Document control systems take many forms, but they are essentially computerized systems used to track and store electronic documents, or images of paper documents. The systems often provide storage, version control, security, and indexing and retrieval capabilities. Manufacturers are no stranger to this type of system; according to Quality Magazine’s 7th Annual Capital Spending Survey, companies plan to spend $80 million in document control and management software in 2007, making it the third most often purchased software, behind calibration and data collection.

The software can monitor customers and vendors, and locate complaints, documents, management reviews, audits, company personnel and equipment. Companies often start out by keeping track of information with homegrown spreadsheets or software systems. These may work for at time; for small companies, they may be all that it necessary to keep employees up-to-date on the latest document changes. As companies grow, however, it becomes increasingly important-and difficult-to stay on top of the trends and changes in the business. If employees have to spend hours looking for documents or files in order to respond to customers’ requests, it may be time for a change.

However, many companies are reluctant to shell out money on elaborate document control systems. But, as soon as errors result that could have been eliminated with an automated system, companies may decide to take action and use document control. Investing in a system may prove to be a business advantage.

If companies invest in a viable system, the software should not be a cost, but a profit. Ask not what your company must do for this software-ask what the software can do for your company. When the software can eliminate duplicate files, or prevent employees from using the incorrect documents, it quickly can pay off and lead to other benefits.

Managing information is one clear advantage to going paperless and using a document control system. However, not only is document control invaluable for keeping track of workflow and business processes, it is crucial for ISO certification and audits. While some may consider these document control requirements to be an added headache, if used correctly, these software systems can cut down on time dealing with certification. Without this software, companies may not be able to provide auditors with the necessary paperwork.

Not only can document control help companies hunt down files hidden in the paper trail, it also can be used for employee training and human resources. Employees can easily stay up to date on training requirements, and companies can notify employees of process changes. Companies also can track employee training with a document control system-without it, there is no formal method to approve processes.

For best results, the software has to be managed correctly on the IT side, and should be embraced as a tool to improve the business. Using a basic system will offer distinct advantages, but the more complicated the system, the more tools it may offer for business improvement.

After employees get past the initial learning curve, many realize how much better they can operate. They are able to spend more time doing their job and improving the business as opposed to hunting down documents. While some companies may miss the thrill of the chase-looking for specs for a product that went out three years ago, for example-most will appreciate the convenience of document control.