Determining Your Document Workflow Requirements

Beginning your paperless journey or making changes to your environment can be daunting.  This document is intended to provide an overview of the types of questions that need to be asked – and of whom – in efforts to build a solution requirements list, project objective and ultimately an ROI. Topics include: Developing your strategy, Your “To do” list and your “Not to do” list, How to search solution partners and the importance of user input.

“How can my business achieve operational efficiencies?”  The answer is with an electronic content and document management solution.  By electronically delivering, storing and retrieving your critical business correspondence, you not only save money, but also increase overall productivity.  For example, sending invoices to your customers either electronically or digitally, expedites receipt of payments.

There are key points when planning for and putting together a strategy for implementation of an electronic document management (ECM) solution.  The first step is to take a look at your current document correspondence lifecycle. This would include business forms & letters, incoming customer or vendor correspondence, accounts payable, accounts receivable, shipping & receiving, deliveries; outbound and inbound, along with any additional correspondence either via email or paper documents received.

Developing your strategy:

Once you have realized the amount of paper being processed or backup documentation that is missing as well as the time spent handling paper correspondence throughout your organization, it is an important next step to have meetings with your different departments to evaluate how they currently access this information, how they respond to customer inquiries for current workflow procedures along with the document accessibility. Once you have a good understanding of the current practices, you can then start strategizing on streamlining these processes through electronic document distribution, archival, scanning, and retrieval methods. The right choices will reduce costly missteps and allow you to realize the gains in your company’s productivity and ROI.

Initially, by reviewing your current workflow, document accessibility and your document archival needs, you will have a means in which to measure the electronic document process that will best fit your business and streamline your business practice.

Some questions to ask of your organization could include the following;

  • Are there delays in Accounts Receivable?
  • Is customer service affected negatively by having to spend time locating information in order to assist a customer?
  • Do we have a complete audit trail of each transaction from PO through delivery receipt confirmation, billing and receivables?
  • Is crucial business correspondence difficult to access or missing all together?
  • How much money is spent annually on pre-printed business forms?
  • Could these internal issues that may be costing your organization thousands of dollars in labor and materials be reduced through EDM?

Reviewing your document lifecycle is an important step in the planning process. Ask yourself details such as who needs the information, what information is critical, when is the information needed, and why is the information needed. Collecting this information will be beneficial in setting up objectives to managing your electronic documents and procedural rules. A well developed plan will define how your documents are used and help you with the next crucial step of considering a solution that will best fit your organization.

Your “To do” list and “Not to do” list:

To Do:

  1. Indentify your Key Stakeholders
  2. Evaluate current procedures
  3. Review your document lifecycle and monthly volume
  4. Discuss with departments on how they currently access information and respond to inquiries
  5. Understand key elements to a successful implementation
  6. Justify the costs associated with EDM project
  7. Create a project team
    1. Business Management
    2. Business Users
    3. Information Technology, both high level and analyst
  8. Develop a plan that is beneficial to your organization
    1. electronic forms and delivery
    2. best archival method for your business
    3. define search criteria for retrieval of the information
    4. Who needs to access the information
    5. Is new hardware necessary or upgrade existing
    6. Communicate often
    7. Start with “quick wins”

Not To Do:

Do not rush in

Do not make assumptions without planning or evaluating your current environment

Do not forget to check back with key stakeholders and line of business managers to find out how you are doing.

Do not forget to let the organization know how you are doing, communicate success OFTEN.

Do not allow scope creep…you’ll never get far enough along to have a success.

Do not select vendors based solely on their name…you will pay more.

Do not stray from your requirements document but prioritize your requirements….no one can be everything to everyone.

How to search for solution partners:

…so how do you select a solution partner?

When evaluating the many choices that are out in the industry, look at what is important to your business. How the documents are created, stored, indexed and accessed by your users plays an important role in choosing the right solution for your business.

The documents should be stored in an open format, not proprietary. The solution should enhance and streamline your current business rules, not change them. An EDM solution should offer your organization growth, not limitations.

When evaluating the EDM solutions, integration with your existing host system will allow the workflow of your documents to be automatically processed, distributed, indexed and archived without user intervention.  Are API’s required? Web Services?

Easy to define business rules for document processing and distribution is a key function to a successful implementation.

Your organization’s business and your users’ needs should define the document viewing requirements. Allowing open format of the documents stored makes it easy to view all of your system generated documents, incoming emails and faxes, and incoming scanned paper documents, using existing viewers already provided by the different standard software packages, such as PDF, PC files and TIF images.

A single enterprise solution partner is a viable choice. A single solution partner has added bundling options that allow for growth within an organization.

Document management systems need to be easy to understand and navigate.  Organizations must realize that the information being stored is for users to find and work with.

Organizations should look for a solution partner that best meets the internally designed criteria.  You should also request live demonstrations, either online or in person, of the EDM solution along with two or three customer references that you can speak with.   There should be a technical demonstration as well as a user based demonstration. Having them at separate times allows for appropriate questions and the partner to specifically discuss points that are important to the audience, one technical and the other for business users. This avoids “glazing over” of the demonstration and a firm understanding is met by the appropriate persons for a better evaluation of the EDM solutions.

The importance of user input:

User input is important due to the fact they are the ones using it. They currently do the day to day manual processing and therefore provide valuable input on solutions usability and functionality.  This feedback is necessary to implement an EDM solution with full user acceptance.

Their input on how they currently process documents, locate documents and distribute or resend information will assist you with designing the archival, indexing values and retrieval authority within the EDM solution you implement.

Discover the Return On Investment (ROI):

When putting together your ROI, it is important to not only look at the hard costs, but also the soft costs involved with the savings.  This is where most of your return will come from, but is often ignored or overlooked.

The Hard costs are paper produced, file cabinets purchased and postage spent.  The soft costs are labor and productivity.

An average knowledge worker earns $55k per year and the eight hours per week that an employee spends on document/paper related tasks would work out to be $11,000.00 annually. Now let’s say you have five (5) employees performing these tasks that include, printing & mailing or faxing, searching for documents that may never be found, and that equates to $55,000.00 per year you are automatically saving just in labor alone.

Unmanaged documents pose many additional costs such as on-site and off-site storage of filing cabinets, physical facilities (floor space), postal and distribution.

An electronic document management system can typically pay for itself within two years. The average implementation time, depending on the size of your organization and project scope, can be anywhere from 6 to 18 months.


Let’s review some of the benefits organizations experience almost instantly after implementing an EDM solution.

  • Reduced Storage Space
  • Enhanced Security
  • Improved Regulatory Compliance
  • Easier Retrieval
  • Better Collaboration
  • Better Backup and Disaster Recovery
  • And the “Intangibles”

Written by Lori Johnston

Management Consultant, Performance and Process Improvement

AIIM Certified Capture Practitioner