Create a Document Management System from the Ground Up
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- Work out what kind of papers you are handling.
- Are they confidential or legal documents.
- Do they require quick referencing or can they sit in archives.
- Are they required for market history research.
- Do the documents have a time limit, so they are active for 12 months, then are no longer active (such as warranties etc)
- Can you run one system, or does it need two (or more).
- Work out what office it is relevant to. Consult with these people as they might have ideas for a very efficient system, or a wishlist of things to avoid.
- Stores & Receivals
- Human Resources
- Finance & Admin
- Sales & Service
- Registration & license
- Historical or Biographical.
- Engineering or R+D.
- Work out also how they will be stored. Digital copies can be filed simply, but often the original paper copy needs to be kept.
- Upright files on a shelf or cupboard.
- Sliding door or drawer systems for large needs.
- Pigeon hole or similar.
- Will it need to be a formalised system or a flexible system, Larger systems are better formalised anyway.
- Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- For example: Upright files have limited storage, but are easier to access like pulling a book from a library shelf. Archive boxes store more, but its easier for papers to become loose and lose their filed order.
- Envelopes make good "stash and forget" for simplified personal filing, but can be very difficult if the envelopes themselves are not well archived or in order themselves as they quickly become messy.
- After you have worked out exactly the needs of each section, start with selecting your filing method. You can have the choice of alphabetical, chronological, document type, region or a file per entity.
- They may be a mix of both, but take into account the purpose of the management. Is it to keep them in order and stored, or is it active information that needs referencing?
- Pick the kind that makes running it and referencing the easiest. Consider installing these three things:
- Copies of the filing system method on each rack, or the filing cupboard door where people can read them so they can quickly learn where things are.
- A reference index which shows where an admin or staff from a different section can locate what they need. This is more useful for large archives.
- A history page per file, glued to the envelope or file to show who took the file and when, as well as when it was returned. If required, give room to state what was done to the file contents such as copies made or papers added/removed.
- Be consistent, as that makes the system easier. Aim to install a system that runs itself because there are times you may be on holiday or ill and someone will have to run it.
- After you have chosen the most practical method for the need,
- Purchase all filing goods and equipment such as staplers, hole punches etc, files, archive boxes and storage equipment.
- Prepare your site so files can then be stored.
- Collect all relative papers and collate them in order they need to be.
- Make digital copies if needed and save them to the correct drive and subfiles. Protect them and save them as read-only files so no accidents occur.
- File the papers away in the correct file, box or satchel and then store them.
- Take note of where you filed it for the index if needed.
- The maintenance is an ongoing duty. Consider various ways to cover the following common problems:
- Files are getting too big or damaged - in which case you can get another file or a box.
- For damaged works, copy the original and leave the copy in the file and place the original in a safe place for such needs. In some cases the integrity of the original is essential. Label the copy as a copy and record when this was done (as they may need certifying or witnessing).
- Keep the index up to date and keep refining the system should there be a need for it. Ensure people know the changes made.
- Ensure that files are returned in the condition they left, it rarely happens, but when it goes back on the shelf it must restored to a good condition.
- Do a monthly audit to ensure all files are there, in order and complete. This is also an opportunity to check for the above problems.
- For large scale systems, its often recommended as part of the system that staff members notify the archive department by phone or email in advance to collection so your team can have everything organised prior to them coming.
- The benefits are that what is requested gets supplied, they save time and don't have to wait in your section, or involve non archive staff in your section. It also smooths the system so people know they can access papers easier, especially should it be an urgent need.
- Congratulate yourself. Your system should be active, in good order, accessible and can be used by anyone.
- Keep the system organised as that way you can avoid getting overloaded.
- Ensure that when you go away it will be looked after.
- Keep active contact with people who use it and look after it to ensure it all works smoothly.