The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS)
What does EDMS stand for? What are some examples of EDMS? How to improve document management workflows?
In this article, I will address these and other questions related to EDMS, as well as the role Integromat plays in advancing document management practices. Read on!
What Is an EDMS?
EDMS is an acronym for Electronic Document Management System. As the name indicates, these systems are employed to store, organize, manage, share, and track an organization’s files and documents.
In addition, EDMSs often provide capabilities for:
- Version control of documents
- Structuring and indexation
- Search and retrieval
- Integrations and workflow automation
In summary, an EDMS is a system that helps capture, copy, store, distribute, share, and manage documents within an organization.
What Other Terms Are Used to Refer to an EDMS?
EDMSs are commonly referred to as:
- Record management systems
- Electronic records management systems
- Document management systems
- File management systems
- Document control systems
- Document tracking systems and services
- File storage systems
Each of these denominations has its corresponding acronym, which can be used interchangeably with EDMS (although this is not recommended unless you wish to drive everyone around you crazy 😄).
Examples of EDMS
EDMSs are among the most widely used systems in the world, and software products within this space are easy to find. Some of the most common examples include:
- Google Drive
- Microsoft SharePoint
- Microsoft OneDrive
- Citrix ShareFile
I’m aware that purists are about to jump at my neck for including products like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive in this list, but allow me to explain.
These tools might not be flexible or powerful enough to be considered enterprise-grade EDMS, but do provide the core functionalities we often find in such programs.
On a related note, they have been validated by thousands of users in this capacity, and it’s hard for me to turn a blind eye on this fact when it comes to providing recognizable EDMS examples.
This is what cuts it for me: if millions of users are leaning on products like Google Drive to manage their electronic documentation, who am I to call them wrong?
Who Uses EDMSs?
This is the easiest question to answer: most organizations use an EDMS. As long as there are documents involved, there usually is an EDMS in place. However, there are clusters that are more reliable on these products than others, such as:
- Large and medium-sized companies
- Government departments and agencies
- Non-profit organizations and NGOs
True, smaller businesses, brick and mortar stores, and individual workers may do without an EDMS, but there often is some sort of way to organize documentation.
Core EDMS Features and Components
An EDMS has to offer a series of basic features to be considered as such. These are:
- Storage and Content Management
- Capturing / Imaging
- Search and Retrieval
- Distribution, Sharing, and Version Control
- Integrations and Automation
Now, let’s take a deeper look at each of these to see why they are relevant when it comes to evaluating an EDMS.
Storage and Content Management
Without storage, there is no EDMS. In addition to providing the necessary digital space to contain past, present, and future electronic documents, the storage function of an EDMS is closely related to how the content will be managed by the users.
In this line, these features are the cornerstone of an EDMS. Poor user experience will derive in underperformance, loss of productivity, and higher training costs. On the other hand, a user-friendly EDMS can help fast-track processes, workflows, and results.
As for storage, it’s important to evaluate the amount of space the organization will require. While standard file types (for example, .docx) occupy little space, production volume and frequency are factors to consider at the moment of signing up for a service.
On the other hand, there are file types that tend to occupy more space; PDFs and image files will certainly demand more than Google or Word documents.
To conclude, a final note regarding storage prices. Over the last few years, several publications have insinuated that prices have been dropping consistently, which is not entirely true.
If you are interested in deeper analysis on this subject, I recommend this article that covers the evolution of cloud storage prices in recent times.
Capturing and Imaging
These functions are über-important for organizations that, for whatever reason, have to create digital copies of physical documents and upload them to their EDMS.
This is the case of organizations that have been bound to keep archives of paperwork, such as:
- Courts of justice
- Government agencies
It is also the case of several companies that still rely (fully or partially) on physical paper to fulfill their operations.
But what is capturing and imaging? Simply put, it is the feature that processes images of documents stemming from scanners, printers, and occasionally, optical recognition software like Google Cloud Vision.
After capturing a document or image, the EDMS will index and classify it for storage, access, and further use.
In other words, the structuring feature will place a document within a space and tag it with metadata. This will allow identified and authorized users to search and access the file.
Search and Retrieval
Perhaps the second most important feature after storage and content management, search and retrieval is what makes your documents accessible in the first place.
Sadly, not every EDMS provides great search and retrieval capabilities. This can have devastating effects on a company’s productivity levels, because there’s only one thing you can do when you can’t find something — and that is spending more time looking for it.
Distribution, Sharing, and Version Control
I decided to group these three features into one because they are closely related, and cater to a similar series of needs.
These days, few EDMS features are more important than their sharing, collaboration, and version control.
The times of shared office space appear to be long gone — or incredibly delayed, if you are an optimist — and the new reality of remote work, distributed teams, and asynchronous communications calls for top-performing sharing and collaboration features are a priority.
Why? Because they allow us to easily those tasks that involve several team members working on shared documentation. Complementary features (or subfeatures) that make different forms of communication (messaging, notes, notifications) are important as well.
To conclude, let’s not forget about version control. Sever documents can change over time (think law records, contracts, even blog posts), and having previous versions of these can mark the difference between a useful EDMS and a train-wreck waiting to happen.
In its broad definition, sensitive information refers to:
“Data that must be protected from unauthorized access to safeguard the privacy or security of an individual or organization.”
