What is a Document Management System?

A document management system is a program used to store and control the documents a company uses. Before the advent of computers, a document management system was simply a process of filing a company’s hard copy documents, such as purchase orders, engineering changes, and schematics, in a systematic order to make retrieval easier. Also known as DMS, the most common type of document management system today is electronic.

An electronic document management system is a computer program that indexes and stores company records. This allows information to pass electronically to other geographies without having to print, mail, or fax. Similar to content management systems that are most often used to store procedures or work manuals, a document management system stores the information via electronic images so the electronic documents can be accessed by many employees simultaneously.

For documents that are not initially in electronic form, document imaging scanning software is used to convert the paper copy into electronic images. The electronic images are then stored on a computer until needed. Other uses for a document management system are security and compliance.

Security features include password protection, “read-only” access, and disaster recovery. Password protection is used to prevent unauthorized users from viewing confidential files. Most document management systems allow users to be set up by profile and only be able to view files related to their profile. For example, a user set up under a buyer profile would be able to view images of purchase orders or price agreements once he entered his password but would not be able to view images of engineering documentation such as mechanical drawings.

The “read-only” access security feature allows users to view documents but prevents any modifications. This type of access is helpful for employees who may need to research data for projects but do not have the authority to make modifications. Disaster recovery is another important but hopefully never needed security feature of document management systems. Back-up files or off-site computers are typically used so that in the case of fires, floods, or other types of natural disasters, all of the company’s records are safe.

Compliance is another aspect of most document management systems. For US-owned companies, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or SOX as it is often referred to, requires compliance to record retention regulations. SOX defines what types of records need to be kept and for how long. Companies are audited for compliance and penalties for not keeping accurate and pertinent records include fines and possible imprisonment. By using a document management system, companies have records in a safe, easy to access place.