Prominently used in corporate intranets, Document Management systems facilitate the organization, retrieval and retention of assets.

Document management systems deal with the management of binary assets.  When I refer to binary assets, I’m referring to things like Microsoft Word documents or PDFs, but many of them also can handle structured content like XML.  The main purpose of document management systems is to make those assets easier to find.

You can imagine in many corporate environments where there’s thousands of individuals, each one of them having thousands of documents, and trying to ensure that you’re keeping track of that information.  Not only so that it can be used efficiently by the other people inside the organization, but, that is a corporate asset, and you don’t want to lose track of that, because there’s value in that information.  It’s very important that information can be located and found and used by other individuals.  Document management systems facilitate that by employing complex taxonomies.  A taxonomy is simply, hierarchical metadata.  It allows you to set that metadata on the content, and then that metadata is integrated with advanced search features that users can then use to either filter or narrow in on what they’re looking for.

Document management systems will also ensure document security.  Not only from access control perspective (who can access what, who can read, who can write to it), but it also maintains different versions of documents, so if somebody makes a boo boo and overwrites a document they shouldn’t have, you can go back and retrieve the earlier version.  It also is usually tied in with a backing-up system so that if something happens to the server that the documents are on, they’re backed up, and you can always access them to make sure you’re not going to lose that information.

Some document management systems even come with retention management capabilities.  In some circumstances, you want to keep these documents around, but you don’t want to keep them around for greater than say a seven-year period for various legal ramifications.  Well, these retention policies will ensure that these documents or versions of documents are taken out of the system after a particular point in time.  Lots of document management systems come with workflow mechanisms to ensure that these documents go through proper approval processes.  Some of these can be very simple; some can be very sophisticated.  Some will even integrate third-party business process management tools.  The difference between a BPM system and a workflow is that BPM also can execute logic.  It’ll fire off commands to third-party applications or perform additional activities apart from actually assigning a task to somebody.

Some of the more sophisticated and more useful document management systems also have the capability of accurately rendering that content in an HTML format.  That becomes very, very useful in situations where you may want to have access to the repository through a Web-based interface, but you don’t want to have to download the binary assets in order to see what they are.  What happens many times is you have to open it up to actually see what the document is, and if you have the ability to convert that to HTML, you can simply get a preview.  Some even have the ability to do snapshots, so it’s an image you’re looking at, which is quite useful.

All those things are sort of brought together in a document management system depending on your particular needs.