What is Document Management System? The Complete Guide

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This article serves as a complete guide to document management system definition, features, and why it is important to organizations.

Document Management System Definition

The document management system is a system or software used to capture, store, manage, and easily retrieve data within an organization. Normally this will result in cost reduction and employee productivity improvement.

When personal computers found their way to organizations, thousands of files were generated, and managing them physically became very complex. To address this, companies started developing document management software. to manage organizations’ electronic files such as word files, spreadsheets, and PDF files with an ultimate goal to achieve what used to be called “Paperless Office”.

EDMS kept on evolving to cater to more complex related functionalities such as collaboration, security, automated approval workflows, automatic retention, powerful OCR, version control, & audit trails.

There is a big list of EDMS software available in the market but choosing the best one for your organization can have a significant impact on how your organization operates.

Check out my previous article to get to know the difference between EDMS & ECM Solution

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Document Management System Features

Document Management system features

Multiple Capture Methods

The system provides the ability to transform paper-based documents to digital. It also allows to automatically capturing and extracting valuable information through different channels such as

  • Automated, high volume scanning (Multi-function device, Mobile cameras).
  • Imaging (Tiff, JPEG, PDF, GIF).
  • Forms Processing.
  • Recognition using world class OCR (make sure the languages you need are supported).
  • Typed, Handwriting Recognition.
  • Bar Code.
  • Emails

Document Indexing & Classification

An EDMS software should be able to automatically classify captured documents & extract information from their content for easier retrieval.

Classification is the process of automatically identifying the type of information according to their content (invoice, letter, drawing, etc.)

Version Control in Document Management System

Among the top features is version control. Without a good system, employees can lose information or work on an older version of the file. document management solutions will provide the ability to

  • Create multiple versions of a document.
  • Lock the proper data when being editing to prevent overriding changes.
  • Keep history of what was changed and by whom.
  • Make sure that employees are always working on the latest version.
  • Ability to rollback to previous versions in case needed.
  • Support the concept of minor and major versioning.

Fast Documents Retrieval

Do you know that professionals spend 50% of their time searching for info. That could be a thing in the past if organizations adopt one of the top DMS

  • Smoothly locate information based on metadata or based on its content (Full-Text Search)
  • Information residing in your digital repository can be retrieved any time anywhere from within your organization (your laptop) or while on the move (mobile).
  • Ability to save search queries for faster and direct access later. Allows to refine the search criteria whenever needed.
  • Ability to mark documents as favorites for faster access.
  • Direct view to the latest document accessed.

Document Management System Audit Trail

The importance of document management is the ability to control documents throughout their lifecycle. One of the most critical steps is to view the complete history of all activities being performed. This will give you the ability to know who viewed the document, made changes, downloaded the attachment, etc.

Batch Documents Creation & Update

When dealing with big volume of information, you will find yourself in need to import huge amount of data or update metadata in batches, and of course doing this operation in a single-mode is time-consuming & productivity-killing operation that is why you have to make sure that the software provides:

  • Import data using Excel where you can define your metadata and location of the attachments in one shot.
  • Watch a specific directory in your network drives to automatically collect information from.
  • Update metadata for a collection of files using Excel and import the excel back into the system.

Fast & Improved Collaboration

Digital collaboration is a must in any organization especially during and after the COVID19 pandemic where employees are required to work from home. Among the top features is the ability for employees to share information (internally & externally) and handling advanced collaboration functionalities as detailed below

  • Share: The ability to share information easily with different stakeholders such as other employees, vendors, subcontractors, and clients.
  • Comments: The ability to add simple comments, tagging other users, and receive notifications.
  • Real-time collaboration & annotation: The ability to collaborate in real-time, add text, images, stamps, and digital signature. Some vendors have integrated the top annotation tools to provide a complete annotation & collaboration experience supporting most well-known file types.

Automated Workflows

All organizations today are document-heavy and automating related processes such as approvals, requests for information, will certainly improve day-to-day operations resulting in cost reduction, customer satisfaction, and increased employees’ productivity.

A document management software will help automate the approval cycle of different activities i.e. leave requests, purchase orders, and invoices.

Flexible & Robust Security

DMS should include a robust security model allowing to set access across users, groups, and roles. Role-based security access reduces the risk of information falling into the wrong hands. For more sensitive data, the EDMS should support data and file encryption so that even system administrators can’t access them. Look for vendors that treat this subject seriously and keep on patching providing patches to block intruders or any kind of data breach. Below are some of the most important security features to look for:

  • Create groups and add users to them.
  • Ability to set security permissions on the hierarchy level (folder)
  • Set on a template (class or type) which group or user can create documents, comments, annotations, and share.
  • Ability to set security permissions on a template.
  • Specify which group or user can create new versions or supersede old versions.
  • Ability to have a security report where it shows a high-level view on class types vs groups or users. This can be very essential if you want to give a certain group the same security as another group. In large EDMS implementation, controlling the security rights will become challenging.
  • Security on metadata level: Ability to control which group can see metadata.

