A document can be:
'any container of coherent information which has been assembled for human understanding'.
The definition above encompass a variety of documents used in the construction and other industries, including contracts and agreements; drawings and plans; reports; photographs and video recordings; email and voicemail messages; letters and other correspondence; forms; memos; and transcripts of meetings and presentations.
The continuing development of technology has radically changed views of what documents are, and of how they can be handled. Information once represented mainly by text can now be represented by audio and video techniques, graphical symbols, and images. Documents previously paper-based are now more commonly electronically created and stored.
An electronic document management system (EDMS) now typically refers to a digital environment that enables the creation, capture, organisation, storage, retrieval, manipulation and controlled circulation of documents in an electronic format. Very rarely does it refer to the destruction of the document or data, and yet, for a variety of reasons, including data protection, this is a necessity. 'Management' through an EDMS is about much more than just storage, however. EDMS, depending on their precise characteristics, can permit users to manipulate information, extract data, tag and index information, control and promote access to documents, and make use of workflow techniques (in which documents or data files are sent automatically from one user to another, or, more generally, in which electronic systems monitor the flow of work between parts of an organisation).
Some EDMS permit the publishing of documents; others comprise particularly large volumes of storage space, for permanent archiving.
Document life cycle
The create/capture stage includes the making of a digital document or the converting of a physical document into an electronic form as described above.
Sharing and collaboration can be both real time and non-real time but will be controlled by defined procedures that develop the document as a whole.
Indexing, management and storing are required to allow ease of retrieval; indexing can be manual or automatic.
The whole purpose of an EDMS is defined by the ability to access, retrieve and distribute documents; without this there would be no reason to adopt it.
Documents can be 'repurposed'; this can include cloning, where an existing document is copied and recycled for another purpose. The cost saving makes it an attractive feature in many businesses. Cloned documents must be used with caution. In electronic format any document carries with it metadata from the original to the cloned version. The metadata has to be changed in the cloned version otherwise the content may be subject to dispute if referred to at a later date.
Ultimately, all documents will be archived, even more so with the passage of time, but it is debatable whether it is actually necessary to delete a document unless it is for data protection or security purposes..
Cost benefit analysis of EDMS
Below is an outline cost benefit exercise for an electronic document management system (EDMS), compared with paper files.
The examples in the first 2 grids below revolve around everyday challenges relating to the administration of files in a company where an EDMS is not in operation. The first example considers the answering of a telephone query.
In this second example, we consider the challenges of administration when handling emails in a company that does not have an EDMS.
If EDMS was in place, the following processes would apply
In brief, cost-saving benefits for an EDMS in these examples include the following:
no retrieval cost from storage facility;
no need to recreate lost files;
less productivity down time from staff;
faster creation of core business record onto host system; and
space/cost saving on storage of core business record.
The following illustrates the actual cost of procedures – in financial and other terms – where an EDMS is not in place.
According to a leading accountancy firm, workers can spend between 5 minutes and 2 hours a day searching for files. This equates to between 117.5 hours and 470 hours per annum. The same source suggests that professionals spend 5–15% of their time reading information, but up to 50% looking for it. The grid above clearly indicates the cost of this time spent looking for information. An EDMS, by providing easier and more efficient access to information, can significantly reduce this cost. The more efficient the EDMS the better the outcomes.
For example, if the average member of staff spends 1 hour per day then that equals 5 hours per week. If the average Construction professionals rate is roughly is £60-80 per hour, the cost per member of staff per week could therefore be £400. With 20 staff, the per-annum cost is around £360,000.
Non-quantifiable elements of a lack of an EDMS include the following:
damage to staff morale through frustration of having to look for files and failing to find them;
damage to staff morale through the poor dissemination of information, resulting in staff having difficulty making informed decisions; and
additional resource workload.