Just about all document management services let you add multiple users, for which you can control their ability to view and edit files. They differ, however, in how they let you sort, share and search for documents, as well as the regulations they’re compliant with.

Here’s 5 questions you should ask before choosing document management software:

Paperless Office ImageHow does it sort your documents?

We’re all used to the folder-based filing method of Mac and Windows, where documents are stored in a hierarchy of folder, but is this the most efficient method for a high volume of documents?

Often not. The traditional folder method is limiting because unless you create a copy your files can only be saved in one location. Let’s say client asks you to find a sales receipt. You know the client’s name and the date of transaction, but nothing else. Unless you sort files by one these two variables, you’re going to have a tough time pulling it up.

On the other hand, with a metadata filing system, you can tag files with multiple keywords. For our example of the sales receipt, you could tag each receipt with the client’s name, date of transaction, salesperson’s name, product/service sold and more. So searching any one or combination of those keywords would bring up the receipt.

Most of the more advanced document management systems use a metadata filing approach. Google Drive is unique in that it uses a folder system, but you can store files in multiple folders without creating copies. This makes it more of a hybrid of the two.

Can you edit documents?

If you’re hoping to use document management software as a way of improving collaboration between you and your employees, then shared document editing is a must have. In Google Docs, for example, multiple users can collaborate on text or spreadsheet documents in real time. Oddly, you generally won’t find this feature in higher-end systems, as they tend to emphasize security over other features.

Can you create a link to share your documents?

So you have all your data backed up in a secure location. It’s accessible to you and your employees with login accounts, but what if you need to share a document with a client?

Some document management systems let you generate a secure link to a single document (or folder). This way, people outside your business can view individual files, but not everything else in your system. This ability is a simple, but essential feature in document management software. If you had to download files and upload them manually to a different file-sharing service in order to show something to a client, you would negate the point of having a secure document management system.

Can you convert scanned images into searchable documents?

If you’re hoping to implement document management software into your business as a way of going paperless, you probably have lots of paper documents to scan and add to your system. An optical character recognition (OCR) scan is a must If you want them to be easily accessible later on.

What an OCR scan does is take a scanned document image and “reads” all the text on it. The system then saves the text into the PDF so you can select it with your cursor. This also means body text becomes searchable. You can search the body text of all your scanned documents to find keywords or phrases.

Is it compliant?

Depending on your industry, you might be required to meet follow certain regulations on storing electronic documents. According to Fit Small Business, some of the key regulations include HIPAA for health providers, FDA for pharmaceuticals, PCI for retailers and SOX for publically traded companies. Most document management companies will provide a list of regulations they’re compliant with, or can give you a quick answer if you call and ask.

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