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6 Best Practices for Automating Compliance with a DMS

A document management system (DMS) prevents many of the headaches associated with compliance. A DMS and its automated workflow enable easy confirmation that employees are following company policies, while reducing the time they spend on repetitive routine tasks. Adopting digital document management offers reporting capabilities so you can catch issues before they become a problem. It’s a sure-fire way to significantly increase the odds that your organization will pass internal and external compliance audits.

Digital processes are even more important now when many employees are working remotely. If they don’t have the proper tools, there’s a temptation for them to use unauthorized messaging software and social media platforms to get their jobs done. Team members may also email documents back and forth to each other which makes it easy to lose track of which version is the final one. A document management system empowers a remote workforce. It supplies a single, authorized platform for collaboration and enforces company policies without human intervention. 
 
How a document management system supports compliance
Business processes Workflow
Roles and responsibilities Access control
Records management Archiving, retention schedules, powerful search
Fraud prevention Maintains document integrity, version control, audit trail
Legal issues Search capabilities for eDiscovery
Disaster recovery Digital backup

Save time and mitigate risk with these document management best practices

1. Ditch manual processes
Words describing complianceTransform your processes by ending reliance on paper, unstructured electronic files, or Excel spreadsheets to store compliance-related documents. Business processes that rely on error-prone methods like rekeying information into a spreadsheet, especially if it's done by multiple employees, are risky. Even if all participants do their best to maintain accuracy, errors are bound to occur. If you don’t catch those errors in time, you can fall out of compliance.
 
In another case in point, a medical device manufacturer had a manual process that involved printing out an Excel spreadsheet for a staff member who checked off each document they reviewed. Now the organization uses an automated digital workflow that employs stamps with the date, time and name of the reviewer to verify that a document had been reviewed and approved. Electronic processes reduce errors significantly and provide proof that the required review has been completed.
 
Digital compliance solution feature checklist
check mark2Secure storage in a central repository
check mark2User identification and authentication
check mark2Restricted user access as appropriate
check mark2Assignment of roles based on user responsibilities
check mark2Assignment of privileges that restrict unauthorized activity
check mark2Redaction to enable protection of personal data
check mark2Increased ability to review and monitor user accounts
check mark2Notification of violations of security protocols through activity reports
check mark2Error tracking and auditing
check mark2Flexible tools to easily respond to information requests

2. Consider cloud-based software

Compliance benefits of cloud softwareCloud platforms set up clear security and privacy requirements and then consistently meet them. The platforms supply state-of-the-art document encryption, internet communication encryption that protects cloud services against protocol downgrade attacks and cookie hijacking, and redundancy that mirrors data in offsite data centers. Advanced security and disaster recovery planning are key pillars of a compliance strategy. Moving your DMS to the cloud guarantees your organization is meeting compliance standards while reducing the stress on internal IT resources. 

3. Ease compliance by limiting access
locked laptop illustrates complianceIf everyone and anyone can access and make edits to documents and reports, the situation is likely to get out of hand. With a DMS, access to documents and workflow information is based on a comprehensive rights structure. Right-based control restricts which documents and index data users can store, retrieve, edit, modify and remove from a digital file cabinet. Sensitive data is protected to ensure its authenticity as well as to block unauthorized overrides and workarounds.
 
4. Manage the complete document lifecycle
colorful arrow for document lifecycleSince each document category has a different retention schedule, manual approaches are labor-intensive and error prone. Your organization needs a plan and a document management system simplifies the execution. A DMS manages retention schedules with automatic deletion or with an email notification sent to a staff member before deletion. Automation, based on your business rules, makes it much easier to keep your organization compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA, GDPR, FINRA, FERPA, and other federal and state regulations.
 
While organizations may be fined for not keeping information for a set time, holding documents beyond their required retention period also puts organizations at risk for security breaches and non-compliance with privacy regulations.
 
5. Enact version control
Compliance strategy ideasStore documents with version control turned on. Look for a document management system with a list view that shows when a document was last edited and who edited it. Avoid confusion and unnecessary changes by limiting access to earlier versions of a document. When you distribute a document for review, you can send a link to the working version not the document itself so you’re not dealing with different versions of the document being edited by individual team members. 
 
With versioning, correct, approved versions of information are always in use. It also plays an important part in compliance by ensuring that all required changes to a document are made, reviewed and accepted. In a multi-state hotel group, contracts go through a rigorous review process. With a manual system it was difficult to track mark-ups as the contract passed through the approval chain. By implementing electronic workflow, the contract manager can be sure that all mark-ups are kept, and authorized personnel can go back and see the progression if needed.
 
6. Ace internal and external audits
Hit compliance targetGovernment agencies, nonprofits and businesses can all be subject to an audit. A compliance audit studies the actions of a company, business, or specific department to see if its regulations and procedures are compliant with company policies. Some compliance audits also determine if a company is in harmony with external standards, such as federal regulations in its industry.
 
A document management system ensures corporate policies and practices are being followed by producing reports that confirm the use of an organization’s operating procedures. With a DMS, reports can be assembled quickly and distributed to auditors efficiently. This transparency saves time for staff and auditors.

Editor's note: This post has been updated for accuracy and new content has been added. 

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