounting, replacing the photocopy in the file. To facilitate this replacement, a good tip is to use a sticky flag on the edge of the photocopy for documents that are circulating, so that it’s easier to find and replace the copy with the paid original at the end of the process.

While it’s certainly a good idea to streamline your paper-based filing and routing systems, using digital document management or enterprise content management has the ability to greatly improve these processes.

Digital document management starts with taking the same process and making it more efficient.

Instead of making photocopies when you’re circulating an invoice for approval, for example, you scan the invoice electronically — once. The scanned invoice is immediately indexed for fast retrieval and stored in a central location, which is essentially an electronic cabinet that’s accessed through a regular PC or a mobile device. A view of that document is then routed to different people for review, and once everyone has seen it, the invoice is electronically marked as booked and paid.

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