Document Management Workflow in 2024: The Definitive Guide

Christopher Pinski
March 8, 2024
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Document Management Workflow in 2024: The Definitive Guide

Every professional services organization deals with documents. You've got contracts, invoices, ebooks, and reports, just to name a few! You may need to securely organize and store documents in multiple formats: paper documents, digital documents, or both. And while the right software solution helps, even the best technology can't remedy inefficient processes. That's why you'll also need a solid document management workflow.

So what is a document management system, and what are the benefits of workflow automation? What are some compelling use cases for document management workflow, and how do you choose the right software?

There's a lot to learn, but we'll cover it all — and more! Let's get started.

What is Document Management Workflow?

Document management is the storage, organization, and tracking of all types of documents in your business.

Document management workflow is the process or processes you use for the creation, management, and storage of your documents:

  1. Document Creation: Someone creates a new document.
  2. Organization and Storage: Whether on-premise, managed by a vendor, or in cloud storage, all newly created documents must be organized and stored somehow.
  3. Document Sharing: When someone needs to access documents, when and how can they do that?
  4. Review and Approval Process: If you need feedback on the document, that feedback needs to be tracked and stored during review and revisions.
  5. Archiving Documents: When a document isn't in active use but you'll need it in the future, your archival process is important.
  6. Destroying Documents: When a document with sensitive information needs to be destroyed for data security and compliance, your organization needs strict procedures.

Document management software solutions streamline or automate document management workflow. These systems typically manage digital documents, but they may help you convert physical docs for digital version control and storage.

Person in gray sweater holds pen and sketches document management workflow process wireframe on wood desk
You may start with physical documents and a paper version of your document processes, but the right document management system will help you digitize your business.

Types of Document Management Software

Depending on your business model, you'll have unique requirements for document workflow software. So, it's important to understand the differences between software solution categories.

Document Management Systems (DMS)

Some software tools are designed for document management alone. They may not help with process audits or workflow automation. Instead, these tools focus on categorizing and storing documents.

If you're a small team, a simple document management system (DMS) may be enough for you. But remember: processes might get more complicated as you scale.

Document Workflow Automation Software

This goes beyond the capture, organization, and storage of your documents. Document workflow software considers the people who need to access your documents — and the processes they'll follow.

These tools can save time and reduce errors. You can:

  • Streamline and automate repetitive tasks
  • Automate document routing
  • Implement document security settings automatically
  • Automate compliance and audits
  • Add automated communication throughout your workflow, such as task completion notifications or reminders

Top 5 Benefits of Document Workflow Automation

How does automated document management benefit your organization?

1. Enable Smoother Digital Business Processes

Not all DMS tools offer process automation, but you'll see efficiency and accuracy increase with a document workflow automation tool.

In a 2020 Salesforce survey, more than 9 in 10 surveyed IT and engineering leaders (92%) saved up to 30% of time spent doing manual tasks when they shifted manual work to process automation. And nearly the same amount (87%) saw cost savings of up to 30% on teams with process automation.

8 pale yellow sticky notes on a wall with a hand putting up a 9th sticky note
Goodbye, manual tasks and endless sticky notes — hello, process automation!

2. Eliminate Human Errors, Typos, and Mistakes

Along with saving time and money, automated workflows reduce or eliminate mistakes. More than 1 in 3 SMBs in a 2021 Zapier survey (34%) said that automating processes and tasks, such data entry automation, helps reduce errors.

3. Get Rid of the Inefficiencies of Paper Documents

Although most businesses haven't eliminated physical documents, that time is coming.

The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM) conducted a survey in 2021 about the elimination of paper docs. 72% of organizations surveyed said managing paper documents would be too inefficient to sustain in a few years (aka now).

So if you still print every document, it's time to update your digital business processes.

4. Simplify Workflow Communication

How much time do your teams waste sending simple updates like, "The document has been signed," or, "Please review and accept the latest changes"?

This is another opportunity for workflow automation.

Document workflow software can streamline communications by automatically updating stakeholders throughout your document management workflows, including the approval process.

5. Leverage Advanced Security Features

Sure, you have locks on your file cabinets ... but what are your data security protocols for digital documents?

That's the beauty of choosing the right document management workflow solution. Customize access control and advanced settings to your liking, and automated compliance and security features will keep all data secure.

Use Cases for Automated Document Management Software

Workflow management software is useful for many industries and departments. Here are a few great examples.

