Electronic Document Management System

The beauty of an Electronic Document Management System

Introduction -

In this report we try to relate two rather abstract terminologies, one being Beauty and the other being Electronic Document Management Systems. We try to analyse Electronic Document Management Systems based on some of the questions raised in the Leverhulme Beauty definition. We'll first start with a brief discussion of what Electronic Document Management is, why we need a system in place to implement it, and in the process we shall be answering the first question which talks about ‘What do you mean by Beauty' ? Beauty is “the quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.” [7]

As we can see from that definition, that beauty is a quality which gives pleasure to our mind and can be associated with artistic properties as well. Electronic Document Management is a form of Database Management System and any form of database management is an art in itself. So this is where beauty crosses its lines and shares the same territory with an Electronic Document Management System, besides it's a new concept and something original, which again is a property of beauty.

What is an Electronic Document Management System?

Electronic document management systems (EDMS) are meant to provide support throughout the life cycle of a document. They deal with management of information that is stored in form of documents. Information here could include data and any combination of text, graphics, voice, images, and video. EDM systems consist of different technologies such as digital imaging, document management, workflow, document input, CD and optical storage, groupware, electronic publishing and intranets, records management, and search and retrieval. [2]

Various combinations of these technologies can be brought together to come up with new and highly efficient systems for information management. Electronic Document Management Systems combine multiple software applications in order to provide a common interface to them through the desktop in a way which acts as an excellent solution for the everyday document-keeping problems. [2]

In general, all currently available EDMS technologies are concerned with the same thing—managing document based information. These documents can be defined as segments of digital information with a particular start point and an end point which can be accessed and used by any person authorized to do so. They may be represented through vivid formats, such as alphanumeric text, vector data, spreadsheets and databases, graphics, moving images, and audio data. Regardless of format, documents serve the purpose of conveying information. [2]

Basic components of electronic document management systems-

Having briefly discussed what Electronic Document Management Systems are all about lets now focus our attention on the basic components of an EDMS. Let's recall the definition of beauty; it said that beauty “…is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality.” Similarly an EDMS also has certain basic properties or components which we discuss next.

* Document Repository

All EDM systems need to have a document repository. This is where the system stores documents that are under its management. Most commonly the document repository will be on the hard disk of a networked server. [4]

The document repository could be in just one location on one particular server or could be distributed across many different servers. Hence, the repository should be a central store for all the documents in the organization, allowing users to retrieve them from the repository via the search and retrieval or browsing functionality. [3]

The core idea of having a document repository could fail if users in the organization do not place documents in the repository when they are created. However, a properly implemented EDM system would ensure that documents are placed in the repository on creation. This could be achieved if users are allowed to save documents to the repository only and, possibly, not permitted to save documents to their local hard drives or other network locations, these features being disabled at the desktop application level. [3]

For example, the Save functionality in a word processor, spreadsheet, or any other desktop application software could be cond to allow saving to the EDMS document repository only, which leads to another area of functionality known as Integration with Desktop Applications.

Besides an EDM system having a document repository, the system would also use a database of some kind to store information about the documents. This is often referred to as metadata.

* Folder Structures

The EDM system should allow a system administrator to set up and maintain an organized folder structure allowing for documents and files to be placed within folders according to their classification. The folder structure could be set up to follow the organizational structure, or it could be project based, representing projects within the organization, or business function based or property based. [1]

This structure can also be set up as a combination of the organizational structure and a project-based structure, or it could simply be a combination of some business function and property based structure.

* Integration with Desktop Applications

It is extremely important for an EDM system to integrate with desktop applications, in order to allow its users to save documents straight from the application the document was created in. Majority of EDM systems these days, do integrate with most of the popular desktop application suites such as Microsoft Office. [3]

* Check-In and Check-Out

This feature of an EDM system controls who is editing a document and the time when it is being edited, and also makes sure that no more than one person edits a document at any particular time. For example, if a user wants to edit a document, the EDMS checks out the document to that particular user who is thereby allowed to read and edit the document; while a user has the document checked out, the other users in the organization can only view that document but won't be able to edit it, i.e., the document would be in read-only mode to everybody else except the person who has checked out the document and hence has the control to edit it. Once the user who has checked out the document has finished editing the document, he or she can then check the document back in (check-in), thereby saving the updated copy to the document repository, now the other users can have access to the updated document. After a document has been updated, the system needs to keep track of the changes, which the EDMS achieves through versioning and auditing. [5]

