Features of A Document Management System: Check out/check in (version control)
One of the differentiating tools between document storage and document management is version control.
Normally, if you create a document, e.g. in Word or Excel, you save it, reopen it, make changes and save it again, replacing the original. This would be simple document storage.
Version control is the process by which different drafts of a document are managed, with an audit trail of the different revisions. Whilst it is possible to monitor mark up and changes in Word documents, you can never be sure that there is not another out-of-date copy of the document lurking elsewhere, either on the server or locally on a PC.
It is possible to check out a document, loading it into its originating program e.g. a Word document, make changes and check it back into the system again. The previous version will be retained in the system, but the new version will always be the first one viewed.
This feature can be quite novel for users new to the concept – but clear guidance should be provided to users, although hard and fast rules may not be possible. People need to stop and think… the key question is “might I (or anyone else) need a prior version of this file once I save this version?” If the answer is “Yes”, then check in to the document management system.
A few examples:
If an Excel working paper is being created, there is probably little point saving it the document management system, going home tonight or out for lunch, then checking it out again tomorrow to carry on working on it. Repeat this several times over and suddenly you have 10, 20+ versions. If the file is quite large, say 1MB just for illustrative purposes, having 20 versions uses 20MB of storage. Whilst disk space is not hugely expensive anymore, it is an issue worth bearing in mind.
It would probably be more practicable to overwrite the original file every time it has been updated and then save to the document management software once it is finalized so there is just the one version.
Another practical use would be for annual client risk assessments, the consideration of which need to be documented. If a standard form is used in year 1, it is possible to check it out in year 2, sign and date it then checks it back in again. This keeps all the forms together in one place, instead of having lots of records over a period of years. It does make it very easy to demonstrate the risk assessments have been carried out in the event of a compliance/monitoring visit.
Another possible use would be for correspondence – a draft is saved; the reviewer can check it out and amend it as necessary before checking it back in prior to its distribution.
Use it as you so choose – but be aware this tool is in your armoury!
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