I think as a nation (speaking here of the US) we generate more business documents per capita and more garbage per capita than any other country on earth. I'm starting to wonder if there's a correlation between the two. The problem isn't necessarily with the generation aspects. So far it's not with the storage aspects, although I'm sure we're rapidly running out of landfill. No, the one positive about garbage over business documents is that you very rarely have to retrieve and reuse garbage.
What's interesting about this is as business people we are document generation machines. We can generate more documents - presentations, proposals, marketing collateral, email, spreadsheets, etc in less time than ever before. But while we are generating all these documents, we very rarely consider how they will be stored, recalled and/or reused. So it's almost always easier to start from scratch rather than try to find and reuse documents, especially documents created by someone else. We're all about the output, not about the reuse.
Document management to a certain extent has been hijacked by the enterprise software guys. The message is that document management requires enterprise software. Many firms could become much better at document management by developing some methodologies about saving and recalling files, and defining some "metadata" about the files they create. Just by improving how files are stored and where they are stored, developing a consistent and meaningful naming convention, and establishing some metadata rules which provide some guidance about the documents and what they contain, would take many firms a long way toward improving the recall and reuse aspects.
There are some fairly simple, basic questions to ask about a document while it is being created and edited which might help your team find and reuse it later:
1. What's the purpose of this document?
2. Is it likely someone would want to retrieve and reuse all or part of this document?
3. What naming conventions exist to help people retrieve it?
4. What filing system or metadata exists to assist with retrieval?
5. How can we indicate who authored the document for further information?
6. What other keywords or search terms might be applied to this document - project number, client name, geography, time frame, etc?
Next comes the hard part - you knew there was going to be a hard part didn't you? Someone or some team needs to reinforce the naming conventions, filing conventions and metadata conventions so everyone on the team is naming, filing and tagging the files consistently. You see, even the big document management software applications require the same discipline - they just reinforce it in a different way. It's not the software, it's the people, the process and the discipline that will make the difference.
With the wealth of tools like Google Desktop or X1 search engines, Wikis or blog software to help form the "metadata" and pointers to the documents and a little methodology and discipline, any firm should be able to set up a rudimentary document management system in a few days. One of our clients in a CAD environment has a "document management system" which consists of an Access database where the documents are defined and the metadata is captured, and a link to the document is stored. This application works because anyone who does not follow the process is subjected to co-worker derision. They've got the basics - standardized naming conventions, a thoughtful process to determine which documents may need to be retrieved, a metadata capture device, pointers to a standard filing system and a culture which reinforces the discipline.
Total cost? About $2000. Total value? The certainty they can find a document when they need to retrieve historical documents in seconds with very little effort.