Ferrari is a car manufacturer that, in recent years, has introduced its brand name to a lot of other products that have nothing to do with cars. Electronic document management (EDM) is not one of them, but now that we think of it, do we really care? Why on earth would we need a Ferrari EDM ?

Choosing an EDM solution for our company is very similar to choosing a car for oneself. We need to go back to the basics and remember the concepts of characteristic, advantage and benefit. These concepts, when well understood, will take us a long way—even without the help of slick consultants. A characteristic is a property of the tool: For instance, a car has a 450-horsepower engine. This is a characteristic that allows for the "advantage" of the car to be able to go 200 miles per hour (mph). The advantage is a result of one or more characteristics, but do pay attention, neither the characteristics or advantages are your priority—your priority is the benefit. So, think about the car that we have been talking about that goes 200 mph. Ask yourself: What is the benefit resulting from that? For Joe, he couldn’t care less. He sells vegetables at the local market, and what he needs is a pickup that is able to carry 2,000 pounds of cabbages in each trip. This is important stuff. The benefits depend on how you will use the tool or on the solution built with a particular tool. The same advantage may turn into large benefits for some and no benefit at all for others. It all depends on the best usage for you.

At the end of the day, when we want to choose an EDM, we will have to go even deeper than when choosing a car. Similar to when we shop for a car, we must consider the benefits arising from the use of a specific tool (aka, the car) with its different characteristics and advantages, but in the case of a car, tool and solution are somehow merged. This does not happen in EDM, because one must configure the tool in order to get a solution. This configuration, obviously depending on the characteristics of the tool, has a number of degrees of liberty, such as registering users, defining roles and/or profiles, workflows and so on. Therefore, we must weigh the benefits not just from the tool itself but from the solution that the tool allows us to implement—this is the famous extra mile, which is responsible for the successful return on investment (ROI).

So, how can you make a wise choice when selecting an EDM tool? Ask yourself these questions:
  • What is your favored platform? Windows?
  • Do you have your own network? Do you consider implementing the necessary hardware/software in your local network, or would you prefer a cloud solution? Even for the cloud solution, what is the level of outsourcing you feel comfortable with? Do you need to have some configuration control over servers, for example?
  • How many people will need to access the solution? Of those people, what is the percentage that will always need to be connected to the solution?
  • Would you like the solution to be configured around roles or around individual people? Say, Maggie is the chief financial officer (CFO). Would you like the tool to recognize the access rights associated with the CFO role, independently of whoever has the job, or do you want the rights given directly to Maggie?
  • Do you need validation rules for documents to be archived? Say, for instance, that the content of the field "User" has to be coherent with the content of the field "Department."
  • Do you need to archive/search directly from your email software?
  • Do you need documents stored in some specific network folders to be automatically captured, classified and archived?
  • Do you need a document that is archived with a specific classification to immediately start some workflow (for instance, invoice approval)?
  • Do you need the tool to warn you by email when you have documents waiting for your decision at some step of a larger workflow?
  • Do you need your EDM solution to integrate with other solutions, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM), that you have running?
  • Do you need some kind of intelligent capture of text on those documents?
  • Do your needs for the solution and/or business rules vary significantly with time due to the volatility of markets, for example?
The above questions are examples of the issues we must have clear in our heads when deciding to go into an EDM implementation. From my experience, I can testify that an EDM implementation will do a lot more for your “housekeeping” than one can imagine. Maybe one of the larger benefits of an EDM implementation is not even associated with EDM but with process optimization, because the implementation obliges one to analyze those processes with “fresher” eyes.

Like the saying, "Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder," the best EDM for you lies in your own needs, and only a careful look into your organization can determine which it is.

Joao Penha-Lopes specializes in document management since 1998. He holds two postgraduate degrees in document management from the University Lusofona (Lisbon) and a PhD from Universidad de Alcala de Henares (Madrid) in 2013, with a thesis studying the economic benefits of electronic document management (EDM). He is an ARMA collaborator for publications and professionally acts as an advisor on critical information flows mostly for private corporations. Follow him on Twitter @JoaoPL1000.

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