Originally, the idea was to use electronic imaging devices like scanners to turn paper documents into electronic versions. But now, companies are finding it more useful to create entire systems to collect, organize and retrieve all their electronic documents. Because of the significant expense and maintenance that's often involved, these systems are best for small businesses with large data needs or those wanting to upgrade certain departments, such as accounting.
The backbone of an electronic document management system is the software, which regulates the different versions of your documents, integrates documents from various sources--including e-mail, faxes and Internet downloads--and organizes them for easy access. One highly advanced program is IBM's Lotus Notes, a client-server solution that integrates most desktop applications, databases and mail programs into one system. Users can easily view folders and the documents they contain, create links to various document types--including Web pages--and even employ Notes Agents to automatically organize their information.
There are also electronic document management programs designed specifically for small businesses. The Paperless Office from Computhink is one of the most advanced, feature-rich programs on the market. The Paperless Office Network Edition 2.0 (starting at $3,000) is available in 5-, 10- and 25-user configurations and is compatible with Windows 95/NT environments. This user-friendly program allows you to organize, store and retrieve more than 100,000 electronic multipage documents.
The best reason to use a program like this is the powerful search capabilities it offers. The Paperless Office Network Edition employs a 32-bit relational document database system for finding and retrieving documents on the network. Users can search for information by keywords, dates and document types, to name just a few ways. Additional features include Xerox Textbridge Classic OCR software to turn scanned images into text; the software also stores and compresses files, and imports documents from any Windows application.
I found the annotation function for adding electronic sticky notes, text and drawn objects to electronic documents extremely handy. It eliminates errors that often occur when hand-writing notes on paper and makes additional communication between employees unnecessary because relevant instructions and comments are included on a single document.
In addition to software, another key component to an effective document management system is the scanning device used to turn your mountains of paper into electronic documents. One scanner to consider: the PaperPort Strobe from Visioneer. This sheet-fed scanner, available in Windows 95/NT ($249) and Macintosh ($299) versions, can handle all kinds of media, from color photos and faxes to receipts, business cards and memos. Even better, because of its small design (11 by 2 by 21/2 inches), it fits between the keyboard and monitor, so it's perfect for crowded working spaces. It scans 24-bit color in up to 300 dpi and up to 2,400 dpi in black and white.
The software included with the PaperPort Strobe is impressive. It allows you to manipulate photos and easily organize files by dragging scanned documents into any folder. Ed Krach finds the Share feature, which allows users on a network to make notations, particularly useful. Additional programs like Xerox TextBridge OCR and Quicken ExpensAble SE for managing expense reports are also included.
Visioneer also has two new flatbed scanners, the PaperPort 3000 ($179) and PaperPort 6000 ($299), which work well for scanning oversized documents and books. If you have a Web site (or want one), the new PaperPort WebSuite ($49.99) includes Web creation software, links to quickly drag scanned images and documents into an HTML editor, and advanced Web publishing features.