* Versioning

After the updating process of a document is complete, we need a mechanism to be able to keep track of the changes that are made to that document by the previous user who checked it out. This can be achieved by assigning the document a unique version number. For example, when a new document is created and is first saved into the document repository, the document will be assigned a unique version number of 1.0 (it can be appended to the document name). After the document has been updated, it can be assigned a new version number of 1.1. The next time it is updated again, it may be assigned the version number 1.2, and so on, incrementing it each time the document is updated. [2]

If any major revisions of the document take place, then version number can increase by one whole increment; let's say for example, the document version can go from 1.2 to 2.0, instead of 1.3 if some major revisions take place. While keeping track of version numbers, the system should allow the authorized users access to previous versions of the document as well.

* Auditing

Auditing, along with version control, keeps a check on which users made changes to a document and when. The auditing feature would allow authorized users to find out the changes that have been made to the document since it was first created. For example, if a document is currently in version 1.3, then the auditing feature would allow authorized users to run a report to enable them to find out when the document was first created, the date it was updated and by which user. And what were the exact changes that were made to the document when it was last updated. To sum up, auditing allows you to discover the changes that were made, when they were made, and who made them. [1]

* Security

Security is an extremely important component in a properly implemented system. Security should be tightly integrated with the system, allowing for security access permissions to be applied at different levels within the system. For example, the system should allow an administrator to apply specific security settings to an individual document, thereby specifying that certain users or a certain group of users can both read and make changes to a certain document, whereas other users may only be able to read that document but not make any changes; still other users may not even be able to see that particular document. An administrator of a system or a certain section of the system should also be able to set up and maintain security settings on individual files, folders, or groups of folders within the system, again allowing for read, write, or no access security permissions to be set up, as necessary. [6]

* Classification and Indexing

All documents should be classified and indexed using metadata, thereby allowing them to be easily retrieved at a later date using a search mechanism. The metadata should contain information about the document, such as the author, the document title, the date it was created, the subject of the document, and the department where the document originates, among other information. If a document is properly classified and indexed, then it can be easily found using search and retrieval mechanisms by users within the organization. [4]

* Search and Retrieval

Searching and retrieving documents is the other half of classifying and indexing documents. When documents are classified and indexed, they are placed into the EDMS document repository in a systematically organized fashion. The more intuitive the classification and indexing of documents is, the easier it will be to locate them using the search and retrieval mechanism. [3]

A good system should offer users multiple ways in which to locate (search and retrieve) documents using a few different mechanisms, such as browsing the folder structure, a basic search, and an advanced search. A basic search should simply allow the user to type in keywords and then retrieve all documents in which the keywords match either the metadata or the document's content. An advanced search should allow the user to search individual metadata fields, allowing them to combine the metadata fields into the search criteria, so that either all metadata field values match (known as an AND statement) or either one of the metadata fields match (known as an OR statement). The advanced search should also allow the user to combine metadata search criteria as well as search for words or phrases within the document content. [3]

The EDM system should also offer users the ability to browse for documents by manually going through the folder structure, just as they would browse for documents using Windows Explorer.

Evolution of Electronic Document Management Systems-

Now the next question being raised is how far do ideas of beauty change over time? Well they certainly do change with time, and to justify it, let us have a look at how EDMS have evolved over the years.

In the 1980s, most of the systems available were Document Image Processing (DIP) systems, essentially the electronic equivalent of a filing cabinet, with the facility for documents to be scanned, indexed, and stored in the system, so they could later be retrieved for viewing on screen or printing. Some of the more advanced DIP systems also included elements of workflow, which allowed the organization to route scanned documents (images) around the organization. For example, an organization could scan their incoming mail, and then those scanned images could be routed to designated staff to process. Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS) as well as Electronic Records Management Systems (ERMS) emerged in the 1990s. [2]

EDMS generally integrated with applications such as Microsoft Office and allowed users to actively manage documents, which could be stored and indexed in a document repository. They could be checked in and checked out and versions and revision cycles tracked using versioning control. Some of these systems also included DIP functionality, which allowed both conventional paper and electronic files to be scanned, indexed, and archived. [2]

ERMS first started appearing in the 1990s. These systems mainly managed the physical location of paper-based records, essentially an electronic index for paper files and folders. Gradually, these systems developed into systems for managing electronic records and electronic documents, providing DIP and workflow functionality, as well. However, these new hybrid systems of records, documents, imaging, and workflow were relatively new and immature without any definite standards for record-keeping compliance. [2]

