This article originally appeared on Sophicity's CitySmart blog.
With software, cities feel that they often face a dilemma. Standardized, out-of-the-box software lowers cost but restricts customization. Customized software better meets the needs of cities but may increase cost. What to do?
Let’s specifically look at document management software as an example of resolving this dilemma. Luckily, document management software has existed for a long time. That means it’s matured over time and gives cities the best of both worlds—standardization and customization. Sound too good to be true? Let’s look at both sides in more detail.
Over the years, document management system creators and practitioners have learned a lot about best practices that apply to all organizations. These best practices get baked into the software and you benefit from them without needing to customize. In fact, many of these standardized benefits feature items you may not have thought to include if you had created your own document management software requirements—and they come right out of the box.
- Security: Modern document management systems keep information secure through encryption, strict authorization and permissions settings, and the ability to comply with laws and policies.
- Storage: Often stored in the cloud, your electronic documents rest in a low-cost yet rigorously maintained set of data centers that eliminates your need to buy and maintain hardware. These storage benefits allow you to easily back up data, store large amounts of electronic documents at a low cost, and scan paper files for electronic upload.
- Implementation: With a standardized document management system, implementation usually happens more quickly than with a customized solution.
- Folder and file structures: Document management systems usually enforce folder and file structures that allow you to easily organize and find data. Unlike how document organization gets confusing when you manually handle it on your computer, a document management system will help guide you toward organizing your information in a structure that makes sense to all users.
- Workflows: With workflows, documents are guided through a series of steps such as drafting, editing, reviewing, and approving. Workflows help you follow a quality control process for documents.
- Search: Similar to looking up something on Google, document management systems offer search tools that make it easy to find files. You can either search for documents based on keywords that you’ve tagged onto certain documents or you can search for phrases within documents. Search algorithms also work on the backend to help bring up the most relevant items first in a list of search results.
While standardized, document management software also offers customized benefits that are relevant to cities.
- Automatic filing of documents: You can set up rules for filing documents that happen automatically. For example, cities can apply their record retention schedules to specific documents to make sure they are filed, stored, and purged according to state law and city ordinance.
- Document organization: While the software provides some standardized structure as noted above, you can also customize the organization of your documents. For example, you may want to set up different document management repositories for each city department that have unique organization, rules, and workflows.
- Dashboard: You are able to customize the dashboard you see after logging into your document management system. For example, your dashboard may only show your to-dos, your most recently opened documents, and links to your most accessed document folders. You can customize dashboards in a way that applies to all users or you can allow users to tweak their own dashboards.
- Application integration: When setting up your document management system, your IT staff or vendor can help you integrate with important applications. One common application integration is with Microsoft Office. In that case, you can open and create Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files within your document management system without having to separately open those Microsoft applications.
- Look and feel: While look and feel may seem the least of your worries, it shouldn’t get overlooked. For example, you can customize the look and feel of your document management system so that it contains your city logo and colors to create a personalized touch. Look and feel is a small but important detail that allows people to log into something every day that appears pleasant and fun to use.
With document management software, you absolutely can have it both ways—customizing it for your city while enjoying standardized benefits baked into the software. It helps to have IT staff or a vendor work with you on the technical aspects to make sure that you’re properly customizing your document management software in a way that meets your needs and complies with the law.