Advanced Privacy for High-Compliance Industries

Document management systems can use artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) technologies to classify incoming documents and automatically apply proper access controls. This is ideal for organizations in high-compliance industries such as healthcare and education.

Resume Screening and Document Processing for Human Resources

With advanced document analysis capabilities, HR departments can automatically search resumes for specific phrases. This speeds up the recruitment process by filtering out low-quality matches.

Document Digitization for Government Agencies

Government agencies can reduce costs and streamline business processes by digitizing physical records. This cuts manual time spent categorizing, securing, and locating printed documents.

Customer Data Security for Travel Companies

Travel firms collaborate with a myriad of providers, including hotels and airlines. So, advanced privacy features keep customer data secure, protecting everyone involved.

Document Management Process Tracking for Legal Firms

The litigation process involves many steps and documents. Thankfully, document management workflow tools allow legal firms to track and identify anything that may be missed. This ensures compliance, which is good for both firms and clients.

How to Choose the Right Document Management System for Your Company

Selecting the right document workflow software is daunting. There are many solutions available, each with unique features, strengths, and weaknesses. How should you start?

1. Involve Stakeholders in the Planning Process

Nothing slows down a decision-making process like looping in key stakeholders at the last second.

Your owner and COO probably won't be the ones to research and test all your possible document management systems — but, they may have requirements to consider.

Gather their input early, unless you like starting over!

Group of 5 employees in white meeting room looking at computer screen and sticky notes on wall, figuring out the right document management system for their team
Share your vision and plans with your stakeholders early in the DMS procurement process — or brace for major changes later on. 

2. Consider Your Holistic Needs and Feature Requirements — The Dream State

Instead of hunting through every tool to identify the features you want, work backward from your goals.

At first, ignore the tools on the market. Ask yourself: In an ideal world, what would the right document management workflows do for you? That's your dream state.

Some factors to consider:

  • Ease of use
  • Integration with existing tools
  • Mobile access (responsive web application or mobile apps)
  • Licensing types (per seat vs. full organization)
  • Purchase duration (lifetime or subscription)
  • Hosting (vendor- or customer-hosted, cloud vs. on-premise)
  • Support
  • Security (access control and privacy)
  • Scalability

This way, you'll measure available solutions against your needs — instead of shrinking your needs to fit existing workflow management software solutions.

Next comes market research.

3. Identify Potential Software Solutions

As you assess document management software options, compare each tool to your dream state.

Evaluate Mature Cloud Solutions for Scalability

Remember: you aren't just solving today's problems, but future business challenges, too. Although your organization may be small today, look at mature cloud solutions that can grow and scale with you.

Cloud-based document management solutions make scaling easy. In many cases, you can simply upgrade your subscription to gain more resources.

Plus, your teams can work from anywhere with easy access, thanks to remote capabilities.

Ensure Integration with Existing Interfaces

While your document management workflow system may replace some existing tools, it needs to play well with others.

If you use low- and no-code tools, native integrations often make this easy! However, you may need an advanced developer to assist with other apps.

Assess Support Availability During Implementation and Beyond

Ideally, you'll find a solution with a robust support team. They'll help you through the selection process, educate your staff, assist with implementation, and provide support throughout.

Some solutions may offer documentation, help centers, or training sessions. But what's their commitment to customer service for unique situations?

Here, the difference between a software solution and a service partner becomes very clear — and your dream state might feel impossible.

But it's not out of reach!

Consider a Custom Document Workflow Automation Tool

Unfortunately, you probably won't find an out-of-the-box solution that meets all of your needs. But identifying the gaps between what exists and what you need is a big step toward the right solution.

A custom workflow automation service provider like Crispy can help you bridge those gaps.

Instead of making you settle, we work with you to achieve your dream state efficiently and effectively, thanks to low- and no-code business process automation software solutions.

A Black man in a blue and red plaid shirt sits in an office and smiles at an image of a Black woman with glasses on video conference; perhaps one is designing custom document management software for the other
The partnership you get when working with a trusted custom service provider is unmatched — and the product will be fully customized to your needs, too.

The Future of Document Management Workflow: What's In and What's Out

Here are our predictions for document workflows.

IN: Cloud-Based Document Management Workflow

With features including real-time collaboration, mobile access, robust integrations with third-party software, remote work, and more — the cloud isn't going anywhere.

So we'll see the document management system workflow continue to move into the cloud.

