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The Complete Guide to Document Management Systems

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The Complete Guide to Document Management Systems

Document management systems can help any paper-heavy business get more organized.

No industry is immune to document clutter. Even in the digital era, documentation is as ubiquitous as ever, and businesses need solutions to combat the rising tide of paperwork — physical and digital. A document management system (DMS) may be the single most important tool in this effort, allowing for secure, fast, and easy access to all the documents your business needs to succeed.

This guide will help you understand what a document management system is, how and why it could help your business's efficiency and effectiveness, which systems on the market will fit your needs, and how to choose the best one for your business.

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What is document management?

Digitizing physical documents provides measurable increases in efficiency, but electronic documents still need to be stored and organized in a way that makes them easy for authorized users to access while limiting access to everyone else. Document management typically includes the creation, storage, utilization, archiving, and destruction of digital paperwork.

    Benefits of document management:

  • Increased security through user controls and permissions
  • Easy indexing and search through metadata tagging
  • Document version rollback
  • Smoother collaboration
  • Faster document reproduction

Document management vs. content management

Document management

  • Manages structured data
  • Focuses on document formats (.doc, .pdf, etc.)
  • Aids workflow management
  • Includes tools like OCR
  • Easily searchable

Content management

  • Manages structured and unstructured data
  • Stores documents and audio/visual files (.jpeg, .mp4, etc.)
  • Aids in publishing content
  • Lacks tools like OCR
  • Less searchable

Document management vs. records management

Document management

  • Manages structured data
  • Focuses on document formats (.doc, .pdf, etc.)
  • Aids workflow management
  • Includes tools like OCR Easily searchable

Records management

  • Manages structured and unstructured data
  • Stores documents and audio/visual files (.jpeg, .mp4, etc.)
  • Aids in publishing content
  • Lacks tools like OCR Less searchable

Read What Is Document Management? for more information.

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What is a document management system?

Document management becomes much easier when coupled with a software system to tag, index, and store it all in one secure location. An electronic document management system can do all that and more, allowing for version control, audit history, access controls, multi-site collaboration, and more.

    Key DMS features

  • Security: Protecting your business' proprietary information
  • Storage: Suitable file type support and quantity of storage space
  • Organization: Robust filing systems and indexing capabilities for easy retrieval
  • Accessibility: Availability whenever, wherever, and on whatever platforms your business requires
  • Audit compliance: Document history tracking that shows who changed what and when, with the option to undo changes

For more on what makes a good DMS, read What Is a Document Management System?

What document management systems are on the market?

When choosing an electronic documentation management system, businesses have many options. Some are better suited to small businesses, others to massive enterprises. Some prioritize regulatory compliance, while others specialize in innovative organizational methods. Whatever your needs, finding the right DMS for your business is crucial.

    Key DMS Functions

  • Version control
  • Audit history
  • Compliance checks
  • Process automation
  • Document capture and OCR
  • Form and e-signature compatibility
  • Cloud storage
  • Collaborative document editing
  • Document archiving

Popular Document Management Systems

OnBase by Hyland Software

  • Revision history
  • E-signature support
  • Internal document distribution
  • Access tracking
  • Automatic document generation
  • Document capture with OCR

Kofax Intelligent Automation Platform

  • Document intelligence
  • No-code robotic process automation
  • E-signature support Mobile Capture (which turns photos to documents) and OCR
  • Compliance monitoring
  • Audit trail
  • Watermarking

Microsoft SharePoint Online

  • Simultaneous and check-in/check-out document editing
  • Document version control
  • Compliance tools
  • Integration with Microsoft Office 365 suite and plenty of third-party products

Docuware Cloud

  • Document capture with stellar
  • OCR that turns paper forms into digital forms
  • HIPAA compliance
  • Document version control

Document Manager by Document Logistix

  • Focus on GDPR compliance
  • Automated document capture
  • Audit trails
  • Workflow management
  • Modular architecture

PaperVision by Digitech

  • Audit trails
  • Check-in/check-out editing
  • Document version control
  • Document annotation
  • E-signature support
  • On-premise or cloud-based application

OnlyOffice Workspace

  • Simple interface
  • Project management tools
  • Simultaneous document editing with built-in chat
  • Document version control
  • Free 30-day trial
  • Free for nonprofit and educational organizations

Upland FileBound

  • Electronic form support
  • E-signature support
  • Document and image capture
  • Easily configured permissions and security settings
  • No-code workflow automation


  • Unique organizational structure
  • Document capture with OCR Check-in/check-out document editing
  • E-signature support
  • Mobile support for Android and iOS
  • Third-party integrations (Salesforce CRM, Google Suite, etc.)


  • User-friendly interface
  • Document archiving
  • Data retention
  • E-signature support
  • Check-in/check-out document editing
  • Microsoft 365 integration

ABBYY FlexiCapture


  • Document capture with best-in-class OCR aided by machine learning
  • Workflow automation

Square 9

  • Document capture with OCR of structured and unstructured documents
  • Automatic document routing
  • Easy document look-up Integrates with customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, and human resources management

For all the info on the DMS options we surveyed, read The Big List of Document Management Systems.

