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How Poor Document Management Practices Are Harming Productivity

November 14, 2022 Knowledge and Findability
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Poor data and document management cost businesses up to $43.5 million a year. With hybrid working, this figure is probably on the way up. 

But the issue is about more than dollars and cents. Poor document management also carries significant risks to organizations, including:

  • Data breaches where "lost" documents fall into unauthorized hands.
  • Costly errors due to outdated or erroneous information.
  • Productivity loss searching for files.
  • Missed revenue opportunities from customers and clients leaving the business because of data loss or inefficiencies. 

None of these problems are new, but they have been amplified by the pivot to remote and hybrid work. The good news is, hybrid work practices do not make this unsolvable. Let's explore.

Multiple Touch Points = Multiple Risks

In today's digital workplace, there are numerous touch points where document management can go wrong; they can happen anywhere during the lifecycle of a document.

At the onset, organizations may, for instance, find some users who do not comply with internal regulations during document creation, which can affect a vital part of data security.

Then, as documents are being used, there can be risks that they are shared with unauthorized users or through unsecured channels. This is particularly prevalent in a remote workplace if users are left to their own devices (pun fully intended).

Finally, document destruction can also be a potential cause for concern. When documents are not archived promptly and properly, it can clutter the system, leading to confusion about document variations and leaving the door open for bad actors.

Related Article: Records Management Needs a Refresh

Which Is More Important: Document Security or Access?

We've been talking a lot about the employee experience and the role technology plays in supporting efficient processes. It may seem like adding steps to boost security may, in turn, boggle down access and slow productivity — thus impacting the employee experience, which is a big no-non in today's work environment.

But should organizations really have to choose between security and access? The short answer is, document security and ease of access should be equally prioritized.

On one side, prioritizing access leaves your organization open to greater cybersecurity risks. On the other, prioritizing security may create issues where employees are tempted to bypass security to make work easier.

It would seem reasonable to say security wins in this battle; after all, a breach can take down an entire company. But lack of skilled and motivated labor is also a real issue affecting companies' ability to compete today, and research conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of Elastic has found document management is one of the most challenging aspects of an employee's day to day.

More specifically, the research found:

  • 54% of employees say they waste significant time searching for documents.
  • 60% spend more time searching for documents than replying to emails.
  • 81% say they've run into situations where they can't find a document requested by a client or boss.

Anyone of these situations can lead to a less-than-satisfying employee experience, which can cause unwanted turnover. Finding the balance between access and security is therefore vital for success.

Related Article: How Document Management Can Control Your Files

3 Ways to Improve Document Management

There are several ways companies can improve their document management processes, including expensive software and technology. But here are three approaches to consider that don't involve implementing new technology.

1. A Single Source of Truth

"So many companies have absolutely horrendous documentation," said Ethan Drower, co-founder and operating partner of Chicago-based CiteMed.

Many have documents scattered across their infrastructure and remote workers' devices. Drower notes some instances where records are found on a shared drive, with parts sent over an email and parts in other locations.

It makes no sense, for example, for a CRM to be accessible only to the sales team, when the marketing team also needs to collect data from that database to ensure effective marketing campaigns.

Drower said a solution is for organizations to create a single source of truth, or SSOT. An SSOT is a form of repository where documents and data are kept for all team members to access. 

Related Article: How to Create a Knowledge Base for Hybrid Teams

2. Policies and Procedures

There's no doubt that when it comes to sensitive data, there needs to be processes and policies for creating, accessing and sharing it. The challenge here is that different teams may have different views of what they need to access — when and how.

"CIOs and CSOs will be heavily focused on the chain of custody and good corporate governance," said Shawn Freligh, SVP and general manager of Austin, Texas-based Upland Software. Meanwhile, CFOs may be more focused on the efficiency of document processes and the timely processing of invoices, he said.

No matter their interest, everyone should have the same unified processes and procedures to follow. Otherwise, security gaps can appear. And at the same time, incompatible processes can cause loss of documentation and inaccurate documents entering the system.

3. Automation

Another option to improve document management is to automate the process. Jeroen van Gils, CEO of Oldenzaal, Netherlands-based LiFi, said companies should automate tasks such as creating, filing and retrieving documents. "This can help to save time and improve efficiency," he said.

Automation can also prevent costly mistakes, make searching more effective and support enhanced security by preventing unauthorized attempts to create, edit or destroy documents.

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