IN: Document Security Enhancements

Our collective digital footprint is increasing rapidly. By 2026, IDC estimates that there will be more than 221,000 exabytes of data worldwide. To put that in perspective:

  • One exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes (GB)
  • A basic laptop comes with a 512GB hard drive
  • So by 2026, there will be over 431 billion laptop hard drives worth of data in the world (for roughly 8 billion people)

So it's no surprise that cyber security threats are on the rise, too. As of 2017 (the most recent study available), it was estimated that there's a cyber attack every 39 seconds — and 7 years later, with the increase in data, that number must have grown significantly.

We expect to see multi-factor authentication (MFA) become a requirement for document management systems. And for enterprise solutions, physical key security such as YubiKey can help ensure digital and physical security.

IN: Big Data Gets Bigger

With more data in more places, every document management system will capture, store, and transmit more data over time. (Remember that "221,000 exabytes" figure?)

Features including robust metadata, usage logs, custom fields, and data stored alongside these documents will offer far greater insight into our documents and data.

IN: AI/ML Integrations

With these technologies, users can easily classify, analyze, extract, and predict information from documents. AI/ML is in high demand everywhere, so this trend isn't limited to document management workflow tools.

A lavender background with rendering of a glass-like rectangular container with words and cursor as though it's a machine learning language or workflow automation
The rise of AI/ML technology is helpful in so many areas of business — document management workflow is no exception.

IN: Low-Code and No-Code Solutions to Automate Document Management Workflow

No-code and low-code automation features allow any user to dictate complex workflows and document automation options. But there's a limit to DIY capabilities. The most complex solutions will require expert help (and we're here for you!).

IN: Advanced Search and Filtering

Your business just launched, and your organization only manages about 25 documents right now.

That may not seem like much, but do you remember the entire and exact contents of every document?

A document management system with advanced search and filtering lets users search contents, custom data, and metadata for every document.

OUT: Blockchain

Blockchain is a computer data model for linking data together. But since blockchain is always part of a larger system, it doesn't have independent technological advantages of its own.

Blockchain systems (blockchain + other technologies) can only secure digital assets that are native to that blockchain. For example, blockchain can't govern or control a shareable cloud document.

Blockchain and Bitcoin are often conflated, but Bitcoin is a system that incorporates blockchain (and many other technologies). It's the other technologies — not the blockchain — that allow Bitcoin to secure a native asset.

This is why blockchain, on its own, doesn't offer advantages in a document management solution.

OUT: Decentralized Systems

Centralized systems (connected to one central server) are efficient, follow best practices for privacy and security, and focus on user experience. All documents are stored in one place for streamlined workflow management.

Conversely, decentralized systems aren't governed by any one user or server. Instead, they require the collective input of every participant. Bitcoin is one example, but some document management tools operate this way, too.

Decentralized systems are slow, hard to secure, make collaboration difficult, and don't provide a refined user experience. So document workflows won't need these systems going forward.

Ready to Experience the Benefits of an Automated Workflow Management System for You and Your Team?

With out-of-the-box solutions, you'll have to compromise. But with a custom workflow automation service provider like us, your dream state matters.

Red and pink desktop with laptop, keyboard, mobile phone, calculator, and several orange sticky note arrows representing workflow
A document workflow that’s custom-designed for your business beats any out-of-the-box solution on the market.

The Crispy team knows that document management workflow spans every area of your business.

So we analyze your unique business processes including document creation, the way you manage documents and relevant data, audit trails, and more. That's how we develop a comprehensive solution that truly meets your needs.

Learn more about our custom business process automation solutions.

Document Management Workflow FAQs

What are the steps of document management?

The basic process for document management workflow involves:

  1. Document Creation
  2. Organization and Storage
  3. Document Sharing
  4. Review and Approval
  5. Archiving
  6. Document Destruction

What is document workflow management?

Document workflow management is the way you create, manage, and store documents in your business. This may be confused with the practice of documenting workflow management, which just refers to having a documented process in any area of your business (not necessarily related to documents).

What are 3 basic workflow management practices?

For successful workflow management, you must:

  1. Have a thorough understanding of each goal and step of the process
  2. Anticipate and work to correct any inconsistencies in the workflow
  3. Ensure security and compliance for any sensitive data involved in the workflow

What is the difference between business process management and workflow management?

Workflow management falls under the larger umbrella of business process management (BPM). While workflow management refers to the documentation and maintenance of a single process or workflow within your organization, BPM is the holistic practice of documenting and maintaining all workflows throughout your business. 

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