5 Lessons for Purchasing the Right Document Management System the First Time


Whether your career focus is delivering solutions or the business value that technology can bring, finding and buying the right document management system (DMS) can be daunting.
What platform should you select? It seems like a simple question. Unfortunately, it is not.
There  is  no  single  universally  “best  system”  that  spans  industries,  companies  and  scenarios.  The  right  document  management system is the one that best meets the needs of your organization, but identifying it can be a challenge. Long lists of options and seemingly endless streams of terminology can make just knowing where to start difficult.
Business  isn’t  going  to  stop  and  wait  for  you  to  make  a  decision.  At  least  10%  of  an  enterprise’s  information  changes  monthly (Delphi Group, 2002). Year-­‐over-­‐year office document growth rates are approximately 22 percent (Lyman & Varian, 2003). Digital and paper document volumes will continue to climb and become more unmanageable. This constant growth can negatively impact productivity and accessibility to valuable business information. You need to get up to speed fast. The Document Management System Buyer’s Guide can help.
In  five  lessons,  it  will  equip  you  with  all  the  information  you  need  to  select  a  document  management  platform.  The  Document Management System Buyer’s Guide begins with an introduction to the language of document management, which  explains  the  terminology,  jargon  and  concepts  you  are  likely  to  encounter  in  your  search  for  a  document  management solution. It then guides you through the entire process of finding and acquiring a DMS, including how to create a compelling business case and other tips for success. Welcome to boot camp.


A  quick  search  for  “document  management  system”  in  any  search  engine  yields  tens  of  millions  of  results.  While  it  is  comforting that a wealth of information exists on the topic, it can quickly become difficult to decipher the tangle of jargon.

Figure 1 - Document Management Buzzwords


The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) defines document management systems,

“Document management, often referred to as Document Management Systems (DMS), is the use of a computer system  and  software  to  store,  manage  and  track  electronic  documents  and  electronic  images  of  paper  based  information captured through the use of a document scanner.” (AIIM, 2012)

his  definition  is  valid,  but  document  management  is  more  than  just  technology.  All  businesses,  even  those  without  document management technology, create and manage documents. However, in many organizations, these processes are inefficient  and  time  consuming,  which  can  increase  operating  costs,  lower  staff  productivity  and  lead  to  missed  opportunities. Document management is the practice of optimizing these processes.
Document management systems (DMS) are technology solutions that facilitate the capture, storage, retrieval, control, sharing, tracking and preservation of documents – all documents, whether those documents are in paper or electronic format.
Documents are an important business asset, but they are not the only form of information that organizations create and manage.  Therefore,  it  is  useful  to  understand  how  document  management  relates  to  the  larger  concept  of  managing  enterprise information.

Figure 2 - Managing Organizational Information


There  are  commonalities.  All  information  must  be  stored.  Information  is  produced  and  retrieved  within  the  context  of  a  business  activity  (workflow).  Information  should  be  secured.  There  are  many  additional  similarities,  but  enterprise information  types  are  far  from  consistent.  Each  form  of  information  has  its  own  unique  qualities,  requirements  and  challenges. Systems and processes for managing one type of content are often inadequate for managing other information types. Understanding this concept helps keep project efforts focused on what your organization requires from a DMS.


You  must  define  success  to  achieve  it.  This  is  not  just  some  slogan  for  a  motivational  poster  Define  goals.  Determine  requirements and constraints. Then use this information to guide research and evaluate solutions. Identifying and prioritizing what your organization desires from a DMS before attempting to select a platform helps ensure the solution is right for your business. Skipping this step is one of the most common and costly reasons for project failure.
Understanding your business’ needs does not have to mean engaging in a long, complex and costly requirements exercise. Small organizations may be able to define and prioritize success criteria in just a few meetings with stakeholders. The most vital  characteristic  of  defining  success  is  that  your  organization  does  it,  not  what  methodology  you  use.  Leverage  what  works best for your organization as long as the outcome is a well-­‐defined and clearly prioritized “list” of success criteria and constraints.
Success  criteria  should  provide  a  holistic  definition  of  success  that  considers  functional,  technical,  quality  and  strategic  perspectives. This helps ensure you select a solution that will work within your environment, in the manner users need, for the budget leaders expect.


