What is an EDMS, why should you care and how to choose one? Here’s your 2024 guide

What is an EDMS, why should you care and how to choose one? Here’s your 2024 guide

Gone are the days of having to sift through stacks of paper or struggle to find important files. Electronic document management systems (EDMS) are revolutionizing the way organizations handle their records and information assets, whether they’re a small business or a massive enterprise.

Just recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the rollout of a new platform for processing prequalification information for medicines, diagnostics, vaccines, quality control laboratories, and more. The system will not only allow users to manage products, applications, and inspections in one place, but also to keep track of where their applications are within the prequalification process. Expected benefits range from improved transparency and usability to a reduced burden of manual application handling for staff.

The advantages of a well-chosen EDMS go far beyond electronic document storage. Ideally, it also enables seamless collaboration among team members, drives workflow efficiency, enhances document security, and ensures regulatory compliance. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what electronic document management systems can do for your business and how to pick the right solution for your needs.

What is an EDMS? Meaning and key functions

An electronic document management system (EDMS) is a software platform that allows companies to capture, store, manage, and track electronic records. It ensures the secure storage and organization of documents in a centralized repository, making them accessible to authorized users anytime, anywhere. EDMS systems can be crucial tools for streamlining business workflows and improving efficiency by providing a structured, easily navigable database of business-critical data.

One primary EDMS functionality is data capture. It enables the scanning and importing of physical documents into the system, transforming them into searchable digital formats. Another functionality is document indexing, or assigning specific keywords to documents for quick and accurate retrieval.

Ideally, an electronic document management system includes access control mechanisms to ensure that sensitive data is only accessible to authorized users. Version control is also an essential feature, letting users to track changes made to documents and revert to previous versions if necessary.

EDMS solutions offer collaborative document editing tools, which allow multiple users to work on files simultaneously and enhance productivity. Last but not least, the system provides backup and recovery functions, safeguarding against data loss by storing copies of documents in secure off-site locations.

Key EDMS features explained, from document management to security

Electronic document management

Electronic document management involves the digitization of paper documents and their storage in a structured manner within a database. This not only reduces physical storage space but also enables efficient organization and fast retrieval of critical business information. The digital format allows for easy sharing and duplication of documents, promoting efficient workflow management.

Document collaboration

EDMS software solutions enable multiple users to work on the same document in parallel. This eliminates the need for physical presence and allows for real-time collaboration regardless of geographical location. The changes made by different users can be tracked, and feedback added as notes or comments, facilitating smooth communication and teamwork.

Browsing documents

An EDMS provides a user-friendly interface for document search. Users can navigate through the organized database with ease, utilizing functions like search and filters. Documents can be located by their names, titles, keywords, or any metadata associated with them. The browsing feature saves significant time that would otherwise be spent on manually searching for records.

Document versioning

This feature is key to maintaining the integrity of documents. Every time a change is made to a file, a new version is created. This allows users to track the history of changes and revert to a previous version of the document, if needed. Document version control ensures accountability and eliminates the risk of losing original content due to modifications.

Archiving documents

The archiving feature in an electronic document management system helps manage the lifecycle of a document. Once a document is no longer in active use, it can be archived for future reference. This function not only helps declutter the active database but also ensures that old data is preserved and can be accessed when required.

Records management

The electronic records management function of electronic document management systems is crucial for maintaining compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. The EDMS can manage the retention and disposal of documents based on predefined rules, ensuring records are kept for the required period and disposed of appropriately when no longer needed.

Document security

To protect sensitive business information from unauthorized access, misuse, alteration, or deletion, EDMS systems include robust security features. Access control, for example, allows for setting user permissions, limiting who can view, edit, or delete a file. Encryption protects data from being read if intercepted during transmission, while audit trails provide visibility into who accessed which documents and what changes were made.

Who needs an EDMS software solution – and what for?

Companies and private individuals alike have found EDMS solutions to be invaluable tools for streamlining document workflows. The latter can use them to effectively manage bills, receipts, and personal documents. But it’s the industries that deal with vast amounts of paperwork – think healthcare providers, law firms, and accounting firms – who reap the most benefits from EDMS.

In healthcare, patient records, prescriptions, and diagnostic reports can be safely stored, easily retrieved, and shared securely, improving the quality of patient care. Legal professionals, dealing with volumes of case documents, contracts, and legal briefs, can quickly locate specific files, increasing overall efficiency and decreasing the chance of human error. Accountants, handling invoices, tax documents, and financial statements, can ensure accurate record-keeping, ease of audit, and efficient financial management.

Businesses in the manufacturing sector use EDMS to manage product designs, blueprints, and quality control documents. Educational institutions rely on such systems for storing and organizing student records, course materials, and research papers. Organizations in the public sector find EDMS useful for managing citizen records, policy documents, and regulatory compliances. Or, in the case of the WHO, for collecting and tracking product, application and inspection data as part of the medicine prequalification process.

What are the pros of using an EDMS system? Key EDMS benefits, ranked

1. Efficient document management

EDMS systems allow easy storing, indexing, and retrieval of documents, reducing the time spent on searching for physical files. This leads to improved productivity and enables staff to focus more on their core responsibilities.

2. Enhanced document safety

Essential records are protected against accidental damage, theft, or loss. Electronic document management systems allow for access restriction to authorized personnel only, reducing the risk of unwanted exposure or misuse.

3. Improved collaboration

EDMS solutions enable multiple users to access and work on documents simultaneously, fostering a collaborative working environment. Changes and updates are recorded in real-time, ensuring all team members are on the same page.

4. Cost saving

The use of an EDMS can lead to substantial cost savings as it reduces the need for physical storage space and associated expenses. Plus, it minimizes the costs related to printing, copying, and transportation of physical documents.

5. Regulatory compliance

Another advantage of EDMS systems is that they help businesses comply with regulatory requirements. Documents are properly stored and can be easily retrieved during audits or inspections, reducing the risk of non-compliance penalties.

6. Environmental sustainability

By eliminating the need for paper and physical storage, electronic records management  systems contribute to environmental sustainability. They can be an effective tool for driving the organization’s green initiatives and their impact.

7. Improved customer service

With EDMS, businesses can respond to inquiries faster and more effectively. Quick access to customer records and relevant documents not only speeds up response times, but it can also lead to higher customer satisfaction and repeat business.

8. Business continuity

In the event of a disaster, an EDMS software solution ensures that the business can continue to function without major disruptions. It provides backup and recovery features, ensuring critical records and data assets are always available when needed.

How to choose an EDMS solution? 6 essential factors to consider

1. Ease of use

Look for an EDMS with a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for employees to learn and navigate the system. Overly complicated software solutions only lead to user resistance, reducing effectiveness.

2. Integration

The EDMS should integrate seamlessly with other systems used by your organization such as ERP systems, CRM tools, or email clients. Proper integration will ensure smooth data flow and process synchronization.

3. Scalability

Choose an EDMS that can scale with your business. As your organization grows, the number of documents and users is likely to increase, and your electronic records management system should be capable of handling this growth.

4. Security

Make sure the EDMS has robust security measures, including encrypted data transmission, two-factor authentication, and role-based access control, to protect sensitive documents from unauthorized access or data breaches.

5. Customer support

Your EDMS vendor should provide ongoing customer support to resolve technical issues that may arise. The availability of timely support, including assistance, training and documentation can significantly enhance user adoption.

6. Pricing structure

Make sure you understand what exactly you’re paying for. Some vendors may charge per user or per feature, while others might offer unlimited access for a fixed price. Choose a pricing structure that aligns with your budget and usage requirements.