4 Steps to Build Your In-House Documentation System

Kirstin Miller

In the age of information explosion, it makes sense to have a system in place which will help you organize your data systematically. One of the primary reasons that office work gets thrown out of gear is because of faulty data management practices, or a lack of data management systems.

Having all the data you need, but not being able to find and use it at the right time is like sailing a ship in a choppy ocean. Without the right vessel, the sea is bound to overwhelm and ultimately sink it.

Most organizations are flooded with documents – both physical and digital, and they’re always increasing. One might say that the easiest way to store data is to convert physical documents into electronic ones and save them to a computer. While that is true, one also needs to think about the storage for the hordes of virtual documents (or knowledge base), thus created.

Apart from computer files, organizations also need to keep track of important emails, information that is published or broadcasted online, files related to certain mandatory regulatory measures, and the creation of more such documents with time. The intention of doing so, however, is not only to increase the knowledge base, but also use this knowledge optimally when required.

Get the Basics Right

As mentioned above, organizations are saddled with data on paper, the proportion of which is quite substantial. A simple example of managing this data would be to use a document imaging system to convert physical documents into electronic documents. This, however, can prove to be very time consuming and expensive in the long term.

Typically, a document management system (DMS) would involve the use of software, which will be designed to help you make your business’s handling of electronic files more efficient and effective. It can be vendor-bought software, a collection of several programs, or a program developed for some other purpose which doubles up.

Although there is software available for organizing and storing all your data, you can also have a DMS in place without spending on special software or going through the document scanning and imaging process.

With some careful planning and clever implementation, you can build a user-friendly and efficient in-house document management system.

Building an In-house Documentation System

The following steps should help you create a well-organized documentation system for your business –

1. Creating Documents

All businesses have certain processes that lead them to create a variety of documents that need to be recorded and tracked. Whether it is sending and/or receiving invoices, payment reminders, brochures and newsletters, emails, spreadsheets, and letters and reports – all these are important documents that need to be kept in a systematic manner.

Several organizations have woken up to the idea of having an in-house DMS and have established rules about creating such documents. These rules are related to –

  • Creation of templates (for standard business documents), their location, and the use of the templates
  • Adding the date and time of creation to new documents, as well as to the reviewed and the updated ones. Is there a particular way in which you want to store your documents?
  • Procedures to be followed for sharing documents

Having a plan which addresses all the above should bring about efficiency and consistency in following the system.

2. Storing Documents

storing documents

Retrieving old documents like employee records from an organization’s database can cause a lot of stress, if not stored properly. Not only is it time consuming, it also brings into question the data management practices of the organization.

You will have to put some thought into how you will be archiving your documents. There will surely be several redundant files that will need to be weeded out and moved to the back burner of the DMS.

To tackle this, you can either create new folders by month and year and/or by titles and move the files around as needed, or you can invest in software that offers the ease of automatic archiving.

3. Retrieving Documents

This serves as a litmus test of your DMS. The whole system is set so that you and your staff are able to search for and retrieve the desired file(s) in no time. Good documenting practices should go a long way in enabling this.

A lot of business owners create a ‘File Location List,’ wherein they mention the location of particular files, whether it is on the computer or in a particular storage cabinet as a physical file. For locating computer files, you can mention the path to the file along with its title. A list of file locations should be made available at every workstation for speedy processes.

4. Securing Documents

securing documents

Apart from securing your computers, it is suggested that you also secure your office premises to prevent data loss due to incidents like break-ins and theft. All your hard work of creating passwords and encrypting files would go to waste if an intruder stole your computer along with the hard drive.

You can safeguard your computer files by taking backups of all the important files regularly and keeping them safely on a different hard drive, or maybe in another location altogether. That way your data is protected even from natural disasters striking at one place.

Using genuine software to protect your systems against hackers, malware, phishing, and virus attacks is also advised.

At times, your employees may be required to share a computer, or you may want to limit user access to some of the network’s resources. In such case, you can protect the confidential and off-limits documents with passwords and encryption keys.

Once you have the DMS in place, you need to make sure that you and your employees follow the correct procedures of creating, storing and retrieving documents. You’ll also have to ensure that those accessing and using these documents follow related rules such as naming and storing documents appropriately. The real challenge lies in implementing these rules consistently over time. If you’re successful, the rewards include being able to find what you want, when you want it, and keeping your sanity.