Functional  criteria,  also  called  business  requirements  and  constraints,  capture  the  capabilities  a  DMS  should  have.  They  help clarify who will use the DMS, how they plan to use it and what they are trying to accomplish. User goals and preferences  can  vary  dramatically  by  role.  Therefore,  strive  to  have  a  stakeholder  and  representative  (may  be  the  same  person) provide input for each type of user that will interact with the DMS. Also, be sure to consider the future; adding or changing business processes and structures often means you should engage new resources.
Many  tools  from  vision  documents  and  use  cases  to  RACI  charts  and  requirements  documents  filled  with  simple  need  statements (e.g. The system must …) exist to capture functional criteria. No matter what technique your organization uses, several key questions can help clarify needs.

Table 1 – Key Functional Questions
Question Notes
Who is using the system? Helps identify stakeholders to ensure their goals are represented. Different user types can (e.g. technically adept vs. non-­technical, internal vs.external) have dramatically different needs.
How many users will access the system? How will the number of users grow over time? Influences pricing and technical architecture
What  business  problem(s) are being resolved or opportunity(ies) being pursued? Helps identify required system capabilities
What  types of documents do users need to manage? Helps identify required system capabilities
How will users capture and manage documents? Helps clarify the features that are most important in the DMS. For example, if an organization has a complex review and approval process, workflow features are likely more critical.
How should users be able to locate documents? Should the DMS support simple or complex search or is only category or tag based browsing required?
Is support for check-­‐in/check-­‐out necessary? Should the DMS support simple or complex search or is only category or tag based browsing required?


Technical criteria describe the technology related requirements and constraints for the DMS. The technical characteristics of  a  DMS  may  not  be  directly  observable  by  users,  but  they  often  have  directly  observable  effects.  Failure  to  define  technical criteria can result in everything from the inability for users to access a solution to higher training costs. Key questions to consider include:

Table 2 – Key Technical Questions
Question Notes
What operating systems, devices and browsers must be supported?
What end-user application (e.g. MS Word, Outlook) integration should be supported?
What  enterprise/back-end application (e.g. CRM) integration must be supported?
Preferred deployment mode Should the solution be available as a service, hosted or installed on premises?
What input/creation techniques should the DMS support?
What is the source for user information? Do you plan on manually managing users in the DMS or should the system integrate with existing security tools like LDAP or Single-Sign-On?
Should the solution adhere to any specific technical standards?


Quality  criteria,  also  known  as  non-­‐functional  requirements,  primarily  define  constraints  for  the  DMS.  Key  questions  to  answer include:

Table 3 – Key Quality Questions
Question Purpose
Are there legal or regulatory requirements?
Are there any special usability requirements (e.g. supports, keyboard, shortcuts)?
What are the security and access control requirements?
How long must inactive documents be stored and accessible? Compliance
What is the anticipated document volume? Are there ever spikes in use (e.g. end of financial quarter)? Document volume can drive cost and technical configuration. In addition, anticipated volume can help predict how long business processes will take to complete.
When must the solution be available?

Indicates if the solution must support a high availability configuration, and if so, what type.

Drives SLA for service-based and hosted platforms. May drive cost.

What types of logging and auditing are required to monitor and troubleshoot?


Project  and  strategic  criteria  look  beyond  the  capabilities  and  qualities  of  the  DMS  to  what’s  necessary  to  operate  the  solution within your organization. These criteria may not directly relate to the platform, but they are equally important for ensuring long-­‐term success. Key questions to consider include:

Table 4 – Key Strategic Questions
Question Purpose
What is the budget for the project? Constrains solution options
What is the total cost of ownership for the project? What is the total cost your organization’s configuration (e.g. number of CPUs, users, version) of the DMS plus any fees for other items like annual support and maintenance, installation and configuration?
Is the vendor stable? Will the vendor be around and accessible long enough to support and evolve the project?
What type of references should the vendor have? Is it necessary for the vendor to have expertise in a specific solution area? Long term success
What support options exist for the solution? Long term success
What is the availability of documentation and resources to support the solution?


