Document management systems Featured

6:31am EDT September 27, 2005
The main functions of a Document Management System (DMS) are:
  • Generation
  • Distribution
  • Storage
  • Retrieval
  • Retention

The DMS processes for documents that are internally generated, typically from an ERP application, are described below.

While document generation might be as simple as consuming an existing file or printed output, it can turn into the involved task of defining the sources of information, processing this information and defining the desired output. However, the result of this task will always be a piece of information that can be passed to the next steps of the DMS.

Once the document has been made available by the DMS’ generation function, the next step will typically be some sort of distribution process. When dealing with an internal document like a report produced by the organization’s ERP system, the document might be sent to a printer, stored on a file server or sent to a recipient via e-mail. In addition to making the document available at the desired location, an e-mail could be generated to inform the recipient that a new document is available at a certain location.

If the document is targeted for an external recipient, the DMS needs to know the transportation method, which could be mail, e-mail, fax, Web presentment or some kind of file transfer. A sophisticated DMS will allow for a combination and, should the primary method fail, attempt to use an alternative method to deliver the document to its target.

For example, if the primary delivery method is set to a fax and the delivery fails, the DMS would attempt to send the document via e-mail. As with internal documents, a supporting e-mail could be sent to inform the recipient that one or more documents have become available.

Storage and retrieval
Now that the document has been delivered to the recipient, the next step is to store the document in the archiving system of the DMS. In most cases, there will be a record added to the DMS’ database and the document will be placed into the document storage area. The database record consists of index values and a pointer to the location of the document within the document storage area.

In our scenario, the document was generated internally, so it should be an easy task to retrieve the necessary index values from the underlying application. The DMS will assign the location of the document and write this information, along with the index values, to the database.

If someone in the organization needs to access the document, the retrieval function will allow the user to search for the document through the index values (e.g. invoice number, customer number, etc.). Should more than one document meet the selection criteria, a list will be displayed to allow the user to select the appropriate document and to view it in the DMS’ viewer, from where the retrieved document can be printed or redistributed via e-mail or fax.

Last but not least, the DMS is in charge of ensuring that documents are kept in storage as long as necessary. The retention function can also be used to determine the physical location of the documents like hard disk volumes or optical drives. A document’s retention time will often be dictated by regulations (e.g. general accounting procedures or IRS regulations). Once the document has expired, the DMS will remove the document from storage and delete the according record in the database. For control purposes, the DMS will keep a log to document the removal action.

Alex Riess is president of Resolutions (, a provider of state-of-the-art document management solutions. Reach him at or (678) 714-3400.