In this line, it’s an understatement to say that every company and organization is likely to possess sensitive documents and files. However, not every company deals with the same amount of sensitive documentation, nor with the same type of it.
In any case, it’s good to have an EDMS with strong security features, including:
- A sound permission/authorization system for accessing documents (i.e. roles-based)
- Standard or advanced encryption
- Two-step login verification
- Key management
Some EDMS products like Egnyte are focused on providing enhanced security levels to users, which translate into:
- Application and data vulnerability detection
- Ransomware detection
- Unusual access detection
- Public links detection
- Sensitive content alerts
While these will not prevent a company from the occasional human error (usually, that’s where the money is for bad actors), they will help keep your documentation safe and sound.
Integrations and Automation
While not always pushed or showcased as a key feature, integrations are a vital aspect of contemporary applications, and EDMSs are no exception here.
Let me be adamant: an EDMS that does not feature integration capabilities (usually, by lacking an API) will complicate things further down the road.
But why are integrations so important? Off the top of my head, I can think of the following reasons:
- Integrations facilitate communication and collaboration by means of automated document sharing and notifications
- They help you fast-track the production of documents by allowing for the automatic creation of documents with incoming dynamic data
- They let you automate processes like file conversion, backup, upload, and download
This is just a sneak peek at the relevance integrations have in the context of document management. More on this topic below.
What Are The Benefits of EDMS?
This might sound like a self-explanatory question, but trust me, it isn’t. The main benefit an EDMS brings to the table can be summed up to keeping documents and files organized, accessible, and safe.
Organizations of all kinds produce incredible amounts of paperwork, and keeping everything a few clicks away is not just beneficial, but logical.
In turn, the negative effects of lacking an appropriate EDMS can be devastating. According to an article by Finnish company Documill,
- 82% of workers say that navigating through different systems to access the current version of a document affects productivity
- 83% had to create a document that already existed because they were unable to find it on their corporate system
- 88% say they’d benefit if they could search for their documents in one place
The loss of productivity associated with poor documentation management is immense and the bigger the organization, the larger the damage. A 2018 survey by Nintex showed that:
- 49% of employees have trouble locating documents
- 43% have problems with document approvals and sharing
- 33% struggle with versioning
Needless to say, a system is not the answer to every problem. Appropriate training, motivation, and other factors play a role too.
Integrations are the key to automated processes and improved workflows. As it happens with other programs, you can integrate EDMS with other apps for a number of purposes, including:
- Communications and notifications
- Document backup
- File uploads/downloads
- Image recognition with OCR software
- Synchronization between different systems (for example, Google Drive and Citrix Sharefile)
- Avoid information siloing
In order to integrate EDMS with one or more apps, you can use the EDMS’s API (if it features one), or rely on cloud-integration products like Integromat.
The first alternative will require you (or your team) to use code in order to create the integration, while Integromat allows you to develop integrations without code (and in many cases, without development at all, as thousands of integrations are available as templates).
Popular EDMSs supported by Integromat are:
- Google Drive
- Microsoft OneDrive
- Microsoft OneDrive for Business
- Citrix Sharefile
- Dropbox Business
- DigitalOcean Spaces
Furthermore, Integromat features a number of apps that are complementary to EDMS, and help automate many related processes. These are:
- Google Cloud Vision
- FTP and SFTP
- Eledo PDF Generator
With these, you can create countless integrations to improve your document management workflows. Let’s look at three basic examples.
1. Automatically zip email attachments with CloudConvert and upload the zip file to Dropbox
Here’s an integration that is quite useful for those who constantly get files over email and need to upload them to a specific repository. In this case, that repository is Dropbox, but you can tweak the scenario to include the one you use, as long as it is supported by Integromat.
Link to template: Auto zip email attachments and send them to Dropbox
2. Send Slack messages for new OneDrive files
“Didn’t you see the file? I uploaded it to that OneDrive folder!”
If you never want to hear these words again, you need this integration. On top of OneDrive, it also works with Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, and other popular EDMS alternatives.
Link to template: Automated Slack notifications for new OneDrive files
3. Automatically detect text in Google Drive images using Google Cloud Vision (OCR), and save the text to Google Drive as a new file
This template is a bit more advanced than the previous ones, but can be a huge time saver and thus, worth your attention. What does it do? Simple: it detects text in images, extracts it, puts it into a blank document, and saves that document to a Google Drive folder of your choice.
An archivist’s dream come true!
Link to template: Google Drive – Google Cloud Vision integration
Final Thoughts: Getting EDMS Right, and a Real-life Case of Improved Document Management
Electronic Document Management Systems are virtually unavoidable for most organizations. As such, I recommend to take a look at the bigger picture, and ask a few questions:
- How do you organize files and documents?
- How much time do team members spend searching for documents?
- Who can access which documents?
- Is it difficult to notify someone else about a document-related event?
- Are documents available to people outside the organization? How, and why?
On top of answering these, it is important to map out all the processes that involve documents and files and evaluate how they can be improved.
A proper documentation management policy, along with a good system, is easily one of the easiest productivity boosters an organization can get.
To conclude, I want to leave you with a real-life story. It shows how the Missouri State Government improved a key workflow that required documents to move fast down the pipeline using inexpensive, readily available tools.
As it turns out, sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference.
This post has been updated with a new image on July 23, 2020.