Will you be able to find answers to questions?

Are any billing/contractual models preferred?

How soon must the solution be in place?

Clarifies any constraints related to how the organization/project will allocate cost of manage the contract


We are in the age of the smart enterprise. Businesses are now more aware of the value of information for making decisions, driving strategy and operating efficiently, and much of that organizational knowledge is captured and  communicated via  documents. As the importance of information grows, so do document volumes. Even small and medium businesses are dealing with unprecedented quantities of documents, which can magnify existing complexity and inefficiencies.
Almost everyone that has worked in an office is familiar with the frustration of sharing documents over email or trying to locate the right version of a document. The true impacts of improperly managing documents are much larger than small hindrances. Research supports that perception.
Coopers  and  Lybrand  found  in  2004  that  companies  spend  on  average  $20  in  labor  to  file  a  physical  document,  $120  in  labor to find a misfiled document and $220 in labor to reproduce a lost document. An A.T. Kearney study estimates that inefficiencies  related  to  content  publishing  cost  organizations  about  $750  billion  globally.  The  study  also  estimates  that  “knowledge workers” spend 15 to 25 percent of their time in non-­‐productive document related activities (AT Kearney, 2001).

Table 5 – Tangible and Intangible Benefits of Document Management
Tangible Intangible
  • Time savings from reduced effort to find or access documents, file paper, access information and re-create/re-key information
  • Lower physical file storage space costs
  • Lower paper supply and printing costs
  • Eliminate legal and regulatory non-compliance costs
  • Lower mailing, faxing, and delivery costs to provide access to files
  • Lower losses and faster time to recover from data loss or disaster
  • Cost reductions from reduced hold time on toll-free numbers (faster information access)
  • Improved brand consistency
  • Higher document quality and integrity
  • Better employee satisfaction
  • Higher organizational knowledge retention
  • Improved customer responsiveness
  • Better document security
  • Better collaboration
  • Faster product cycles/competitive advantage

The motivation for document management may seem obvious, but it can still be difficult to create a compelling business case to justify investment. Approaching the activity in a series of steps can make the process much easier.


The first step to building a compelling business case is to provide a description of the opportunity the DMS will address at the highest level.
Is  the  main  goal  of  the  initiative  cost  savings,  higher  productivity,  faster  product  cycles  or  something  entirely  different?  Once you have captured the goal, identify the key factors that drive success (see lesson 1) and why. Be sure to discuss the goal and success criteria from the perspective of each key stakeholder, which may include senior management, sales and marketing, IT, legal, operations or other areas.
In  addition,  you  should  also  detail  the  scope  of  the  effort  to  clarify  exactly  what  you  intend  to  deliver.  This  is  especially  important if there will be a phased delivery. Stakeholders should be able to easily discern what is in scope and what is excluded by phase. Consider adding high-­‐level milestones and a schedule if it will help with buy-­‐in.


Define  and  discuss  any  major  assumptions  made  while  creating  the  business  case  that  might  impact  the  success  of  the  initiative if they were no longer true. For example, is implementation cost based on the project beginning on a specific date due to a contract that has not been signed with a staffing provider? Identifying assumptions provides stakeholders more complete decision-­‐making information and can be an input for monitoring the ongoing health of a project.
Also  identify  the  criterion  that  are  important  for  decision  makers  to  consider.  This  can  help  stakeholders  make  a  better  decision and even speed the decision making process. Clearly specifying decision criterion is especially important if a large number of stakeholders with different viewpoints will participate in the approval process.


