Document Management for Small Business

by Pam Baker

Still filing reams of paper? Go digital. Digitized documents make your business more agile and more profitable. Here's everything you need to consider, plus seven top document management options.

If you're confused over what document management really means, don't worry, you're not alone. It's a very broad category that refers to converting paper files to digital form, which makes all files searchable by type and keywords. It also lets you sync files when you make changes to a document and makes it easy for authorized employees to access documents at any time and on any device.

A document management system (DMS) can refer to any technologies needed to do any or all of these parts. Therefore, you must be careful in comparing and selecting products because the "document management solution" label doesn't tell you everything you need to know.

How to Prepare for Document Management

The first step in document management is to decide which documents you need to manage. And, no, that doesn't mean you should start by scanning all that paper bulging from your file cabinets or stacked to the ceiling of your storage container. Instead, proceed in manageable and less overwhelming chunks.

"Managing pools of documents that are categorized by the functional area of the business is a great use," says Joe Bachana, president of NYC-based DPCI, a content technologies solutions provider. "Also managing the version control of certain 'living' documents is a terrific use. Scanning records is helpful but sometimes onerous for administrative staff, so have a good business reason for doing so."

In other words, pick a category of documents that is most critical to your company, and start digitizing those. If they're already in digital form, look for ways to make them more manageable and useful. Also, remember that not all of your documents are on paper. Email is another source of documents, and so are files that you store in the cloud-based services such as Dropbox, Salesforce, or Office 365.

Once you know which documents you want to manage—and where all the documents reside—choosing a document management solution to handle it all becomes infinitely easier.

What to Look For In a Document Management System

Jeffrey Segarra, senior director of imaging product management at Nuance Communications, offered this checklist to help determine what you need from a document management system. Consider these 10 questions before you buy:

  1. Do you need mobile or cloud access to these documents?
  2. Consider your level of hardware/software expertise—do you have in-house capability or do you need a trusted IT vendor to handle it all?
  3. Do you want to spend money upfront for a total solution or would you prefer to pay over time?
  4. Do you need desktop tools such as scanning, PDF editing or publishing (PDF/A)?
  5. Do you have security protocols that you must follow—HIPAA, for example?
  6. Is full text search important or is simple folder or file browsing acceptable?
  7. Do you need to connect to a database, customer relations management (CRM), or other sources for data look-up?
  8. Do you need a completely internal system for employees only or do customers and/or suppliers need to participate too?
  9. Is collaboration (real time document sharing, collective editing, change tracking and management) an important component to the system?
  10. Do you require industry-specific capabilities—manufacturing, legal, healthcare, or insurance, for examples? Many specialty DMS system target specific industries.

"As you answer your DMS strategy questions, categorize your requirements into 'must have,' 'nice to have' and 'unnecessary,'" said Segarra. "Assess features that fit into the 'nice to have' category to determine whether the offering can demonstrate clear time savings and/or productivity gains to the business. That will move those items into the 'must have' category."

But there are a few more considerations worthy of adding to your checklist.

"Several other features are also crucial when choosing a cloud document management solution," says Aaron Weiss, director of Marketing for the HP LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions Business. "Solutions should offer encrypted data transfer, encrypted data at rest, and password protection. These features will help SMBs keep documents stored securely."

Weiss went on to say list more features that small business may want to consider, especially if they're looking to cloud-based systems. "Some cloud document management solutions offer optical character recognition optical character recognition (OCR) technology, document indexing, search engine capabilities and full audit trail, which allows employees and SMB owners to see who's accessed and modified a document from creation to deletion."

3 Things to Avoid in a Document Management System

According to Dan Waldinger, director of marketing in solutions and services at Brother Machine Group, most small businesses don't have the time, tech resources, or money to invest in complex document management systems.

"Small businesses should look for a document management system that's user friendly, accessible from multiple operating systems and requires minimal training," Waldinger said. He offered this three-point checklist of things to avoid in a document management system.

Complexity: Document management systems for SMBs need to be easy to learn and require minimal on-boarding time. This helps to reduce the overall investment in the solution.

