Organisations across the globe are suddenly grappling with remote worker challenges as social distancing lockdown policies force those of us lucky enough to be ABLE to work remotely to find some semi-quiet space in our home, sharing our precious bandwidth with kids remotely schooling, as we tumble from one video conference call to the next, whilst triaging email inboxes in meltdown as everyone shares presentations, contracts and spreadsheets previously found on our department file share.
If you haven’t previously established remote working systems and routines, this sudden adjustment can be daunting. Tasks considered trivial at the office can become frustrating and time-consuming, especially if your organisation uses predominantly on-premises infrastructure for file storage. Have you had to search for files on your file server whilst connected via a vpn? Have you needed to open twelve different similarly-named 67 megabyte PowerPoint files to figure out which one you actually need? This scenerio does not make for a serene, productive afternoon. No, this scenario will have you reaching for that Cabernet Sauvignon the moment the clock strikes five.
It’s in these situations where document management systems truly shine. A Document Management System (DMS), is a document-centric database which makes finding and working with files simple. Instead of manually browsing folders many layers deep as you search for that elusive PowerPoint presentation, a document management system is designed for search and retrieval, and can thus pluck your important Board Meeting Presentation file seemingly from thin air in much the same way as you would use Google or your preferred search engine to locate a specific web page.
Finding files can be so much easier…
Files of all types are indexed as they are saved to the DMS, allowing search by file contents – I know the contract I’m looking for contains the phrase “ABCD Talent Bookings Ltd” for example – or by index field contents, which are additional fields associated with each file, typically entered manually or inferred automatically at the moment a file is saved to the DMS. The DMS likely allows searching on either or both simultaneously, so you might search for all documents marked as the type “Gym Membership Agreement”, created between January 1st 2019 – March 31st 2019, containing the phase “free child minding”.
There’s a better way to work with files remotely over low bandwidth connections…
Such targetted searches significantly reduce time spent looking for your files, but a DMS can go a step further by displaying the file contents without forcing you to download the entire file. Take the scenario mentioned above, where you are trying to find a specific large PowerPoint file which contains a certain slide you need to re-use. If your files were saved to a file server, you would need to download each similarly named version of the PowerPoint file (Windows Explorer does this for you when you double-click a file stored remotely), open it and search for your slide. When you’re using a VPN, this process can be exceptionally slow for such large files. A DMS on the other hand can show you the contents of these PowerPoint files on screen, without needing to download the file at all.
Some Document Management Systems also integrate with the excellent authoring tools available through Office 365 and OneDrive, once again eliminating the need to download files to work with them, whilst allowing multiple users to collaborate and simultaneously edit the same files, maintaining version controls as files are checked back in to the DMS when editing is complete. Built-in version controls eliminate version duplication and inevitable misaligned discussion threads in your email inbox, as different parties edit and comment on duplicate versions of your contract or presentation.
Cloud-hosted or in-house – a DMS improves access…
Some Document Management Systems are hosted in the cloud (either public or private), delivering uptime and access benefits to organisations, eliminating hardware capital expenditure and the labour costs associated with maintaining internal servers – think operating system maintenance and patching, security testing, backups and so-forth. Regardless, whether hosted in the cloud or under your own roof, a DMS will typically provide multiple methods of access including so-called thick-clients (applications installed on your computer), thin clients or web-clients, smartphone or tablet apps, and integrations with the Microsoft Office suite, so you can save your file right to the DMS as you would to your file server.
There are a multitude of Document Management Systems on the market, and many will deliver the benefits listed above and much more. Full disclosure, my employer sells one such system – Therefore™ – and I’ve been thanking our good fortune every day of this Coronavirus social distancing lock-down that we use our own product, links to information about about which are below.