During the mid-to-late 1990s, standards for ERMS started to be developed. In the United Kingdom, the Public Records Office (PRO), which is now The National Archives (TNA), initiated a project with central government to develop a set of functional requirements for electronic record-keeping systems. The first version of these requirements was published in 1999. In 2002, TNA issued a new version of the functional requirements document for ERMS with more detailed information regarding metadata standards, developed as part of the e-government program of the United Kingdom. [2]

In the United States, the Department of Defense (DoD) 5015.2-STD, “Design Criteria Standards for Electronic Records Management Software Applications,” was first released in late 1997. The standard was developed by the DoD, updated, and reissued on June 19, 2002. The standard sets forth mandatory functional requirements for ERMS software, as well as guidelines for the management of classified records. DoD 5015.2 is currently the de facto standard in the United States. [2]

In 2001, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released its standard for records management, ISO 15489, based on the Australian standard AS 4390-1996. Later, the Australian government withdrew AS 4390-1996 and replaced it with ISO 15489. In addition to theISO standard, a European standard known as MOREQ, developed by the IDABC (Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses, and Citizens), has also been released. [2]

Today, mature standards have been set for document management and there is no shortage of software vendors offering document management system solutions, so in what direction is the market heading?

No doubt that almost all the software vendors who offer integrated electronic document and records management solutions, as well as separate document and records management solutions do also provide these as part of a bigger Enterprise Content Management solution.

Standards for an Electronic Document Management System -

Another question being raised is- can there be any objective standards of beauty? Well I would certainly say yes, everything in today's world is built based on certain standards and so are the Electronic Document Management Systems.

Let's have a look at some of the most important standards that the EDMS comply with -

* ISO 15489

ISO 15489 is an international standard that defines best practices for the management of both paper and electronic documents and records. The ISO 15489 standard is defined and maintained by the International Organization for Standardization or ISO for short. It is based on the Australian standard AS 4390-1996: Records Management, which has promoted best practice for records keeping. After the ISO released ISO 15489, the Australian government withdrew the Australian standard AS 4390-1996, replacing it with AS ISO 15489. [4]

The ISO 15489 standard were made, keeping in mind all organizations who need to make sure that all their documents and records are properly maintained, easily accessible, categorized in an orderly manner, and can be indexed from the start of the documents life, which would be when they are created, to the end of their life, which can be either the disposal, archiving, or moving of the documents or records to off-line/off-site storage. [4]

Disposing of documents or records at the end of their life should be carried out according to predetermined rules. The standard is divided into two parts;

1. ISO 15489.1-2002, Records Management — Part 1: General

2. ISO 15489.2-2002, Records Management — Part 2: Guidelines.

* MOREQ: Model Requirements for the Management of Electronic Records

MOREQ is a European standard for electronic document management which was developed by the IDABC (Interoperable Delivery of European eGovernment Services to public Administrations, Businesses and Citizens). MOREQ, which is also referred to as Model Requirements, is basically a functional specification of the requirements for the management of electronic documents. It is more of a functional specification which can be applied to both the public and private sectors, and can be used for both electronic and manual (paper-based) document management systems. [8]

MOREQ specification document provides a functional specification of the important components that make up a document management system and it also includes separate chapter sections for classification schemes, controls and security, retention and disposal, capturing records, searching, retrieving and rendering, and administrative functions. [8]

Advantages of implementing an Electronic Document Management System -

What are the links between beauty and purpose? Let's analyse what purpose the electronic document management systems serve, how are they advantageous to our current system.

* Reduced paper usage - complete removal of paper by converting all the existing paper documents that are stored or are there in an archive into an electronic form.

* Better retrieval time - searching for a paper in the storage or an archive is quite slower than doing the same in case of electronic retrieval of documentation. We get significantly better retrieval time and with it come the ability to perform searches for similar information. This is even more useful when we are trying to perform major (version) changes or perhaps even when searching for information subject to litigation.

* Saves paper, printer and toner costs - there is no more need to print paper documents as their electronic versions would be available for use and reuse. Even though a paperless office is still not a distant reality, we do anticipate that the availability of an EDMS would significantly reduce the need for multiple paper copies of majority of the documents. Just in case if the EDMS would not be having the capability to perform electronic signatures then at least one paper signed document will still need to be printed.

* Improved staff productivity -the staff would now spend less time searching for documents or trying to find their latest versions. Significantly faster document review and approval cycles will be observed, more so in cases where multiple reviewers and approvers are involved in the business process.

