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An introduction to cloud document management

Summary

Learn how to determine if cloud document management is right for your business

Time: 10 minute read
Cloud document management has become an attractive way to manage documents and workflows in recent years. The pandemic and its impact have made it essential for businesses to stay productive and competitive.
 
As how we work continues to evolve, organizations of every size and type can find many benefits from implementing document management in the cloud. This article will give you an introduction to cloud document management. Specifically, you will see:


  • Why so many companies choose cloud computing
  • What is a cloud document management system?
  • The benefits of cloud document management
  • The key elements of a document management system
  • How to implement one in your organization
  • What questions you should ask your cloud document management vendor
We will also share ways to learn more to determine if cloud document management is right for you. There’s a lot to cover. Ready? Let’s go.

 

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Why so many companies choose cloud computing

Cloud computing comes with many benefits over traditional on-premise applications, regardless of whether you use a public or private cloud. Many of these benefits match the needs of organizations with remote workforces or geographically separated offices. With few exceptions, each of these benefits applies to cloud computing solutions regardless of their applications.

Simplified access that’s remote work friendly. Being in the cloud, all that employees need to use the system is an internet connection, a browser on their device, and access rights. If the application sits on a private cloud, they might also need a VPN connection. To access, employees open the browser, enter the URL (most often bookmarked), and enter their login information. 

Increased security. Both data and user management are centralized, with access controlled by rights that define what a user can do upon login. This gives the organization added control over data. It also removes endpoint (local device) vulnerabilities.

Cost savings. Cloud applications sit in a data center. This means there’s no onsite hardware infrastructure nor hardware support. You further move from a capital expense to an operating expense model for technology. Plus, you don’t need square footage to accommodate hardware, optimizing your office space investment.

Data backup and disaster recovery. With people everywhere, data backup could be a nightmare. The cloud eliminates this. With the application and data in the cloud, backups occur regularly. Plus, the data center where your systems reside often has multiple fail-safes and redundancies to ensure your uptime. Need a five-minute recovery point objective (RPO)? Data backups can be set to meet that need.

Scalability. In most cases, you can purchase only the licenses you need (another cost savings). But if you need to add more to accommodate growth, you can do that as needed.

Automatic updates. Cloud applications update regularly. This ensures the latest security patches. It also means you always have the latest version and features of the application. Microsoft 365™ would be a familiar example of a cloud computing application that regularly updates.

Reporting. Cloud applications give you a wealth of reporting and analysis. You can measure performance to identify ways to enhance productivity. Or, you can track access to manage compliance and risk.

What is a cloud document management system?

A cloud document management system is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application hosted by a document management provider. It allows an organization to store, index, and archive its documents and information in a secured, centralized environment. 

The provider provisions instances of the application for their customers in their data center or “cloud.” This allows the provider to load balance computing resources for maximum efficiency to deliver the best experience and service availability for their customers.


person interacting with a document on a tablet device

For more information about document management systems, read our article, “What is a document management system?”

Benefits of cloud document management systems

With cloud document management, you will see the same cloud computing benefits noted in the section above – cost savings, scalability, disaster recovery, reporting, and more. 

The systems deliver even more specific benefits, including:
 

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  • Productivity boosting tools. Document management systems, including cloud-based ones, are more than digital or electronic file cabinets. They often feature workflow automation, collaboration tools, data capture capabilities, and other tools. With these tools, you can reduce the time spent working with, sharing, or moving documents from one person to another.
  • Office space flexibility. Once your documents go digital, you need to store less paper, which means less office space square footage is required for file cabinets. This extra space can be used as needed, such as to promote a smart and safe workspace.
  • Less paper. Digital documents don’t get physically handed from employee to employee. You’ll speed up your workflows as digital documents move at the speed of your click. Less paper also translates into lower office supply costs.
  • Rapid document retrieval. Every document can be found and worked with, without employees ever leaving their desks. Applications that can capture data from your documents and populate those into pre-defined index fields also make retrieval simpler and faster.
  • Fast deployment. No software installation. No waiting for new hardware to arrive. Getting started is simple. The cloud provider “stands up” your system. All you need to do is login and configure it.
  • Better customer service. Faster access to documents means you can address customer questions immediately. Your team won't have to put a customer on hold to go searching through the file cabinets. 
  • Limited, if any need, for IT resources. Since your provider manages all the hardware and software, all you need to do is access the system through your web browser (Chrome, Firefox, IE, etc.). System administrators can be anyone in your organization.

And these are only a few of the benefits. You will likely discover many more as you and your team start working with the digital documents and workflows.


