Document Control Goes Digital
March 27, 2009
Whether implemented manually or digitally, document management and control is crucial for a management system’s success, helping organizations to maintain up-to-date business processes and procedures and satisfy ISO and customer requirements. When implemented digitally, however, organizations stand to find relief from the error-prone and inefficient nature of manual systems.
Document control software automates an organization’s standard processes, providing a structured revision process and documented audit trail. Many packages contain functionality that accommodate typical industry and regulatory requirements, helping keep an organization compliant through correct use of the application.
The software controls employee access and revision privileges to processes such as version control, approval, release control, distribution and print control. Each user is identified and provided with varying credentials that dictate the level of access granted by the system, helping to ensure that only correct documents are disseminated throughout an organization.
“When they access the system,” says Steve Scott, chief technology officer of Powerway Inc. (Indianapolis), “users see a customized view of the document collection for the organization. Tools are provided to organize and search released documents by categories, topics, owners or other criteria.” Other tools allow participation in comment routes, approval routes and reviews, for example.
Furthermore, some document control software packages allow the user to define processes without programming. After user configuration, the software assumes responsibility over the workflows through automated notifications and escalations.
Enterprisewide ControlDocument control software is usually sold as a module of a larger management system package. The management system software is comprised of modules that interface with one another and the best of these systems are centralized, affording management system access across the organization. The document control module also can provide enterprisewide document control by integrating the management system with business systems.
For example, a management system’s document control module can interface with an organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM) and manufacturing execution (MES) systems. “The biggest advantage of using document control software is that it merges business requirements with quality compliance,” says Bill Best, president of Proquis Inc. (Schaumburg, IL). “The quality management system can integrate with the ERP so if you enter a piece of information into the ERP, the relevant piece will appear in the quality management system.”
When controlled documents can be searched and viewed across multiple, integrated systems, information relevant to all systems only needs to be entered once. In contrast, if the same information needed to be present in multiple systems that did not support integration, an employee would have to enter the information in each system separately. Integrated systems preclude this extra work, saving time and reducing the chance for error.
Also, this integrated approach can afford document control software responsibility over workflows and escalations in applications outside of the management system. “There could be a linkage between the document control system and the training system,” says Bob Herdoiza, chief executive officer of Cebos (Brighton, MI). “If a procedure changes, the system knows that and it will spawn a training event.”
Easing AssessmentsDocument control software also facilitates third-party assessments. Not only does such software control the creation and dissemination of documents in accordance to ISO and other industry requirements, it also guarantees that document records are readily available for assessors. “Accurate and automated search capabilities cut through the paper maze to enable rapid retrieval,” says Terry Gilbert, marketing manager for ASI DataMyte (Plymouth, MN). “This saves time during assessments by securing access to requested documents in a matter of seconds.”
In addition, when implemented via the Internet as a Web-based application, document control software allows third-party assessors access to records without physically going to the facility. In this way, assessors are able to perform preliminary work without disturbing the organization, which may result in less disruption when the onsite assessment is performed. “So as an auditor you already know which areas you feel are likely to be weaker and, therefore, need more attention,” says Best. “It makes the assessment quicker and less intrusive to the organization.”
Make the Right InvestmentOrganizations contemplating document control software should first identify their requirements. It is important to define desired processes when working with prospective software providers. This way the organization discovers what is available on the market, and the vendor can configure the software implementation to the client’s needs.
“To get the real benefits and to avoid a costly overhaul in the future, the business processes and the ways that documents need to be managed need to be discussed and understood before the document control software is configured,” says Robert Eames, product manager for StatSoft (Tulsa, OK). “First is the definition of business processes and second is document control software configured to automate them.”
When considering document control software packages, key criteria to be taken into account include software scalability, integration capability and deployment options. Scalable software can change with an organization’s needs. If, for example, the software is controlling 1,000 documents today, it can control or be configured to control 10,000 documents in the future.
As mentioned, integration is a major part of today’s document control software, and any good package will be able to integrate with other systems. It should be able to interface with other applications that produce or organize documentation.
Most vendors today offer Web- and client-based software deployments. Some vendors sell solutions as either one or the other, while others offer solutions that couple the two. An example would be a solution that requires complex actions, such as document authoring or administration, to be made in client-server software, while simple document control and other actions, such as viewing and printing documents, also could be done in a Web-based application.
Web-based deployments are ideal for organizations that have many locations spread across a large geographical area, as they allow users access from any Web browser. Such deployments are sold either as software as a service (SaaS) or client-hosted package. SaaS is set up so that the vendor hosts the client’s data and maintains all IT-related assets. This approach generally appeals to organizations with limited IT resources. A client-hosted Web-based package is maintained by the user organization’s IT resources. Conversely, this approach usually appeals to organizations that possess a strong IT infrastructure.
In client-based deployments, the software is hosted by user-organization databases and disseminated to multiple PCs. While Web-based packages are popular, client-based deployments are generally still seen as more robust, able to handle complex functions more efficiently and have a higher level of security. However, the demand for Web-based solutions means that software companies are putting emphasis on developing future Web-based packages that will equal the sturdiness of their client-based counterparts.
Another consideration is the vendor’s implementation track record. Does a prospective vendor have a record of successful deployments? Organizations can request testimonials, or do research on their own to discover how successful a vendor has been with other clients.
Automation and integration are key attributes of document control software that help keep organizations on top of their management systems, while at the same time controlling documents within business systems for greater enterprisewide transparency. When the correct solution is selected, an organization will find that an automated approach to document control brings myriad advantages unfathomable with the manual systems of the past. Q
For more information on the companies mentioned in this article, visit their Web sites:
- ASI DataMyte, www.datamyte.com
- Cebos, www.cebos.com
- Powerway Inc., www.powerwayinc.com
- Proquis Inc., www.proquis.com
- StatSoft, www.statsoft.com
Quality OnlineFor more information on document control software, visit www.qualitymag.com to read these articles:
- “Documentation in the Electronic Age”
- “Document Control Advances Quality”
- “Document Control Systems Evolve”