The document management process is a system in which documents are organized and stored for future reference. This process can be rudimentary, such as when someone puts receipts in a shoebox with little or no organization. The process can also highly sophisticated, such as when a corporation has devised a complex set of scanners to collect, organize, and house information extracted from pre-designed forms that are assigned reference numbers before being cataloged and archived in warehouses. In either event, the basic elements of the document management have been enacted.
In general, document management adheres to the notion that documents need to be collected, ordered, and archived according to some type of plan for a common purpose. In most cases, document management is employed because the individual or company plans to use, or must account for the future need of, the information from the documents. The information in those documents can generally be unified or grouped according to some type of need or purpose, such as accounting, history, or regulatory compliance.
On a small scale, any individual taxpayer applies the document management process when organizing tax documents for annual filing. In general, documents necessary for the year will be grouped in one, easy-to-find place, such as a folder in a filing cabinet. The unity of the documents, such as receipts, bills, contributions, and tax forms, consists of the overall requirement to complete an annual tax form and have the necessary documentation to support the entries on the tax form. When the return is filed and the supporting documentation is attached, the resulting bundle of information and documents is often placed with prior-year tax returns, organized according to the year. This is a basic form of documentation management.
Document management may also be complex, involved, multi-stepped, and expensive. Particularly with large companies that collect consumer information, effective document management is critical. For example, a financial institution often has an investor complete involved, rigorous paperwork prior to investment. The institution may be required by regulatory authorities not only to collect specific information from the client, but to organize the information in a certain way and maintain the documentation in an accessible format for a specified period of time. Accordingly, that institution may employ a complex document management process.
In such an example, once the company receives the initial paperwork, the hardcopy form may be scanned into a digital image and sent to a network of computer databases for the collection and organization of information. The hardcopy may then be assigned a reference number, placed in a box according to a date and time stamp, and sent to a warehouse that employs its own set of document management process. In the event the hardcopy is needed to clarify a dispute or satisfy a regulatory requirement, it may be easily retrieved from a vast archive of similar paperwork.