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Key features of cloud document management systems 

The features of cloud document management systems can be grouped into five main categories.

Document imaging and capture

For most systems today, digital documents can be saved, printed, or “dragged-and-dropped” into your document management system. But you likely still have paper documents that need to find their way in. 

Scanning paper documents through a dedicated scanner or multifunction device into a folder is the most basic way to digitize paper. Many systems offer push-button capture with document routing like our Smart Integrations Solutions

Some document scanning and indexing solutions can auto-index your documents, capture data, and populate index, search, and fields for simple retrieval. With this feature, you eliminate manual data entry, reduce potential keying errors, and free employees to spend time on more productive tasks.

The driver behind automated capture is optical character recognition (OCR). Barcodes may also be used. 

Eforms are another type of document capture solution that can designate specific data fields for capture, which can then route to the correct digital file cabinet based on the field's data. For example, if the invoice is from ABC Company Inc, the document would be routed into ABC's folder.

As cloud document management systems sit somewhere across the internet – rather than in your office, most scanning, indexing, and capture technologies can work with them.

Document handling

You can do a lot with documents in your digital system. Markups like highlighting, stamps (“APPROVED”), text overlays, and much more can be applied. Documents can be combined. 

The specific capabilities of what you can do with documents will vary from system to system. Even so, you can expect plenty of useful document handling features.

 

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Collaboration

Employees can view, work with, and markup documents together in real-time. Plus, being in the cloud and accessible anywhere an employee has internet, your teams will find it easier to work together, even if they are in separate locations.

Workflow automation

For many organizations, workflow automation features available through document management systems like DocuWare transform how they work. Workflows for specific documents can be pre-built or built ad hoc, as needed. 

One popular workflow many systems offer “out-of-the-box” involves accounts payable (AP). 

  • An invoice is scanned into the system, and data captured or keyed into the index fields. The user then initiates the approval workflow. 
  • The approver, or first approver, receives a message that a document is awaiting their approval. 
  • Clicking the link, the approver is brought directly to the document. The document can be approved and routed to the next step in the process, to the individual who will submit for payment.

At no point in the process does the document move. Nor is there a risk it can be lost or misplaced, slowing payment. And every “touch” is recorded by the system, which can be viewed via reporting.

With document management workflow automation, approval processes that once took days can be done in minutes.

Rights management

System administrators determine who has access to view documents and what they can do with them. Access can be restricted by "file cabinet" or even file type.

Here again, how access rights are managed varies from one system to another.


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How to implement a cloud-based document management system

A significant benefit of cloud document management is a simple implementation. You sign a contract. Then, together you and your partner develop a statement of work (SOW). With those details defined, implementation is fast and requires minimal effort on your part. 

You have no servers to order, build, or install. You rarely have software to load. Some systems may have apps installed locally; however, with the speed and advantage of the cloud today, this is rarer than it once was.

Depending on your SOW, you may only need to add users or finalize your configuration. Maybe you will add users and assign access rights. You may also choose to create your "file cabinets."

Ultimately though, you have little to implement in a cloud-based document management system.

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Changing a process can be difficult. Here is an article that delivers insight into how to overcome three common change management problems.

What questions you should ask your cloud document management vendor

You can research and evaluate potential managed service providers through webinars, YouTube videos, and reviewing content made available through their websites. Once you have an idea of the systems that look best, you’ll want to schedule a demo of the system.

Ideally, you will share the specific documents you have in mind for the system. This will give you a clear vision of how the system will work for you. 

During the demo, you should ask the following questions.


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  • What are our options for getting paper documents into the system?
  • What options do we have to fill data in index fields? Are there automated options?
  • What third-party applications integrate with the system?
  • Does the system offer workflow automation?
  • Can we pre-build workflows? Can we create ad hoc workflows? How do we do it?
  • How do we add and delete users? Are there any caveats we should know about deleting users? (IE., Does it have any effect on document reporting or indexing?)
  • What are the security protocols in place to keep the system secured from cyberattacks?
  • Does your system meet my compliance requirements?
  • What redundancies are in place?
  • Are the data centers geographically distributed?
  • What is the backup and restore policy?
  • What are the support hours?
These questions will get you started. You are likely to have many more once you see the system in action. As the system you decide to use will become a significant part of your business, do not hesitate to ask any question that comes to mind.

As is always the case, no question is a bad question. And often, one question will lead to another, deeper question.

 

As a top 100 managed service provider according to Channel E2E, you can speak with one of our representatives if you’d like to learn more about how our cloud document management systems might benefit your business. 

 

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