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    Before you can hire the right document management consultant, you first need to gain an understanding of your business and the information technology (IT) infrastructure within it. A few years ago, I wrote on the 10 biggest guidelines for identifying your document management problems and how to relate that information to a consultant or vendor. While you still need to do that, this time around I'll tackle the technology side of solving your “document” problem.

    Taking in account all the business-related aspects of your document management environment, the bottom line is that it's the technology that will deliver your given requirements for the solution.

    Create an Inventory

    Before contacting a document management consultant, inventory all the systems you have for accounting, human resources, marketing, engineering, administration, and any other functions.

    Many companies will have multiple solutions deployed in the enterprise to meet various needs of the business as well as those specifically customized for different departments. For example, you may have an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system (e.g., SAP or Microsoft Dynamics) for accounting and a customer relationship management (CRM) system (e.g., Salesforce) for customer management. While each operates independently, you may input documents into each system, thereby, making these solutions de facto document management systems.

    Beyond software used for a specific functionality, you also need to review installed systems already dedicated to document management. It's possible to have many document management systems spread across the business, including:
    • Microsoft Office 365 with OneDrive
    • Microsoft SharePoint across one or multiple departments
    • Cloud-based storage systems, like Dropbox
    • A standalone document management system for a single department
    • The office copier/scanner, which emails scanned documents or uploads to the network shared file
    After you've examined all the systems managing documents in your enterprise, put this information into a spreadsheet, labeling each column with the below:
    • Department Name
    • Vendor Name
    • Product Name
    • Purpose of System
    • Type of Data
    Most companies are surprised at the number of installed systems across the organization and the role they play in managing documents and data. As you complete your inventory and begin to think about replacing or buying a new system, consider whether you are open to a cloud-based tool or if you require a solution that is on-premises (i.e., installed on your own servers). This question may come up when you review your regulatory compliance needs. It's important to keep in mind that many cloud-based systems can be part of a compliant IT infrastructure.

    This inventory will reveal any overlapping functions among your systems. Some may already be ingesting documents, while others might be able to share data but don't. There might even be some that have more capabilities than you know about, because they were never fully implemented (which you won't know until you ask). If the system is not fully implemented, try to find out why and include this information in your inventory notes.

    With your inventory ready, you can now provide a more well-rounded picture of your company to document management consultants, which will make it easier for them to identify potential issues and how to leverage under-used systems in the future. You'll also begin to spot the documents you have (and where they are) and use that information to understand existing and potential relationships between your systems and your documents.

    Understanding Your Document Management Capabilities

    Even if your organization doesn't have any installed document management systems, you'll know that you have a document problem when people can't find or share documents unless it's through email, your office space is filled with file cabinets full of paper (or you're paying for offsite storage), or your file share has become so cumbersome that most struggle just navigating it.

    Remember that while systems like Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce, or Workday can provide some document management capabilities, it's usually only in the context of the functions in those systems. For example, Salesforce tracks customer data, but you will also have RFPs, proposals, memos, contracts, etc. associated with these customer records. While this might be fine for sales, it's not going to meet the needs of other departments, like compliance or engineering.

    Conversely, documents stored in a document management system are accessible to anyone with the correct permissions. For example, an engineering drawing may be scanned and stored in a document management system. Now, a user can search for that drawing and retrieve a PDF version even if they don't have an expensive application license. This same principle can apply to other systems for accounting, human resources, and so on. This also frees up document owners from fielding repeated requests for documents. In some companies, the document management system can become the single repository for all documents. This repository can either be accessed by other systems or the document management system will feed other departmental systems.

    It's important to also keep in mind that document management systems encompass a range of functionality, including document scanning, indexing, workflow, records management, collaboration, search, etc. Not all departments will use every function or capability of a system.

    You are responsible for ensuring your business data and documents are compliant with your industry-specific regulations (e.g., HIPAA, GDPR, SOX, etc.). As you consider document management products, be sure you evaluate their capabilities relative to regulatory compliance with federal, state, and local laws. If a system can't meet your regulatory compliance requirements, find one that does.

    What Your Consultant Needs to Know About Your Systems

    You'll get the most out of conversations with a document management consultant—and move to a solution that works for your business faster—by providing helpful and accurate information about your current IT infrastructure.
    • List and discuss all the software systems and applications you have in place and what they do
    • List the system functions you think you need, such as records management, workflow, search, external collaboration, etc.
    • List the regulatory compliance rules that your company is guided by
    • Be able to address whether you are open to a cloud-based system, hybrid, or on-premises
    This exercise will also help you to understand your own company in greater depth even if you decide to forego the services of a document management consultant. For those of you who take the time to gather this information, your consultant will be able to help you more quickly and provide more accurate and realistic recommendations than if you're just guessing.

    Bud Porter-Roth has over 20 years of experience as an enterprise content management (ECM) consultant, with a focus on cloud collaboration, electronic document management, records management, and paper document projects. He is also the author of Request for Proposal: A Guide for Effective RFP Development. Follow him on Twitter @BudPR or contact him at info@erms.com.
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