Electronic Document Control – Moving away from the massive binders and network file shares
Introduction to Electronic Document Control
I’ve spent many years as an IT & QHSE Manager. While our formal ISO 9001 & OHSAS 18001 was still years away, the need for a consistent method to store, approve, track, and retrieve our official documents was necessary. Before I began the work, many previous systems of kingdom building had occurred, so I had my work cut out for me.
I inherited a mass of binders, loose papers, spreadsheets tracking documents that could not be found, and a mountain of file shares with no determinable order. The question was immediately what to do to sort, recognize, and store, and what to even bother sorting organizing and storing. How could I ever attempt to sort though over 10,000 documents/records and nearly 100 binders to find what is useful and relevant? Well I couldn’t, and still can’t. However, if some people could find what was useful to them, and if enough people could locate what was useful to them, and we had a central store of information with an easy to understand system, we could make it happen.
Having a background in IT, I opted for SharePoint. Since it was a small company, I opted for the free version, WSS 3.0 (today we operate on SharePoint 2013). The power of SharePoint to quickly build a site, control access, approval, and create workflows to maintain up to date communication cannot be under estimated.
How to Organize the Data?
We opted for a simple structure that users could upload relevant documents or records to be converted to documents. This included roughly the following categories.
- Policies Procedures Manuals and Handbooks
- General Documents
- Inspection Documents
- Other specialty libraries and lists for various specific purposes
In addition we created network shares, one department access, and the Technical Drive. We moved ALL data stored in personal data kingdoms to the Technical Drive. The technical drive is specifically non controlled, with no official documents, but a massive resource to develop new documents, and find useful information.
The Departments drive was created to give our department leadership the ability to share within their team with the security of knowing it was not public for everyone to modify and access. This also gave a great deal of security to out accounting team knowing their files we for their eyes only (no more masses of records shared over email). Once we had the drives established, very quickly users began to sort through 15 years of data and isolate the good, while filing away the bad. Within short order, they were able to upload the relevant documents for permanent storage in SharePoint.
Benefits of SharePoint – Electronic Document Control
- Fast and easy to deploy new lists, libraries and sites
- Easy control of user access – After creating a couple of new security groups, we can now control Read, Edit, Contribute, Approve within the list. This allows for a very custom security access where documents cannot be deleted, and only specified users can approve but not modify the library (when required).
- Custom workflows – each document is auto numbered by a custom workflow, there is 0 risk of duplicate naming. In addition, when documents are edited a workflow generates an email to the originator of the change, and when published for approval, the email is automatically sent to the appropriate manager for approval.
Today we are able to confidently and reliably operate from the most recent version of all our documents (very vital when dealing with tight customer and OEM tolerances for multi million dollar machines) with the confidence they have been properly reviewed.
In a previous intermediate system, spreadsheets were used to track documents while the SharePoint system was in development. We quickly found that about 5% of our documents were mislabeled or could not be located easily (generally though shortcomings in Excel). Today that is a non issue for all approved documents. Within 4 clicks we can sort though over 1,000 documents to the single document we are searching for with 100% assurance we will locate it.
A system such as this requires a LOT of forethought. We went through many intermediate stages that were not fully successful, but each built upon the last. This type of electronic document control is not easily obtained but is worth the effort to achieve it. I suggest it for anyone making the leap from paper or spreadsheet tracking to a better method (perhaps in SharePoint) to spend twice as many hours on planning and interviewing as you plan to spend on implementation, it will be well worth it for you and your users and department leaders.