Rigidity: SMBs may require anything from a simple out-of-the-box solution to a customized solution. It's important that whatever provider they buy from understands their specific needs and acts more as a business partner than vendor.

Extensive Hardware Requirements: A 100 percent Web-based system minimizes costs because the provider manages the hardware required to facilitate the service.

"It's not always easy for buyers to recognize the 'perfect' DMS for their business—especially if they are new to document management," Waldinger said. "It's important that the vendor offers clear breakdowns of their packages and a solution's capabilities."

He added that vendors should give buyers the opportunity to meet with a subject-matter expert to discuss their specific business needs. "This ensures that buyers receive the attention they need to find their 'perfect' solution."

7 Top Document Management Systems

As the experts above pointed out, there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all document management system. The thing that makes any given system perfect is whether it does the exact tasks you need it to do. In other words, the job defines the tool you need. Even so, here are seven top candidates for your consideration.

Microsoft Office 365

Creating documents in Microsoft Office 365 and then storing them in the cloud provided by Microsoft provides a good means for small businesses to manage documents. "Office 365's pricing and ease of administration puts the enterprise features you find in SharePoint within reach of small businesses," says Chris Hornbecker, CEO/founder of XGILITY, a design, development, deployment and training firm on Microsoft SharePoint Collaboration & Workflow Solutions. "The features offered by SharePoint in the cloud are very compelling for businesses with more than 10 users."

OfficeGemini Document Management (Dokmee)

This software provides a secure and complete system that is affordable for most small businesses.

Digitech PaperVision

A relatively easy to use content management system, PaperVision works well with Microsoft Office—the document creation software used by most small businesses. It offers intelligent search and flexible security controls, too. 


This software offers a complete system with rich features that small businesses with multiple users will find helpful, such as simultaneous access to the same document.


This Explorer-based software lets you quickly scan, organize, search and view documents stored on your hard drive or file servers. It also lets you use your existing folder and filing system to find, view and annotate documents.

Open Source Document Management Alternatives

"I encourage SMBs to take a look at Nuxeo and Alfresco as good options for open-source document management. They are cost-effective and provide a broad range of functionality and flexibility," says DPCI's Joe Bachana.

The Hardware Side of Document Management

Don't forget that document management printers, scanners and multifunction devices (MFDs) may be able to handle much of your document management needs, especially when coupled with document management software from the same manufacturer. You'll find many good machines and accompanying software available from the likes of Xerox, HP, Epson, and other big brand names.

Such devices are the easiest means with which to convert paper documents to digital files. As to which brand and model is best for you, consider these four tips from Wes Gard, president of G4Advisors.

1. Know your needs. How many prints do you produce each month? How much toner—and how many types—do you purchase? Without an assessment of where you are today, everything else is just a guess.

2. What technology do you use or plan to use? Do you want to go paperless? Does your industry require physical documents? Do you currently have OCR capabilities or needs? Depending upon what type of business you're in, document production needs are dropping drastically with the rise of tablets, on-line meetings, eSignatures and a plethora of other tech tools.

3. Look at your office printer needs and who produces the most documents. Where is your equipment located in your office environment? Does everyone have a desk printer? With the exception of HR and a few key executives, private production devices contribute to needless expense. We have seen companies where costs were 400 percent higher per print than companies with the same production volume but had strategically placed equipment.

4. Determine the size and speed of the printers for your solution. Every piece of equipment in common areas should have print/copy/scan capabilities. By knowing the information in the first three steps, any organization can reduce its costs by 20 percent or more before it's time to begin the printer purchase process.

Remember, the document management tools you pick should fit the job you need done. KKnow what your end goal is before you invest in any of these options. That's the only way to get what you really need.

Pam Baker has written for numerous leading publications including, Institutional Investor magazine, CIO.com, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, IT World, Linux World, Internet News, E-Commerce Times, LinuxInsider, CIO Today Magazine, NPTech News (nonprofits), MedTech Journal, I Six Sigma magazine, Computer Sweden, the NY Times, and Knight-Ridder/McClatchy newspapers.

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This article was originally published on Friday Dec 13th 2013
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