Gone are the days when document management constituted an overstuffed filing cabinet. Now, document management solutions can be used to systematically organise and process both paper and digital documents, but this isn’t without its challenges.
Juggling both physical and digital documents requires an amalgamation of processes to be put in place to centralise and classify documents from different sources. Then there’s the third element – unstructured data – which is set to further complicate how an organisation captures, categorises and manages documents.
Scanning plays a pivotal role in digitalising hard copy information. Documents can be converted into a range of formats such as PDF, Word, JPEG and TIFFS and can even be automatically interpreted. For instance, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can convert scanned images to text automatically while imaging software can be used to scan and annotate documents from any source, removing the need for manual data entry.
Yet digitalisation isn’t just about the conversion of paper to digital formats. It has the power to fundamentally change the way we work. By reducing our dependency on physical documents we can make data more accessible and easier to share, reducing costs and streamlining business processes. It’s this reasoning that was behind the UK government’s ‘Digital by default’ mandate.
Interoperability as standard
To facilitate this, the government set out guidelines for the adoption of open standards some five years ago which would see documents converted into standard formats in a bid to eradicate data silos and to foster data interoperability. However, once it became clear that the majority of documents no longer needed to reside on closed networks such as the PSN (Public Sector Network) due to advances in cloud computing (GDS stated that the public cloud was safe to use for “the vast majority of government information and services” back in January 2017) the need to prescribe document formatting seemed redundant as most documents would in all likelihood be published digitally.
Cloud adoption also paved the way for synchronisation which has enabled document handling to evolve, so that instead of being constrained to a desktop PC where documents are stored on a local network or ‘My Documents’ folder, the user can access data from any location via a central shared repository. Platforms such as SharePoint have been instrumental in taking document management to the next level, enabling documents to be synchronised and rules imposed to ensure secure data sharing.
One of the biggest advantages of this synchronisation is version control and permissions management. If rule sets are applied to track the manipulation of data – from the creation of a document through to editing and deletion – it’s possible to provide multi-party access. This means that more than one user can access and manipulate the document at any given time, from any location; a capability which has in turn paved the way for collaborative working.
Shared or collaborative working practices bring real cost benefits and productivity gains and it is now a recognised and supported mode of working within government. Employees in disparate locations can access and work on the same documents and discuss and exchange ideas without having to physically meet, resulting in faster more accurate working and flatter structures. For example, on the SharePoint platform, teams can be formed by department, division or project to work on specific documents or be given access to certain resources, creating a multi-layered intranet. Employees can then simultaneously access collective resources such as files, data and apps.
For the public sector, these advances in document management have led to fundamental changes. Now the priority is not just bringing data online but making that data accessible on any device, making it more malleable, and easier to download and store.
The latest guidance on open standards for government requires that all users both within and outside of government be able to:
- Access and read information
- Store a local copy of the information they are viewing
- Print a copy of the information they are viewing
- Preserve information for archiving or as a record
- Make sure that the information they are creating can be viewed in the way they were intending
- Be able to create accessible content and to use accessibility tools with information in online and offline formats
- Access information on a device and platform of their choice, for example a laptop, tablet or smartphone
- Be sure of the integrity of specific information
- See previews of statistical information
This clearly sees data becoming more answerable to user needs with multiple modes of access. Supporting the user in this way will require automated document management, with processes such as document discovery, classification, filing and retrieval performed using tools that can use AI to automatically scan and interpret data, allocate access privileges and track document manipulation.
In the future, document management in government will morph again. The growth in data from both structured and unstructured sources will make discovery and classification even more pressing as the data mountain grows. This has the potential to provide the public sector with a rich mine of information to deliver ever more effective e-government services, provided the document management is in place to sort, classify, organise and protect access to this content.
For more information on how we can help you organise your paper and digital documents, contact us today.