At its simplest form, document control is a system for distributing and controlling documents. For a manufacturer, such documents can include procedures, work instructions or manuals, control plans, and standards and specifications. Companies can invest in a manual document control system, such as an administrator who files and handles all the company's documentation and keeps track of distribution records, or invest in an automated document control system such as a software, client-server or Web-based initiative.
While document control systems have been around for several years, features and implementations of such systems as a role in the quality management process continue to evolve.
One major benefit of an automated document control system is saving on paper costs. Managing paper documents is inefficient, not to mention expensive. With a manual system, if an employee makes a change to a document and the wrong version of the document gets sent to suppliers, the mistake can be costly.
A sound document control system can help companies meet industry standards such as ISO, as well as ease the auditing process. Yet, says Marti Turocy, president of Quality Systems Integrators (QSI, Eagle, PA), many manufacturing companies still do not have a sufficient document control system in place. They may have a Web site or Word archive where employees can store documents, Turocy says, "but the system is not being managed."
A large variation among document control systems exists in the industry. Some document control suppliers offer separate document management or document control systems-as simple as storing and indexing documents, or as complex as incorporating features such as security, audit trails and digital signatures.
Small manufacturers' needs differ from those of larger manufacturers. For example, while a small company with one facility may need one centralized system that houses its documents, a larger, national, multifacility manufacturer could benefit from a Web-based system where documents can be shared company-wide through a standard Web browser.
In addition, according to Dan Riordan, vice president of product management at IBS (Lexington, MA), not only is company interest in document control systems rising, many companies are pushing for one system to handle all its documents, instead of multiple systems for human resources, finance and engineering, for example. "Not only can they use one system to meet their needs, but it's really becoming the desirable thing to do," Riordan says.
"Document control implies a need to keep track of documents and their changes, as well as restrict the ability to do that activity. Document control implies that you have a true record of a document's history, rather than just going and storing it," he explains. More companies are deciding they need some control, rather than just storage of documents. Legislation both in the U.S. and abroad will continue to force people to adopt document control systems, in the future, if they haven't already, according to Best.
Document control systems can be targeted to a specific standard for example, ISO, TS or another industry-specific standard. Companies can tailor a document control package to handle a number of different things from the employee phone list to engineering documents and control plans.
Another development in the arena is different classification options and more scalability. "[One] thing we are seeing as a requirement is this buzz word, taxonomy," Riordan says. In the past, he says, document control meant simple classifications such as by department. "Now with so many different [needs] you have to give people the ability to create as diverse or simple taxonomy as they need: by business unit, division, plant, function and product line," Riordan says.
Depending on the security needs of a company, document control systems can offer read-restrictions -allowing only specific people to view certain documents-or only allow employees with qualifying characteristics such as business division, title or name varying levels of access to documents.
Some vendors offer document management in the form of a service, called software as a service (SaaS) or on-demand model, according to Ringlespaugh. This works much like a utility, where manufacturers pay a monthly fee and often only need a standard Web browser to automate their business practices such as document control. Such a system requires no extra hardware, networks or software licensing on the part of the subscribing company.
Mark Symonds, president of Plexus Systems (Auburn Hills, MI), believes the future of document control is Web-based. "The trend is toward Web-based collaboration across the global supply chain. My vision of document control is really data management. Currently, companies exchange discrete documents in Word or Excel. Increasingly, documents will be data that can be printed out in reports or exchanged, reviewed and approved via XML," Symonds says.
"The concept of the document is changing-more content management than document management," Turocy says. The scalability needs of small vs. large manufacturing organizations may differ, but as Turocy believes, the future of document control is in better technology. Live documents, instead of merely physical documents-though the technology is available today-will take hold in the future, she says. Such technology could allow an employee to click on a procedure and watch a video, or hear the procedure read aloud.
Adds Best, "Automatic archiving of redundant versions of documents together with their digital signatures, changes, comments and everything that goes along with that," is a key feature of a document control system that some suppliers offer today.
In addition, as manufacturing companies expand, so too will the demand for features such as automated, true multilingual capabilities, Riordan says. "By true multilingual capabilities, if I spoke English and you spoke Spanish, I would see your documents in English while you would see them in Spanish," he explains.
While there are many features and capabilities available today for document control systems, most experts agree that it is not document control business processes that have changed significantly in the past five years. "Document control was well established with ISO," Ringlespaugh says. "The big thing we have seen change is the way people approach document control."
At first, Ringlespaugh says, document control was compliance-driven with companies implementing the system because a customer told them to. "Today we find more companies implementing document control systems because of the benefits they derive beyond compliance," he says.
ISO 9000 and other such industry standards, have done the job of defining document control, but the disciplines necessary to implement a successful practice is up to the individual companies, Ringlespaugh says.
Once a manufacturer decides to implement a document control system, the choices may be daunting. Variation among document control suppliers and products means that manufacturers need to approach such a decision with a list of what they want to accomplish out of such a system-and ask all the right questions.
Suppliers of document control and management systems offer up the following questions for manufacturers to ask:
For more information on the companies mentioned in this article, visit their Web sites:
Plexus Systems, www.plex.com;
Powerway Inc., www.powerwayinc.com;
Proquis Inc., www.proquis.com/qm; and
Quality Systems Integrators, www.qsi-inc.com.