* Improved disaster recovery - an EDMS would contain business critical documents and therefore should have its own disaster recovery plan that should allow the documents that it contains to be restored in the event of significant disruption or disaster for the business.

* We will experience a higher level of security through a single secure location for all the documents and hence ensuring that only the right people are able to access the right documents.

* Better compliance with the existing regulations or legislations.

* Less chance of "losing" documents

* Better service to the customers, through faster access to and retrieval of important information related to them. [9]

Conclusion -

So we've seen how closely knit two abstract topics like beauty and electronic document management can be. Change is the law of nature. The definition of beauty keeps changing and so does that of technology in general, and the technology which is associated with an EDMS. Mathematics, natural science, engineering and other related fields all contribute towards a successful EDMS and even beauty as we define today is determined based on many artificial facts, which are being influenced heavily by our engineering practices.

However, the challenge that faces many heads of ICT (information and communications technology), project managers, and business analysts is that they find it quite a daunting prospect to implement EDMS, which is essentially a computer system that will contain electronic copies of an organization's paper-based documents. Another added complication is managing the cultural change and subsequent business process reengineering within the organization involved in the change from using paper-based documents to using electronic documents and records that can be routed across the organization.

Learning Outcomes -

In the recent times we've seen a global shift toward online delivery of services, this requires the organizations to evolve from using traditional paper based files and storage to more modern electronic methods. This course taught us how to implement electronic document management systems which are pivotal to incorporating such changes in any organization. It explained how we can efficiently store and access electronic records in a manner that allows for quick and efficient access to information so that the main goals of moving onto digital storage can be met.

The course addresses a host of issues related to electronic document management systems. From how we start a new project to the systems administration part of it, everything has been discussed. This course details every aspect in relation to the implementation and management of processes that are associated with an EDMS. It further goes on to explain how to manage the cultural changes and business process re-engineering that organizations undergo as they switch from paper-based records to electronic documents. We then went on to explore the reasons for implementing EDMS—essentially answering the question, why implement an EDMS solution? We got to know of some compelling arguments to justify the implementation of such a system across a broad range of organizations, and in the process discussing the benefits to be achieved, the costs that can be reduced, and productivity gains that can be achieved.

We further learnt how to identify and distinguish between the various physical and virtual structures that are used to create documents, and how to map physical documents to electronic ones, and vice-versa. We then got a step-by-step guide to implementing a successful EDMS, from project start up through administration, which I discuss later in this section. We also discussed how to manage the cultural and business changes caused by the switch from paper-based to electronic records and how to create document types, define metadata, and comply with standards. In the process we understood the various advantages and a few disadvantages of using such systems as well. While most features are very advantageous, the biggest downside is the fact that the entire system could become inaccessible if the database of records crashes. In such a case nothing can be accessed unless we restore the database from its backup.

Based on what we learnt, we can basically summarize the entire EDMS implementation process in eight short steps -

a) Gathering requirements for the EDMS - A list of both hardware and software requirements

b) Try to make an assessment of how the EDMS process would function at your workplace

c) Reviewing the hardware and software requirements with the vendor

d) Record the current storage topology at your workplace, things such as access rights, security protocols etc., should be recorded.

e) Create and end-to-end implementation plan

f) Implement the EDMS, in the initial stages it is recommended to try it at a lower level in the workplace before implementing it for the entire office

g) Thorough testing of the EDMS, before implementing it in the entire organization

h) Follow up and maintenance, keep looking for ways to improve the efficiency of the EDMS.

After learning the process of implementation we moved on to study the key business issues that relate directly to the implementation of an EDMS. We also critically analysed how the technical and non-technical aspects of the EDMS can be best managed to incorporate the system into any organization in a smooth manner.

References -

1. McLeod, Dr Julie. Records Management Journal. Volume 15, Number 3, 2005.

2. Owen, Sherry. Electronic Document Management Systems: A Case Study, 2006

3. Adam, Azad. Implementing Electronic Document and Record Management Systems, 2008

4. Koulopoulos, Tom M., Electronic Document Management Systems , 1995

5. Bielawski, Larry & Boyle, Jim . Electronic Document Management Systems: A User Centered Approach for Creating, Distributing, and Managing Online Publications, 1996

6. Green, William B., Introduction to Electronic Document Management System, 1993

7. http://www.answers.com/topic/beauty

8. http://www.bestpricecomputers.co.uk/glossary/electronic-document-management.htm

9. http://businessmanagement.suite101.com/article.cfm/benefit_of_electronic_document_management_system

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