There are no hard and fast rules when implementing a document management system, although experience shows that some configurations tend to work better than others for most firms. Therefore I will focus on some general guidelines based on my experience as a consultant with document management systems.

What Do You Want to Accomplish?
Most vendors focus on feature lists that promise to do just about everything except have coffee ready for you in the morning. Forget the feature list and focus on your wish list. To the extent a vendor’s feature list does not match your wish list, consider a vendor that more closely matches your needs. One need that is frequently cited is to avoid losing documents (you would be surprised how often users simply drag entire directories from one place to another without even realizing it). Re-typing documents because the original file could not be found is not uncommon. Do you want better search capabilities? Both speed and the ability to do boolean searches can be important here (find a and b; a within x words of b, etc.).
By integrating email into the document management system, all the firm’s emails become searchable and you can easily locate all emails concerning a given matter, regardless of who sent or received them. Outlook cannot do this. Do you want to be able to access your documents from home over the Web? Do you want to make specific documents of selected clients available to them, again, over the Web?

A critical issue is whether you want to “lock down” the system, that is, oblige everyone to use it all the time. Practice Management programs such as Time Matters or Amicus Attorney offer “document management” modules that are optional–users are not obliged to use them. In my experience, this is a recipe for disaster. If a system is optional, then some significant portion of your users are going to opt out of it some or all the time. And of course, just at the wrong time or with the wrong document. To have to depend on the good will and discipline of users when implementing any system is not a great idea. In business, there is a principle that you never start negotiating from your fallback position. The same is true here. Start from your maximum wish list. You may not eventually want to devote the time and money to implementing all of it, some things on your wish list may not be realistic, but at least you won’t be in a position of saying three months from now, “If only I had….” In short, the list of what you want it to do mirrors your existing aggravations. Plus, the process of creating a wish list helps to focus your thinking and will improve the implementation.

Plan Plan Plan…(to be continued)

Julius Macaulay is the Principal Consultant at Tecres Technologies ( providing document management consultancy services for organizations. He holds a Masters degree in Information Technology with special interest in “the paperless office” and a decade experience in Information Technology.

Tecres Technologies