Tactical Advice

Document Management: It's Time to Just Do It

When it comes to document management, stop worrying about the planning and focus on the doing.
Document Management: Just Do It
Credit: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/ThinkStockPhotos

Funny how people resist doing things that sound complicated — for instance, implementing a document management plan. I like to tell people they don’t need a document management plan. They simply need to manage their documents. If they can manage sales and manage inventory, documents should be no problem.

But you can’t manage what you don’t measure, as they say. Determining cost savings can be difficult because most companies don't know what manual document handling is costing them.

How much does it cost to file, for instance, a paid invoice? How much to retrieve it? How much to find and fax a copy to a customer who has a question? What are the costs when a customer gets mad because that invoice is lost? You probably don't know exactly, but you know it isn't free.

Some vendors claim that each employee spends, on average, between 30 and 60 minutes every day filing, classifying, searching for and sending documents. There's no line item for that in the company budget, so nobody is tracking how much time and money is wasted.

Assume your company is on the low end of that estimate: 30 minutes per knowledge worker per day. With 220 workdays per year, 30 minutes per day equals 6,600 minutes per year, or 110 hours. At $20 per hour, that’s $2,200 per employee — at least.

For the total cost, multiply $2,200 by the number of workers in your office — but sit down first. Most analyses are much more specific, including the cost to create and process file folders, retrieve files, photocopy documents (three times for the life of most documents, according to some estimates), mail or fax documents, and so on.

Save on Paper and Space

About 20 years ago, I was pitched on an early “professional document management” system that supposedly paid for itself by reducing the square footage of office space through the elimination of filing cabinets.

I was dubious because of the high cost of storage at the time. But today you can buy a terabyte of disk space for about $100. Can you buy a sturdy, five-drawer filing cabinet for $100? Nope.

Now, let's talk paper. Recycling paper is good, but not using paper in the first place is better. If your recycle bins are full, you're not being green — you're losing green.

Take Memphis City Schools, for example. According to information management services provider Iron Mountain, MCS will avoid buying about 15,000 reams of paper over three years — at a savings of $50,000 — by moving from paper filing to a digital document management system.

Add in savings from reduced printing expenses, lower utility costs and increased productivity, and that complicated-sounding “document management plan” begins to sound worth pursuing.

The Path to Document Control

What are some simple steps you can take? Move printers farther away from workers and put scanners nearby — and “forget” to buy paper. Set PDF as the default printer in computers where possible. Explain how much easier it is to transfer information electronically rather than in hard copy.

Zero in on large print jobs. Every IT person knows which staff members always print big reports, only to look at one page and fill the recycle bin with the rest. If you have printer management in place, finding the largest print jobs will be easy. If you don't have print management — well, now's a good time to start talking about that.

And when you do, elevate the discussion to a talk about managing documents. Nothing fancy — just a few smart steps will save time and money, not to mention a few trees.

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About the Author

James E. Gaskin

James E. Gaskin

James writes books, articles and jokes about technology from his Dallas-area home office. He also consults for those who don’t read his books and articles.

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