The business impact assessment is the most substantial component of the business case. It outlines and quantifies expected benefits  and  costs  over  time  and  identifies  required  resources.  Lesson  three  describes  the  process  to  quantify  costs  and  benefits.


Describe any key risks to the initiative’s success that should be mitigated. Common risks include user acceptance, schedule, budget,  technology  and  leadership  commitment.  As  with  success  factors,  discuss  risks  from  the  perspective  of  key  stakeholders. If a plan exists for mitigating a risk, describe it in the business case.


Articulate the proposed course of action for the initiative.


How many documents does your business create each year? How much effort is required for each document? How much of the information contained in the documents your business creates is easily accessible throughout your organization? How long  does  your  business  need  to  retain  documents?  What  are  the  effort  and  cost  associated  with  retrieving  archived  documents? What percentage of much existing document content is recreated because prior work cannot be found? What does the term “document” mean in your business? Most businesses don’t know the answers to these questions.
However,  this  information  is  an  important  part  of  understanding  how  document  management  is  impacting  your  organization. Calculating the cost to implement and maintain a DMS and the expected return on investment (ROI) is a critical part of building a business case and measuring success. Few business leaders are willing to approve a DMS effort without first understanding cost and ROI, but calculating these items can be tricky..
Multiple techniques exist, but a simple approach is to:

1. Define the measurement period
2. Identify the benefits of implementing a DMS (see table 5)
3. Quantify each benefit in terms of money
4. Normalize and calculate costs

Segment one-­‐time items from reoccurring items It is also beneficial to identify capital and operational items independently.
Vendors use various techniques to price their products and services. Some vendors charge per user, while others charge based  on  document  volume  and  configuration.  This  can  make  it  difficult  to  compare  costs  across  solutions.  Normalize  pricing by defining one or more standard implementation cases based on your organization’s requirements and constraints. Each  case  should  specify  a  total  number  of  named/concurrent  users,  deployment  model,  access  model,  CPU/server  configuration and other factors that impact pricing. For each case, capture the following costs:

  • License
  • Install, integrate and extend/customize
  • Required modules/components
  • Infrastructure
  • Support and maintenance

It is always best to use actual benefits and costs, but if that is not possible, estimate the cost of operating with the existing process and project savings using industry benchmarks. Use the model below with your own example figures.

Input Factor Example
# of resources that manage paper documents 100
# times per day each resource retrieves or files a paper document 10
minutes per person to retrieve each paper document 3
average resource salary per hour $16.00
minutes per person to make a copy/fax/mail 5
average # of copies/faxes/mails per day per resource 15
total minutes spent filing paper per day 10
monthly off-site file storage cost $200.00
total hours per month spent accessing off-site storage 3
monthly filing supply cost 75
monthly deliver service cost 525
Total Daily Minutes Spend Managing Paper 3000
Total Daily Hours Spent Managing Paper 50
Total Daily Cost for Managing Paper $800.00
Total Annual Cost for Managing Paper 208,800.00
Total Daily Minutes Spent Copying/Faxing/Mailing Paper 7500
Total Daily Hours Spent Copying/Faxing/Mailing Paper 125
Total Daily Cost for Copying/Faxing/Mailing Paper $2,000.00
Total Annual Cost for Copying/Faxing/Mailing Paper $522,000.00
Total Daily Minutes Spent Filing Paper 1000
Total Daily Hours Spent Filing Paper 16.67
Total Daily Cost for Filing Paper $266.67
Total Annual Cost for Filing Paper $69,600.00
Total Annual Off-Site File Storage Cost $2,400.00
Total Annual Storage Access Cost $576.00
Total Annual Filing Supply Cost $900.00
Total Annual Delivery Service Cost $6,300.00
Grand Total Annual File Related Cost $810,576.00


It is impossible to perform a detailed evaluation of every available DMS. Create an initial solution list and narrow it to 3-­‐7 options  by  performing  a  high-­‐level  assessment  of  the  following  high-­‐level  categories.  Leverage  a  simple  scale  (e.g.  high,  medium, low) to facilitate solution comparison.

