Creating A Document
Document creation involves creating an original document and subsequent changes to that document. Changes are inevitable in practice. Editing is usually needed to make corrections or to improve the document. At times, the document might even be deleted before it is put to intended use.
Where the document has a single author, there are no complicated creation-related document management issues. For example, the CEO can dictate a letter, review the created document, make any changes, and finally authorize its mailout. Even in this simple case, however, you can observe the need for some management. Only authorized documents should be mailed. And this document must be the one finally approved by the CEO.
In most cases, documents need the involvement of more than one person before it’s complete. To cite a common example, a bill received from a supplier typically needs authentication evidencing receipt of the agreed supplies, certification for inspection and passing, verification against agreed prices & other terms, and so on before it becomes a document that can be paid.
In cases like the bill-payment document mentioned above, errors might creep in, or deliberate frauds committed, if no good document management system is in place. For example, a bill might be paid even when the agreed supplies have not been received. Such a system must control both the original creation as well as any modifications later.
The need for team effort in creating documents is higher if you were doing work like software development or engineering design. Collaborative working in such cases requires sophisticated document management software.
Managing Collaborative Document Creation
Collaborative document creation requires several persons to work on the same document. Passing a document from workstation to workstation is not only inefficient but also subject to the risk of damage and loss. Access to a common document from several workstations is a core issue of document management under such conditions.
In modern document management systems, this problem is solved by storing the document in a central server computer. The stored document can then be accessed from several workstation computers. However, this solution can create its own problems.
For example, consider the case of two or more persons accessing the same document at the same time. And suppose they make some changes to the document at their respective workstations and then store the changed document back on the server. In such a case, only the changes made by the last person would remain. The changes made by the others would be lost as these would be overwritten when the last version of the document was written to the server.
To prevent such errors, document management systems implement ‘check out’ and ‘check in’ rules. Once a person ‘checks out’ a document for making changes, others cannot make changes to the same document until it has been ‘checked in’ (back to the server) after the changes.
In the case of software and other design documents, a practice called version control is in place. It might happen that the latest changes made in the design or coding lead to some new problems. In such cases, one might wish to go back to earlier versions for help in identifying the problems.
Additionally, it’s also possible that different versions of the product are still in use. To provide support to the users, it’s necessary to keep the details of the earlier versions.
Version control involves identifying each new version with a distinctive version ID and maintaining full documentation for all the versions.
Document management systems thus have issues to solve right at the beginning, when documents are created. And more issues later, for storing, retrieving, protecting, and archiving the documents. These will be explored separately.