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Digital Document Management vs. Free File Sharing Services: Understanding the Critical Differences

By Thomas Schneck • August 1, 2018 at 3:56 PM

“Why would I pay for something I can get for free?”

Ever found yourself saying that? Maybe it was for an online music-streaming service which constantly interrupts your favorite playlist with commercials. Perhaps it was for a website membership, which you later found out entitles you to free shipping that would have saved you money in the long run. Often, paying for a service is actually a better decision than attempting to use the free model.

Digital document management is no different. A premium version with a cost attached to it is likely to be much more effective and user-friendly than a free version. Plus, if you aren’t factoring in the wasted time your employees spend on searching for documents and recreating lost files, you may not realize just how much a “free” software is costing your company.

With digital document management, you get what you pay for.

Understanding File-Sharing Versus Document Management 

File-sharing software has become a popular way to store and share documents for workplace collaboration at numerous organizations. Many employees are working on projects that are too large to send through email, or documents that require review and revision by other team members. File-sharing services such as Google Docs, Dropbox, Box and others are often used because they support this collaboration and are available for free. These solutions enable teams to collaborate on a shared document, usually for a specific purpose at one point in time. 

Document management  software, on the other hand, has a more robust set of capabilities. In addition to supporting digital storage and filing of information, it  enables indexing of critical information within the documents so they are easy to search for and retrieve. The office automation it provides through digital workflows offers additional advantages. 

The Importance of Considering a Document’s Lifecycle

Collaboration is the first step for many documents. That’s why a service like Google Docs is often used by businesses. Someone creates a document and shares it internally with those who need to be involved, and the project gets started. But, what happens next? Collaboration is only the beginning of the document’s lifecycle.

For important company documents, you need more than just an online collaboration tool. Did you know that when the creator of a Google document leaves your company, access to that document leaves with them? That could spell big trouble for those left behind. That’s why it’s crucial to use a digital document management system that ensures ownership of the document stays within the company, no matter who comes and goes.

Best Practices for Document Management: Full Data Lineage

When using a free file-sharing software, like Google Docs or Dropbox, everyone at the company usually has access to the same documents. But, it’s easy to see how that could cause issues. For example, what happens when a document is edited in error?

With digital document management however, you have access to a complete data history. This means you’re able to clearly see who has made what edits, and when. What’s more, you have control over who is able to access the document in the first place, which enables the business to prevent costly errors before they happen.

What Happens When a Third Party Is Involved?

Many file-sharing services are stronger at sharing and collaboration than they are at control, security, workflow and version management. This quickly becomes an issue for lots of organizations. Document management, on the other hand, is a powerful tool for secure and controlled file management.

A number of different types of businesses allow third-party sources to access their documents, using a system like Dropbox for their digital document management. Unfortunately, the more people, companies, versions and folders involved in Dropbox, the less user-friendly it becomes. Are you aware of how often your employees are wasting time digging through Dropbox folders to find what they need, or mistaking an old file version for the most recently updated one?

Streamlined searchability is one of the most useful aspects of choosing a digital document management system. The more complex the documentation, the more likely it is that someone outside of your company may have access to documents they should not be seeing, and that’s dangerous. Personal items, like family photos, may even get mixed in with your company’s intellectual property.

Business Process Automation Adds Real Value

Capturing, indexing, routing and archiving information securely is a key to increasing the efficiency of your business. When organizations still rely on manual steps for repetitive, routine tasks, such as entering data, searching for information or completing approval processes, they waste time and increase costs. 

Digital document management through full-service software is designed to meet your company’s many specific needs. You’re able to control any individual’s access to any document  which is certainly not an advantage that a free service like Google Docs or Dropbox can claim. Ultimately, when you consider what you’re getting, the cost of digital document management is a worthwhile investment.

Editor's note: This post has been updated for accuracy and new content has been added. 

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Topics: Team Productivity, Enterprise Content Management

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