The Best Document Management System for the Paperless Office or Personal Use

When it comes to document management software, there are a lot of solutions out there. Especially for businesses. Yet most options cluster together with roughly the same features: a database back-end, rudimentary scanning, and few integration options. Is there any document management solution that addresses the broader needs of a paperless office? Of a personal user? Absolutely: FileCenter, the low-cost leader in document management software.

In this article we'll discuss seven primary considerations and show why we recommend FileCenter.

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Article Summary

  • You don't need a database for document management
  • Document management software needs a well-structured layout and a search engine
  • A document management system must tie into the Save/Open functions of other programs
  • The document management solution needs to provide tools that fit your tasks
  • For paperless offices, scanning should be part of the document management workflow
  • Since PDF is now the standard for archival, a good document management solution should include PDF tools
  • With the Cloud's increasing importance, consider document management software that lets you use your favorite Cloud service
  • What about paperless document management?
  • What about personal document management software?
  • Jump to our recommendation »

You Don't Need a Database for Document Management

The vast majority of document management systems tuck your files away in a database. For years, database-driven DMS companies and providers have been feeding us a list of "indispensible" features like workflows, versioning, tracking, collaboration, storage compliance, document retention, secure repositories, records management, mobile productivity, improved automation and efficiency, etc. Except that many of these features aren't dependent on a database, and many are based on the needs of very large enterprises, not small businesses.

If you compare document management software offerings, you'll find that the vast majority of the document management software suites, applications, and packages use a database. As a result, we sometimes get trapped in the mindset that a database is a requirement for document management. It's not. In fact, not only is a database not a requirement, there are some distinct disadvantages to using one.

First and foremost, databases increase the complexity of your system. Databases use more system resources and computer processes. Databases often require dedicated hardware. Databases require expertise to manage, maintain, and administer. When the databases become corrupt, everyone's documents go down with them. Finally, most of these database-driven DMS solutions have sophisticated capabilities that are designed for enterprise-class customers in financial, manufacturing, or other large-scale industries, not small offices.

But perhaps the biggest disadvantage to databases: integration options. Because your files are locked away in a black box, the only additional programs you can use are the ones that the document management system specifically integrates with ... and those aren't many. Do you have a favorite digital photo editor? A favorite file utility? Do you want to use DropBox or Google Drive to access your files? Too bad (see below). The vast majority of computer software is not integrated with database-driven DMS systems. You're limited to whatever tools the document management system provides.

Worse still, if you ever decide to switch document management systems, you now have to figure out how to get all of your files out of the database. That isn't always easy. Or even possible. Just ask the former PaperMaster users (the company abandoned the platform without giving customers a way to export their files).

In fact, there's only one compelling reason to use a database for document management storage: security restrictions. If you need to control who has access to documents on a file-by-file basis (rather than a folder-by-folder basis, which is easy), then you need a database-driven system. But that's completely unnecessary for many offices. And it will come with much higher costs.

FileCenter is perhaps the only document management system on the market that uses regular Windows folders for storing your files. What are the advantages? First of all, that's where your files already are ... there's no need to import anything. And should you ever decide to stop using FileCenter, there's nothing to export. Additionally, you can leverage the stability of the Windows file system, along with the power of the Windows indexing and document searching tools. Sharing files on the network becomes a piece of cake. And you are completely unrestricted in what programs and file utilities you can use, the integration options being almost limitless.

Document Management Software Needs a Well-Structured Layout and a Search Engine

How you interface with your files matters. Some document management software gives you an Explorer-like folder tree. Some only lets you search for files – no browsing. In our experience, the fastest way to a file is through a logical, well-structured hierarchy. Most files can be reached in just a few quick mouse clicks, much faster than thinking up search terms and keywords, typing them out, and scrolling through results. So the primary interface should be organizational, bolstered by a powerful search engine for hunting down the files that aren't where you expect them to be.

In FileCenter's case, you get an electronic file cabinet interface with cabinets, drawers, and folders. You can then file any document the same way you would if it were a paper file. Drilling down to a file is quick and efficient. And for those times when you need to search for a lost needle, FileCenter integrates with the powerful Windows Search engine, which indexes the full content of every file.

A Document Management System Must Tie into the Save/Open Function of Other Programs

A document management system is worthless if it isn't easy to get files into it. Most systems integrate with a very small handful of key programs, like Microsoft Office, through add-ins and special functions for sending the file to the system. Some can only capture documents that you print to the sytem. FileCenter has the unique ability to capture the Save/Open functions of almost any Windows program out there, letting you always use your cabinet interface for saving and opening files. This has the distinct advantage of making it so nothing slips through the net.

The Document Management Solution Needs to Provide Tools that Fit Your Tasks

Consider the tasks that you perform each day in working with files, especially the ones that come up over and over and over. Your document management solution should address these tasks and either automate them completely, or provide shortcut options that perform them more efficiently. Why? Because if your document management solution isn't making you more efficient, what's the point? A few examples:

We probably save files more than any other task. And every time we save a file, we have to conjure up a logical name. Wouldn't it be better if we could decide once what kind of convention we want to use for naming files, set it up, then let the software offer up names for us? And instead of setting up the same folder layouts over and over again for every client/customer/patient, doesn't it make sense to set up the most common layouts once, then just drop them into place wherever we need them? And we should be able to bookmark locations we go to often, and set up shortcuts to the programs we use the most, and be able to rename and move files in one quick step, and easily add file attachments to email ... and the list goes on and on. Consider the tasks that burden you the most and make sure your document management solution has features to address them. (Incidentally, FileCenter does all of the aforementioned.)