  • Solution Maturity: How long has the product been available and implemented in a production environment? Has the product been recently acquired by a new vendor? Selecting a newer product typically means accepting more risk and having access to fewer knowledgeable resources.
  • Technical,  Legal  and  Regulatory  Standards  and  Guidelines:  If  support  for  a  particular  standard,  guideline  or regulation is required, exclude solutions that do not conform.
  • Critical Success Criteria: At a high level, does the solution adhere to the critical success criteria?
  • Implementation and Post-­‐Implementation Support: What resources are available to install, configure and support the solution? Are local resources available? Does the actual solution vendor support the product or a partner?
  • Documentation and Help Resources (including third party content user communities)
  • Cost of Ownership

After narrowing the list of platform options, collect detailed information about each solution. In many organizations, this requires creating a request for proposal (RFP) or other procurement document.
A  RFP  typically  describes  the  response  timetable  and  expectations,  your  organization’s  goals  and  success  criteria,  environment, requirements, constraints and rollout plans; it asks vendors to detail their:

  • organizational structure and background
  • proposed solution
  • implementation plan
  • post-­‐implementation support structure, cost and conditions
  • support for the defined requirements
  • references
  • license and maintenance options (including a sample agreement)
  • pricing

Compile  the  solution  information  and  distribute  to  everyone  participating  in  the  selection  process.  Many  organizations  prefer to remove pricing information before distributing it to the general selection team to avoid influencing their decisions with financial details.
In addition to compiling the solution details, identify one or more use cases to use to demo the solutions. If possible, have all members of the selection team participate in a demo in addition to reviewing the solution information. Demos provide a more  concrete  understanding  of  how  a  solution  functions  than  can  be  conveyed  with  documentation.  Compare  the  information and collect feedback from the decision team to select or recommend a solution.


Selecting and purchasing a solution is only one part of the long-­‐term success of a DMS initiative. Start planning for what will happen when the DMS implementation is complete before the project is complete. Key post implementation activities:

Activity Considerations
Acceptance Testing
  • Verify user access and system functionality adheres to requirements
  • Verify back and recovery procedures work as expected
  • Verify adherence to technical design and architecture
  • Identify user training requirements, schedule and resources
  • Define user on-boarding plan
  • Define, test, and execute legacy system and data migration
  • Does the DMS need to operate in parallel with another solution for any period?
  • What change management activities are required?
  • How will system updates and patches be managed?
  • Update existing support and governance processes to include the DMS
Maintenance and Support


There are a few additional strategies that will help you find and acquire the right DMS.


Grassroots efforts can be successful. However, initiatives that have the potential to dramatically change business process and culture, like document management, require strong, visible executive support. A champion can help communicate the project vision to leadership and help resolve competing concerns. In addition, executive support is often critical for guiding an  organization  through  a  cultural  change.  Executives  are  in  a  better  position  to  impart  the  importance  of  document  management across organizational levels and have the power to implement incentives that encourage adherence.


Once  your  organization  selects  a  solution,  start  small.  Define  a  pilot  project  with  clear  objectives  that  can  provide  quick  wins, identify potential issues and validate the projected ROI is achievable. Pilot projects are a great way to reduce the risk of a large DMS project.


Your organization is not the first to buy a DMS. Take advantage of existing knowledge to avoid making the same mistakes that have derailed other projects. Read case studies, talk to other companies, attend training or engage a specialist to learn recommended practices for success.

If you’d like to download a copy of this document as a .pdf, please click here.

AIIM. (2012, August 23). What is Document Management (DMS). Retrieved from AIIM.org: http://www.aiim.org/What-­‐is-­‐
AT Kearney. (2001). Network Publishing: Creating Value Through Digital Content.
Delphi Group. (2002). Taxonomy & Content Classification Market Milestone Report.
Lyman, P., & Varian, H. (2003). How Much Information.

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