There is a fundamental difference in cloud-based document management vs. cloud storage of documents. In the 15+ years that we have been in the cloud, we often hear confusion regarding the two popular, yet very contrasting options. When considering what is right for your firm, there are 3 key considerations that need to be made.
- What is your document life-cycle? If you have a document or set of documents that have met their end-of-life and have an extremely low probability of needing to be accessed in the future, then a storage option is probably best. Document storage options typically include somewhat cumbersome ways of retrieving documents because their purpose is to store, not access and manage. Think of a flash drive or public drive that will pull up a long, unrelated list of files that take some commitment to get through. Once a document is complete, and you have an obligation to store it, but may not need to ever see it again, it may be time to look into document storage. If a document needs to be edited by outside parties, approved by client or co-counsel, emailed to paralegals for review, or compared with similar documents, a management system will be paramount in transitioning the documents through their life cycle. These activities are extremely time-intensive and cumbersome with simple document storage.
- Are your document contents confidential? Typically, when using a shared or public drive for document storage internally, it can be difficult to manage access rights on documents that have confidential information. Additionally, on-site servers can be hacked into and thumb drives are mishandled or even stolen. The ability to attach security provisions to document environments in a management service is a key feature that a law firm should heavily consider.
- Is your current document structure scalable and manageable? Do you currently use a folder structure and allow others internally to create their own environments for document handling? This type of document structure will not scale as needs change and firm personnel grow. The ability to manage how your team handles, edits, sends, and shares documents is a key component to document management, and one that simple storage cannot provide adequately. Additionally, smart integrations with technology providers like Microsoft Office can add more depth to your management system that storage cannot provide. These integrations allow you to more effectively manage the structure and the lifecycle of the document as it is passed through various channels. Such integrations (like NetDocuments' included ndOffice application) can prompt your end-user based on administratively defined tags (pick-lists, dates, or free text) to further describe a document in a standardized fashion for easy retrieval through search and templated organization.
There are other considerations that can be mentioned that are not listed above for document management, such as metadata profiling, advanced searching options, workspaces, and client extranets, to name a few, but the bottom line is that document storage providers do not provide the level of sophistication that law firms require. A good document management system will have environments for permanent storage that can be tucked away in a secure environment when a document has met its end-of-life, while keeping all management aspects on the front line of current and active documents.