Note: It is always recommended to configure document security access based on groups and not users.

Powerful Administration Tool in Document Management System

The system should have a powerful administration tool that will allow you to have full control over your implementation. The most important capabilities in a good edms system is listed below.

  • Add/Remove/Lock users into the system and define their roles (administrators, members, read-only).
  • Import users from your active directory.
  • Create groups & managing their members.
  • Define classes types and their metadata.
  • Create workflows visually to automate processes.
  • Organize information based on their storage type. That will allow you to organize your organization’s documents and control their access.

Integration with MS Office And Office365

Email is still by far the most used medium to share files and communicate between team members. For that it is very important to have the ability to directly import data from Outlook, word, excel to your DMS. A document management software should provide addons to MS Office where users can directly save their data into the EDMS in few clicks.

Mobile Support

Do you know that most knowledge workers find it extremely challenging to find information while on the move? Make sure that the DMS has a mobile application that will allow your employees to have access to organization information whenever they are.

Integrating the Document Management System With Different Systems

Think about how many applications you use in your day-to-day work-related activities, be it MS Office including office365, outlook, HR, CRM, ERP, etc. The document management software should be able to integrate with most of these line of business solutions to facilitate the reachability of information.

When you are in the evaluation process, be prepared and have a list of your most used and critical applications and ask about the feasibility of having these applications integrated with their solution.

Backup & Data Recovery

A good system will make sure that organizations never lose their data anymore. A scheduled backup should be available to restore the data in case of emergencies. Remember Information is the most valuable asset of each organization.


Having a big list of document management solutions available in the market will give you the ability to choose the most suitable one for your organization (feature & cost wise).

There are different types

  • Free or open source: these systems give you most of the functionalities that you are searching for but maintaining & supporting them requires a lot of technical skills from your employees
  • Paid: Different document management solutions vendors support multiple licensing schemas. Make sure that you choose the one that fits your organization the most

Document Management System Deployment Model

Different types of document management software support multiple deployment model whether it is on cloud, hybrid, or on premise. Consider the following before deciding

  • If your management vision or goal is to move to the cloud and you have the proper infrastructure (internet bandwidth), Cloud deployment should be your preferred choice as it removes all the burdens from your IT support to maintain, upgrade, support, and backup.
  • If the cloud is not an option, you should consider a hybrid or on-premise deployment.


When you start the implementation phase, you should have a success story in one department then start moving both horizontally and vertically across different departments.

That’s where you should make sure that the software can handle the increase in both usage and data without any business disruption.

Document Management System Benefits

The benefits will help organization become more agile and cost effective. That is why the global document management software market is expected to reach USD 10. 17 billion by 2025.

Increased Productivity

As per Gartner, knowledge workers spend 50% of their time searching for information and that takes on average 18 minutes to locate each info. On average, companies achieve an increase of 18% in productivity from utilizing a DMS software.

Data entry on Laptop

Minimize Risks

Managing your organizations’ info will help you minimize data breach, prevent loss, and version related problems.

Reduce Storage and Operational Costs

Each year, the amount of generated information is increasing at a high-speed pace. Using a DMS software, organizations will be able to reduce the number of papers and physical storage. As a result costs related to filing time and storage will be decreased.

Improved Regulatory Compliance

Compliance requirements for certain types of info are mandatory. Failing to adhere to different regulatory regulations can cost your organization fines and in some cases legal actions. Document management solutions will help your organization reduce the risk of non-compliance to different regulatory requirements i.e. HIPPA, GDPR by automating records retention.


There are a lot of advantages of having edms software. As a result, It has become a must for all organizations to adopt digital technologies for agility and effectiveness.

What is document management system?

Document management system is a system or software used to capture, store, manage, and easily retrieve info within an organization resulting in cost reduction and employees productivity improvement.

What are the features of a document management system?

The most important features are indexing & classification, version control, fast info retrieval, audit trail, fast & improved collaboration, automated workflows, flexible yet robust security, powerful administration tool, mobile support.

Document Management System Benefits

The EDMS software will help organizations increase productivity, minimize risks, reduce storage & operational costs, and improve regulatory compliance.

What are the best document management systems?

There is no best system in general. When searching for a DMS, you should prepare a business requirement paper and look for a provider that have previous experience in your industry.


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