The greatest advantage of document management is being able to locate documents in seconds knowing that they are authentic, reliable, complete and usable

Today we talk about document management with Montserrat Garcia Alsina , academic director of the Postgraduate course in Implementation of Electronic Document Management Projects (EDRMS) at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) . Montserrat has a doctorate in information and knowledge society and associate professor at the UOC, where she teaches subjects related to document management and archives. She is part of the UOC’s KIMO (Knowledge and Information Management in Organisations) research group, where, among other aspects, she investigates the contribution and practices of document management in transparency and information reuse policies in public administrations.

1- Is document management important today for companies?

Document management today is as important as avoiding losing a lawsuit for not having located evidence, or losing a grant because the documentation that was required was not located on time, or; but still, having to return it because we did not find the documents that they ask us to prove actions taken, or even pay a fine to the Treasury because the evidence requested by the inspector has not been located.
It is as important as preserving our time and avoiding wasting it looking for evidence instead of devoting our efforts to activities framed in business processes, which are the ones that really give us income.

2- And is it for all companies or only for the largest?

We all manage documents, therefore, all companies need to have a document management system (SGD) defined, regardless of their size – micro and SMEs, therefore, included. The difference between managing documents with or without SGD is the same as doing things right or wrong. It is synonymous with finding documents in seconds, or after hours or days of searching. Or in the extreme case, the difference is in finding or not finding the documents because we have eliminated them, because we do not know the value of the documents that we accumulate. And it is that… Do only large companies manage documents? Do only large companies have to provide evidence in trials, grants, public tenders, tax inspections? The myth that only large companies have or should have an SGD comes from the belief that a system is a computer application. This false belief leads to investments in technology with which we do not know what to do afterwards. An SGD is above all a set of elements, technology too. But before technology, system refers to guidelines, people, policies, instruments and work system. The SGD of each company is tailored, it is made according to the organizational context, and can be adapted as the organization grows. Therefore, if all companies want to manage their documents, they need to design their document management system to suit them.

The difference between managing documents with or without SGD is the same as doing things right or wrong

3- And how much does this cost?

It costs more will than money. How much does it cost not to have it? In reality, efforts are already invested in “managing” the documents, although in an intuitive, non-systematic way, with all the risks that this entails, piling up papers on tables, drawers, or in repositories. On the other hand, most Spanish companies have implemented a quality management system , and this entails managing evidence in order to pass the audits. Therefore, having a document management system costs as much as incorporating work systematics into the procedures defined in the quality systems.

4- Is it safe to have documents in document management?

Obviously it is much safer than having them piled up in corners or in repositories without order. Seriously, it is safe to manage them because in a document management system the processes are defined to retrieve them when necessary. This is true whether we refer to paper documents or electronic documents. And let’s face it, a lot is still done with paper (even e-borns are printed). In the case of electronic documents, the SGD already includes processes to preserve the documents in the short and long term.

Document management costs more will than money

5- What is the greatest advantage of document management?

Locate the documents that are needed in seconds, knowing that they are authentic, reliable, complete and usable.

6- And the biggest drawback?

oh! but are there drawbacks? Well, we are going to look for one, the drawback is that we have to be systematic, and not anarchic, which is how we would like to manage 😉

I think we still have a long way to go, and document management has a lot to contribute

7- Where do you think the future of the sector lies?

Where it has always been, in the conviction by companies that managing documents is just another support process, along with human resource management or accounting. Companies whose business processes are highly regulated and require the provision of evidence, such as pharmaceutical companies, have been managing documents systematically for a long time. Or hospitals must manage medical records, and especially electronic ones, and this requires a very clear system.

The future of the sector also lies in the potential of documents, in their secondary value, and in the exploitation that we can make of them: knowledge management. Managing documents, in addition to facilitating their use as evidence, also helps us in knowledge management processes. These processes are not yet implemented in a general way in our country, and it shocks. For decades we have been saying that knowledge is the raw material of the time in which we live: the knowledge society and economy. At the Lisbon Conference in 2001, the representatives of the countries of the European Union said that thanks to knowledge, Europe was going to become a world power. I believe that we still have a long way to go, and document management has much to contribute, as documents store information that can become knowledge for action, that is, to decide, to innovate, to design new products and services.

I am aware that the term knowledge management is no longer fashionable. For years, managing knowledge was the equivalent of technology (intranets, databases) at most communities of practice. Few companies were able to take advantage. The lack of well-defined projects led to the failure of many attempts to manage knowledge. However, this does not detract from knowledge management as a source of competitive advantage.

8- What challenges do you think it will face in the medium term?

To those who already have in front of them, at least. Electronic-only documents with electronic validity are becoming more and more frequent. Relations with public administrations are increasingly exclusively through the electronic channel. Tenders, electronic invoices, declaration of companies, VAT settlement, social security payments… everything is in an electronic environment. This means managing electronic documents and their signatures, beyond having them in repositories,

Companies in the sector whose business objective is consultancy in the public sector have three challenges, and I would say clear lines of business. The first is to continue implementing SGD taking into account the requirement of the electronic file and single registration, in the line indicated by Law 39/2015, and the technical standards of interoperability. The second challenge, and line of business, is the design and implementation of document and data management projects at the service of reuse in compliance with the law on the reuse of public information (Law 18/2015). When I say data, I am thinking of the datasets that we find in open data portals, and also in the management of large volumes of data, big data. Putting order and guaranteeing the quality of the data goes through methodologies and systematics to which document management is not strange.

In addition, the certification of document management systems, based on the ISO 30300 series, is also a challenge, since it involves entering the field of certification, and linking with other management systems that need to manage evidence (ISO 9000 or ISO 14000 to give two examples).

Finally, from the point of view of knowledge management, the medium-term challenge is to find a way to integrate document management into knowledge management processes and management systems (quality, environment, IT systems)… In this area, the reuse of information, although it is a line of business for companies in the infomediary sector, is an internal opportunity for all companies, exploiting it to optimize their business processes and to innovate.

The medium-term challenge is to find a way to integrate document management into knowledge management processes and management systems (quality, environment, computer systems)

9- A wish for the future of the sector…

I hope that it finds a way to make itself understood and integrate itself into the functions of the company, so that companies finally understand the message that the sector has been launching for decades, to explain their function and the service they provide in contributing value to the same company in which they perform their function. And this happens by adapting to the new times and updating knowledge: reuse of information, big data, and electronic documents (signature, metadata, interoperability…)