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What is intelligent document processing?

Intelligent document processing (IDP) refers to the extraction of data from scanned documents, the analysis of that data, and its application to specific tasks. For example, IDP can look over the elements of a loan application and quickly determine whether or not to extend an offer. Scanning confidence acts as a safeguard, putting potential exceptions into a queue for human review.

    Why use IDP?

  • Helps manage the intake of large quantities of forms
  • Eases scaling by keeping headcount low
  • Continually improves thanks to AI and machine learning
To learn more about IDP, read What Is Intelligent Data Processing?

Document management for law firms and legal professionals

Law firms know better than most businesses how disastrous a small mix-up in paperwork can be. They also know how much time searching for the right document can eat up. That’s why many use a document management system that prioritizes version control and quality organization to keep things running smoothly.

    Key DMS features for law firms and legal professionals

  • Cloud-based software for convenience, security, and simplicity
  • On-premises installation for increased control
  • Significant document storage capabilities (with backups if outside the cloud)
  • Data encryption and multi-factor authentication for security
  • Powerful document tagging, organizing, indexing, and search tools
  • Available and effective customer support for easy onboarding and service issue resolution
  • Document version control to rollback mistakes
  • Integrations with other apps such as Microsoft Office Suite

Document management systems for law firms


NetDocuments is specifically designed for law firms. It’s cloud-based and sports an intuitive user interface..


Worldox offers cloud-based and on-premises installations. Founded in 1988, Worldox is an industry stalwart. Its recent acquisition by NetDocuments promises more innovations in the years ahead.


Clio is a cloud-based electronic documentation management system that includes client intake, CRM, and billing capabilities. It’s easy to use, and reviews have praised its customer support.

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Document management for construction professionals

In construction, paperwork eats up around $1,800 per worker, per year, according to one U.K. study. Strict regulatory compliance, several teams working in tandem, and legal demands around document archiving make the implementation of a document management system essential for maximum efficiency.

    Key DMS features for professional builders

  • Fast and easy access to relevant documents
  • Version control for rollbacks and document history
  • Powerful paper scanning
  • Cloud-based storage

Document management systems for construction professionals


PlanGrid is a commercial and industrial building-specific cloud-based document management system. It includes tools for marking up files, version control, metadata editing, and remote collaboration.


Raken is a construction management platform with construction-specific document management capabilities, such as​​ on-site reporting tools with notes and photos. It lacks robust native file storage, but it’s partnered with cloud solutions to up its storage capabilities.


CoConstruct is a home building and remodeling-specific cloud-based document management system. It includes a smartphone app, tools for client communication, estimates, job progress reports, and project tracking.

For more on how a DMS can increase efficiency in your construction business, read Document Management Software for Construction: What Professional Builders Need to Know.

Document management for accounting firms

In accounting, there is no work but paperwork. That’s why it is vital to have securely stored documents, organization, and accessibility. A document management system can help accounting firms reduce human error, up their productivity, increase document safety, and reduce spending on storage by moving things into the cloud.

    Key DMS features for financial professionals

  • Accurate document capture
  • Fast, easy, and powerful document tagging, sorting, and searching capabilities
  • Security controls such as user roles, access conditions, audit trails, and data encryption
  • Cloud storage

Document management for medical professionals

Many healthcare practices already use electronic health records (EHR) to store patient data virtually, but those systems can only store specific file types. Moving to an electronic documentation management system can mean adding your financial records, human resources documents, and more to the same secure and easily accessed repository without compromising user access controls or HIPAA compliance.

    Key features for medical professionals

  • Granular access control
  • Data encryption
  • Version control
  • Audit history
  • Collaborative document editing
  • Integration with EHR and other practice management software

    Ensuring HIPAA compliance

    A document management system can go a long way toward HIPAA compliance, but your business should also consider:

  • Physical and digital risk assessments to ensure physical and digital records are safely locked away (literally and virtually)
  • Rigorous staff training alongside regularly-reviewed policies and procedures that maintain HIPAA standards
  • Detailed contingency plans in case of security breaches reinforced by intermittent exercises among staff

Healthcare document management systems


Allscripts is a full-service healthcare IT partner that supports EHRs, financial management, and operational products.

Enterprise Document Management by Cerner

Enterprise Document Management by Cerner is a dedicated healthcare document management software that stores and organizes patient details and supports electronic signatures.

Digitech Systems

Digitech Systems provides an enterprise content management system designed to work with your pre-existing EHR system. It focuses on HIPAA compliance and enables remote work and telehealth.

PRISMA by eClinicalWorks

PRISMA by eClinicalWorks is an EHR interoperability solution that stores patient, insurance, and wearable device information into a single, complete location.

