People have been keeping electronic copies of their files for the better part of 30 years (some even longer). With the advent of personal computers in the late 1970’s, offices and individuals were able to create and store electronic documents. The explosion of email and the Internet in the 1990’s made electronic documents even more useful, as they could be sent to other people without having to print them out first, unlike faxes.
As computers became cheaper and more accessible, more people started using them more regularly. At the same time, the Internet spread and became cheaper and more accessible. It also became faster. All of this has enabled people and businesses to share more, and larger, documents more frequently. The explosion of mobile computing in the last decade has only fueled the move to electronic documents over their physical counterparts.
Originally, the problems with sharing documents were due to incompatible formats (Word vs. WordPerfect, Windows vs. Mac OS), different fonts, and slow Internet connections. Some of these would be repeated with the mobile revolution too. More recently, in the 2000’s the stage would be set for the creation of ad-hoc document management systems. Some of these still exist today.
Many people and small businesses developed their own way of dealing with the increasing barrage of electronic documents either out of habit or lack of knowledge. Many times this system coalesced around their email and maybe some folders on their computer. To find a document, the person would search their email and barring that, search the folders they usually use.
In slightly larger organizations, many IT departments would set up shared drives where employees were trained to look for, and store, documents. This ends up working for a while until there are too many employees, documents, or both. With too many people, you start to collide when trying to work on the same documents. With too many documents, it starts to get difficult to find the one you’re looking for. These businesses find that this solution doesn’t scale much better than the email and folders one.
This is where document management systems come in. Document management systems can be hosted in your company, or out on the Internet (in the cloud, to use the buzz phrase). Either way, these systems are designed from the beginning to manage electronic documents of different types. They help organize them, search them, edit them, and share them. Document management systems solve most of the problems that been caused by the rapid growth in use of the Internet and computers in business. Additionally, whereas mobile users would have a relatively difficult time accessing shared drives, modern document management systems provide top-notch mobile device support. This all means that your employees can now work and communicate more efficiently in the office, from home, or on the road.