Best practices for document management systems

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    Complex, to be sure, document  management systems are helpful to IT departments and tech pubs alike

    I recently received a question about best practices for electronic document  management systems using Word 2003. While I use Word 2003, I have only used it  in combination with Sharepoint as a document management system, and the docs I  write in Word are usually short, internal documents, not external technical  manuals. Coincidentally, I've heard that IT departments are using document  management systems in concert with their CMDB. Text-based documents, drawings,  architecture designs, all these documents are important to an IT department and  any business organization. It makes sense that the CMDB would be related to a  document management system, although I won't get into any discussion about  whether each document is a Configuration Item (CI) or not. ;)


    My experience with document management is Documentum with FrameMaker, and we  don’t currently do much co-authoring with people in the rest of the company. So  I’ll admit first off, this request for information is outside my personal  knowledge. But, I do like a good research question and I gathered together some  reading items.


    Here’s a summary of what’s found in this article about putting together a document management system  using Microsoft tools. Your environment may vary widely from an accounting-type  environment, though, but I thought these were decent overarching goals for  managing documents, and I expanded on a few of them based on my experience with  document management systems in general.

    1. Determine what documents get the “document management treatment.” Create  limits on what is stored and maintained in your system so that you know what’s  in there and what’s not, and you also limit maintenance and a bulging file  system. Will you scan and store images of paper copies?

    2. Classify or group your documents together. Some EDMSes do this for you using  document type, but you might also want other criteria for easy search and  retrieval later. This approach also allows you to assign more than one  classification to a document.

    3. Store the files efficiently to make retrieval easy. Your EDMS might do this  on its own with little input from you.

    4. Retrieve as needed, using versioning if desired, which leads to the next  step. Realize that indexing and keyword searching are crucial tasks for  retrieval. Be sure to train users to properly tag documents for fast and  efficient retrieval. You may have to create a taxonomy using standard terms for  the system.

    5. Managing and tracking documents allows for the type of collaboration where  one person can check out a document to make revisions. Other collaborative  activities might include activities such as participating in active discussion  groups, tracking issues associated with customer engagements, maintaining common  contact information for subject matter experts on a particular document, and  even assigning tasks related to a particular document. Tracking and versioning  also allows for storage and retrieval of documents from a point in time which  may be helpful historically.

    For research like this question, one place I like to do searches is There was one  relevant Answer for someone who was looking for an analysis of document  management software. It’s long but comprehensive. I realize you might be well  past the evaluation stage for a DMS, but you might get a look at what features  are offered. You can also use to search only for blog entries on a given  topic, although that particular search method did not offer much on this  particular topic.


    Going beyond Google, I did a search using to search for blogs about "document management  systems," and the best I’ve found so far is  Another site that offers a wide range of case studies and white papers is The  Gilbane Report at


    There are also lessons learned from the doc management trenches at  Hewlett-Packard. It appears the author is Susan Charles, an Information  Research Analyst at Hewlett-Packard. She describes the implementation of an  internal document management project at HP. She discusses the challenges of the  project, and what she sees as the lessons learned.


    In addition, here’s a case study from a university setting. I haven’t read through it  completely but it might offer some advice.

    As with many best practices in technology, you want to analyze first and  implement second. Spending more of your time in the up front planning and  definitions will pay off when you go to populate your system with documents.


    Anyone else have some advice to offer? Feel free to post a comment, or use  the trackback URL to write about it in your own blog and refer to this entry.