Rubex by eFileCabinet

Rubex by eFileCabinet offers HIPAA compliance nearly out of the box and prompts users to change their passwords at fixed intervals to minimize vulnerability.

Document management systems for small businesses

Even a small business may find the efficiency gained from a document management system outweighs its upfront costs. Such a system offers small business owners and employees easy access to all the documentation necessary to run the business, protects those documents from bad actors and malfeasance, and may even offer automation to speed up repetitive tasks that would otherwise devour precious working hours.

Document management systems for small businesses


DocuWare is a cloud-based DMS with intelligent search capabilities, compliance tracking, workflow automation, e-signature requesting, and more. Its offerings are customized for each business based on size and functionality needs.


eFileCabinet offers on-premises and cloud-based options, with support for granular file governance, e-signatures, intelligent search, document and file structure templates, and form creation.


M-Files is an easy-to-use, cloud-based DMS that uses an AI-powered, metatag-based search function to make documents quick and easy to find. It also includes robust access and governance controls and built-in OCR.

VIENNA Advantage

VIENNA Advantage is a free (or paid), open-source DMS intended for more technically proficient businesses. The free version, Community Edition, doesn't offer technical support, but the software's active community often steps up when issues arise.

Microsoft SharePoint

 Microsoft SharePoint is the tech giant's cloud-based DMS. Beyond integrating with the Office suite, it also offers a flexible and comprehensive toolset that may take longer to configure but could pay off over time.

For more on how the right DMS can benefit your small business (and how to pick the right DMS), read The 5 Best Document Management Software for Small Businesses.

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Choosing a document management system

A document management system offers numerous efficiency and security solutions that can benefit your business, but there are a dizzying number of options. We’ve boiled down the list to five DMS offerings that stand out in their field.

    Crucial DMS features for any business

  • Security (file encryption, granular user permission controls)
  • Ease of use (intuitive design, training materials, customer support)
  • Cloud storage and collaboration (access from anywhere, simultaneous or check-in/check-out editing, commenting)
  • Version control (audit history, version rollback)

5 document management system options

Microsoft SharePoint

A powerful electronic document management system with a vast suite of tools such as simultaneous file editing, configurable workflows, and integrations with both the Office suite and plenty of third-party platforms.


Unique, AI-powered system to organize files by scanning them for metadata.

Kofax ControlSuite

Document management essentials with a strong core of automation and workflow management.

Hyland OnBase

DMS with modular design, so businesses pay for exactly the tools they need and nothing more.


Cloud-based or on-premises DMS with document capture across paper, email, and other sources and powerful corresponding search functionality.

For more details on our picks, read 5 of the Best Document Management Software Solutions.

Outsourcing to document management companies

You didn't start your business for love of paperwork, but you may find yourself awash in documents. Rather than take it all on yourself, you can contact one of these companies to whip that plethara of documents into shape, digitizing, organizing, and shredding to save you countless hours you can instead spend serving customers and bringing in revenue.

    Why use a document management company?

  • Going paperless can be a costly and time-consuming transition
  • Careful document management can increase business efficiency and data security
  • Outsourcing is often cheaper than upping headcount or the equivalent lost productivity

Outsourcing document management companies 


Access provides document digital transformation, scanning, digital mailroom, offsite document storage, records destruction, project management consultation, and more.

GRM Information Management

GRM Information Management provides Document scanning, storage, shredding, management, and digital mailroom.


Conduent offers document scanning, storage, digital mailroom, automated document processing, and workflow automation.

Ricoh USA

Ricoh USA offers digitization of structured and unstructured documents, workflow automation, and commercial printing.

Record Nations

Document scanning, storage, and shredding (through a provider local to your business).

To learn more about document management companies and how they can help your business boom, read 5 Document Management Companies Helping Businesses Navigate Digital Transformation.

Document management best practices

As your business grows, so will its paperwork. Document management best practices are the strongest protection a business has against disorganized document bloat. They can help the gears turn smoothly no matter how much paperwork (physical or digital) accumulates.

    Keys to document management

  • A standardized, intuitive document management plan that considers who needs access to a document, when they need access, and when to archive
  • A document management system with sufficient storage, intuitive design, document security, version control, and any other features specific to your business
  • Consistent categorization of documents
  • Prioritize remote access with built-in collaboration tools
  • Regular document management practice audits

To get granular with document management best practices, read The 5 Document Management Best Practices Every Business Needs to Know.

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Our recommendation: fi and SP Series scanners

Whether you’re new to digitization or years into your practices, we have offerings to fit your needs. Our fi and SP Series scanners lead the industry in speed and accuracy of scanning, making it easier than ever to turn your paper records, invoices, forms, and more into digital documents that are safer and easier to index, organize, modify, retrieve, and destroy. These scanners result from more than 85 years of research and design experience, and they’re ready to handle anything you can throw at them.

These scanners integrate seamlessly with many of the leading document management systems on the market, so you don’t need to worry about extra hassle between scanning and filing. Click here to learn more and to shop the line.


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