A Small Business Guide to Electronic Document Management Systems

The future of business is digital. But can you afford to go paperless? Find out what electronic document management systems (EDMS) offer your small business.

Updated July 27, 2020

Going paperless sounds great. Who wouldn't want to turn the jumble of handwritten notes, receipts, documents, and records you shuffle each day into an orderly digital library that sorts, files, and retrieves it all for you?

But getting there is a bit of a leap. It's not just the money, but the challenges of choosing the right system, integrating it with your existing applications, and migrating massive amounts of data.

With the many options available today, you can find an electronic document management system (EDMS) that will let you enjoy all the benefits of going digital with minimal cost and hassle.

Discover what to look for in an EDMS and how digital documents can transform your small business.

What is an electronic document management system (EDMS)?

An EDMS is a software program that manages the creation, storage, and control of documents electronically.

An EDMS lets you scan everything from receipts to employee handbooks for storage and use online. The right system can make your business leaner, more agile, providing ready access to information, streamlined document handling, and automated workflows.

9 features of an electronic document management system (EDMS)

When shopping for the best electronic filing system, look for these features.

1. Integration with existing systems

Some electronic document systems can easily integrate with existing systems such as content management systems (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and human resources (HR) software. Look for features such as:

  • Integration with the platforms you already use.
  • A single dashboard that provides visibility into documents stored in multiple systems.
  • A system that can access data stored in the cloud and on your premises.

M-Files and DocSend are examples of systems with advanced integration capabilities.

2. Pricing and storage that fit your business

The range of features, storage, and pricing for efiling solutions is broad enough to ensure a solution for every business.

Document management open source systems are available in basic versions for free. These systems are compatible with various operating environments, but maintaining them requires internal expertise in coding and database management.

Most EDMS solutions include tiered pricing based on storage capacity, features, and customer support levels. It pays to shop around for a system that aligns with your document management needs.

Image promoting M-Files' unified user experience.

M-Files integrates with platforms such as Microsoft Office, SalesForce, and SAP. Source: M-Files.

3. Fast, accurate scanning

EDMS systems do the heavy lifting of document creation and filing for you, providing features such as:

  • Fast, high-volume scanning of documents and advanced character recognition to extract data from scanned documents and forms.
  • Conversion of digital documents to optimal file types for storage as needed.
  • Automatic document tagging with metadata such as date of creation, access and revision dates, document type, origin, and keywords for easy sorting and retrieval.
  • Naming and indexing documents following a logical file structure.
  • Provisions for electronic signatures, watermarks, and other attributes.

4. Smart filing and search functions

Your EDMS should make it easy to find and access all your business documents and information through features such as:

  • A user-friendly interface for sorting and retrieving documents.
  • Easy document control for quality-related content such as standard operating procedures (SOPs).
  • An intuitive, intelligent search function that users can navigate with minimal setup and training.
  • The ability to filter by file attributes such as revision date or last user.

5. Sharing and access

An online document control system should also make it easy to collaborate and control access to information. Look for a system that lets you:

  • Share documents easily among internal and external stakeholders such as team members, partners, vendors, and suppliers.
  • Assign user permissions such as read-only, editor, and owner at the user and document levels to prevent accidental sharing with the wrong people.
  • Hide secure files from view.
  • Assign tasks, add comments, and manage revisions from multiple contributors.

6. Version control

Version control is a critical function of an EDMS, preventing errors such as overwriting documents and accessing outdated content. Look for a system that:

  • Automatically creates an audit trail of revisions and approvals so you can always recover lost changes.
  • Streamlines information handoffs between teams.
  • Archives obsolete versions so they cannot be accessed accidentally.
  • Eliminates redundant content generation and maintenance.

7. Automated workflows

An EDMS can automate many aspects of document management to enhance accuracy and efficiency. Look for a system that:

  • Automatically forwards documents to users for review and release.
  • Notifies on all changes and approvals.
  • Lets users assign tasks, forward content, and track deadlines through completion.
  • Automatically manages documents according to established retention schedules to ensure compliance.
  • Lets you create custom workflows to automate your internal business processes and oversee projects.

8. Mobile access

Many electronic document control systems include mobile applications so your teams can be even more productive. Helpful features include:

  • Real-time access to your on-premises document repository from any device.
  • Ability to create, search, and download content via mobile devices.
  • Compatibility with a range of phones and tablets.

9. Secure storage

With so much of your data and documentation in one repository, you need state-of-the-art security. An EDMS can safeguard your data with features such as:

  • Secure cloud storage with data encryption.
  • Fully encrypted password protection that's easy to apply to individual documents and document batches.
  • Automatic data backup and disaster recovery features.
  • Advanced security for mobile access.
DocSend's integration functionality with connections to Gmail, Salesforce, Zapier, and more

DocSend integrates with many platforms and applications. Source: DocSend.

Benefits of choosing an electronic document management system

An EDMS makes its mark on your business. Here are the biggest benefits.

1. Efficiency and productivity

Providing easy access to all of your documents and data reduces staff time spent chasing and handling paper documents. It also ensures that employees don’t waste time maintaining redundant documents. All those hours saved managing paper files add up to greater productivity and efficiency in your business.

An EDMS also makes it easy to respond to audits and produce other official documentation on request. No more hunting through file boxes to find last year's tax return: It's all at your fingertips.

2. Collaboration

Instead of sending documents through rounds of approval, talking over changes on the phone, and emailing attachments back and forth, your teams can view records and collaborate in real time, even with external stakeholders. An EDMS also provides visibility into business processes for better management.

3. Security

In many businesses, documents are scattered over multiple systems, with individual users managing passwords, data security, and backups independently. An EDMS can eliminate these vulnerabilities by ensuring all your documents are protected and backed up consistently.

4. Quality

Version control ensures your staff is working with the latest information, preventing costly errors. With all your documents and records visible through one system, you can extract the information you need to track the progress of initiatives, inform decisions and strategy, and ensure compliance with company procedures.

5. Room to grow

Maybe the most compelling reason to lose the paper weight is the space it frees up in your offices. Paper files take up valuable square footage you can use for better things. If you're paying for off site file storage, you can put the money to better use, too.

Investing in an EDMS now positions your business for unlimited growth as more transactions migrate to a digital environment.

Living the paperless dream

Going paperless may seem like a pipe dream to some, but with the range of options out there, from document management open source solutions to scalable services, there's an EDMS solution that can get you there with minimal disruption. The future of business is paper-free. Now is as good a time as any to make the move.

LOTS TO CONSIDER, LET US HELP

Get The Blueprint’s latest recommendations by signing up to our free newsletter.

Email

The Motley Fool has a Disclosure Policy. The Author and/or The Motley Fool may have an interest in companies mentioned.