For Paperless Offices, Scanning Should be Part of the Document Management Workflow

If your office deals with a lot of paper that you want to digitize, you've got to tie scanning tightly into your workflow. Ideally, you will scan directly to fully-searchable PDF and get the files stored where they belong in as few mouseclicks as possible. Many document management offerings include at least rudimentary document scanning. In evaluating them, ask yourself these questions:

Are the scanned documents searchable (i.e. was OCR included as part of scanning)? Can you name the document at the time you scan it, or is that an extra step? Can you scan directly into the document's final resting place, or do you need to move it into place afterwards? How difficult is it to add more pages to an existing scan? Replace pages? Can the document management software split up a stack of scanned documents automatically? Does it support document routing?

FileCenter document scanning software places great value in facilitating and optimizing the scanning process. Since scanning is not only a very common activity but also a tedious one, FileCenter goes out of its way to smooth out or automate every step possible, from trimming off mouse clicks to splitting up files and even to automatic document naming and routing.

Since PDF is Now the Standard for Archival, a Good Document Management Solution Should Include PDF Tools

PDF has become the standard not just for document archival, but in many cases, for official filings. Many US courts now require PDFs for all filings. And any electronic bank statement you receive is almost guaranteed to be a PDF. So your document management solution should include all of the tools you need for working with PDFs. For instance, combining two PDF files into one. This very common task leaves a lot of users scratching their heads. Ideally, this would be as simple as dropping one PDF on another one (like in FileCenter). Splitting up PDFs should be just about as easy. And you should be able to convert any common file to PDF without leaving the interface. You might even consider a document management solution that includes a full PDF editor right in the interface, so you can view, annotate, stamp, and secure PDF files without having to open a separate program.

With the Cloud's Increasing Importance, Consider Document Management Software that Works with Your Favorite Cloud Service

We mentioned this in the first section, but it's worth reiterating. If you use document management software that has a database on the back-end, you won't have remote access to your files, or if you do, it has to be through whatever remote access option the software itself provides. You can't use DropBox, or Google Drive, or OneDrive, or SugarSync, or any other service for accessing your files remotely or sharing them securely with clients or other users. A database is an unrelenting dictator.

Using FileCenter, on the other hand, you would have almost limitless options. Any of the Cloud providers mentioned work seamlessly with FileCenter, along with potentially even hundreds of others. Considering the increasing importance of the Cloud, and considering how far the main Cloud providers have come in giving us excellent remote access through our smartphones, tablets, and web browsers, you should evaluate any database-driven document management software very carefully to see if it provides a level of remote access that measures up.

What about Paperless Document Management?

When it comes to paperless document management software, scanning efficiency is your number one goal, as we talked about above. That said, there is an additional consideration: A Good Organizational Layout is Key.

Most of the paperless document management software packages you'll find require you to "tag" your files with keywords when you store them in the system. To pull a file back out of the system, you then have do a keyword search. This can work adequately if you happen to remember the right keywords. But even when it works, it requires your hand to leave the mouse so you can type, then you have to evaluate the search results to figure out which document is the one you want. In other words, pulling up documents can be slow and inefficient.

Better, more efficient paperless document management software will use a filing cabinet structure like we discussed above. This method, refined over decades of use, lets you jump straight to the file you're looking for. When we carry this idea over to the computer, it becomes even faster and more powerful. In literally just a few rapid mouse clicks, you can easily drill down to exactly the file you're looking for.

What about Personal Document Management Software?

Believe it or not, the requirements for personal document management software are very much the same as for a business, with an even greater emphasis on simplicity. Just like a business, a personal user needs to be able to capture both electronic documents and paper documents. The user needs a well-structured layout, and the user needs to be able to search. There are, however, three points worth mentioning:

First, almost every personal document management system out there burries your files away in a database. In fact, so many personal document management packages use a database that some folks get stuck in the mindset that a database is a requirement for personal document management. It's not. When it comes to single-user systems, the drawbacks of a database far outweigh any meager benefits.

In fact, what are the benefits? Only one, really. A database lets you password-protect on a document-by-document basis. But when only one user ever touches the files, the regular Windows security features which prevent other users from accessing your private files more than meet that need.

Second, while we mentioned this earlier, it's worth saying again. If you use personal document management software that has a database, you can't use DropBox or Google Drive or OneDrive or SugarSync or any other Cloud service for accessing your files away from home, like on your smart phone or tablet. A database is an unrelenting dictator. Using FileCenter, on the other hand, gives you almost limitless options. Any of the Cloud providers mentioned work seamlessly with FileCenter, along with potentially even hundreds of others.

Third, document management for personal users imposes an additional requirement: a good PDF printer. Personal users tend to be far more eclectic in the kinds of files they collect. Often the easiest way to capture some of these files is to print them. Enter the PDF printer. A PDF printer looks like a regular printer on your system, except that when you print to it, the document is captured as a PDF instead. Consider this a must-have.

Our Document Management Software Recommendation

FileCenter concerns itself with making you as efficient as possible. This starts with a clean, intuitive interface that users rave about and extends to the file-related tasks that burden users on a daily basis, providing tools and shortcuts to automate or smooth out all of the speed bumps in your daily workflow, from working with files to scanning and PDF manipulation. Download a free trial today!

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