There is often a lot of confusion between document control and document management, and document management is often used as a generic term for any task that deals with document handling – regardless of the instance in which the documents are used. These two areas are actually entirely different aspects of document handling, each having very specific uses and characteristics.
This article highlights each term, showing the unique differences and characteristics of each as well as the role that each plays in your business.
This is pretty much a general term for a system in which documents can be safely stored, indexed, searched, accessed, archived, version controlled or deleted. Document Management also generates a shared environment that allows a number of users to access and modify documents. At the front end, it also allows users to scan documents and convert to computer files to manage electronically.
Having grown hugely in their level of complexity over the years, document systems began as a way of scanning documents into microfiche so that they could be stored and indexed, and easily retrieved. Today, this system has grown to become an umbrella system that covers electronic management of information, merging into Content Management from a web page point of view and Knowledge Management in terms of unstructured data.
In this aspect, you could say that Document Manage has to do with the management of a large number of documents, which are mostly short-lived, such as emails, letters, contracts and scanned documents – most of which have just a single version life-span.
On the other side of the document spectrum, Document Control is far less generic and covers the control of documents that are far more essential and long-term in a company’s operations. This includes documents that have a specific use, and those that have been released with intention and have even gone through a solid approval process for relevancy and precision. When documents of this nature need to be modified, all changes and the reason for such changes need to be identified, along with the person making the changes and the date of the changes. Modified versions also need to be kept separate from earlier versions to prevent any confusion arising.
To ensure that everything is kept above-board and simplified, access to these documents needs to be regulated, so that only the latest versions are accessed. Out-dated versions are then archived to keep records as well as a paper trail that can be audited. This audit trail offers a useful tool that allows all parties to access document information quickly and easily, which makes it an essential Document Control protocol.
These documents have a far longer life-span than short-life documents, and reflect changes that take place in a company, which each version representing these changes. Previous versions need to be accessible to show the natural progression of the document, and also serve to act as a template to use when updating the current version.
Understanding Document Handling Systems
As both of these terms have similarities and both essentially deal with document handling, it is easy to see how the terms are confused, and how Document Management is often used as a catch all term for all aspects of document handling. Generally speaking however, it is possible that a Document Control system is able to take on the role of Document Management only if the number of documents is not too huge. On the other hand, many measures need to be put into place to ensure that Document Management systems have prescriptive aspects currently in place or about to be activated, before it can act as an effective Document Control solution.