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6 Challenges of Implementing a Document Management System — and How to Avoid Them

Whether your company is planning to go digital after experiencing the issues associated with remote or hybrid work, trying to cut costs or looking for a document management system (DMS) to ensure compliance in a regulated industry, you can find yourself running into a wall if your DMS initiative isn’t carefully planned. To avoid this, get an understanding of your needs, choose a solution that meets those needs, map out the implementation process, then test and roll out the new system.

A smooth rollout is exciting, bringing much-needed functionality and creating automated processes that drive efficiency, productivity and ROI. However, implementations that aren’t well thought out are frustrating and disruptive, hindering buy-in and reducing the chance that staff will use the new technology correctly (or sometimes at all).

Let's take a look at some typical challenges of implementing document management software. We'll explain what these issues are and how to address them. Then your employees will have a positive experience of the new solution from the get-go.

1. Choosing a solution that may not meet future business needs

The shift from on-premises IT stacks to on-demand cloud services has been the technology story of the past ten years. Subscription services are operational expenses, not capital expenditures, and are acquired only as the company needs them and budget planning can be done accordingly.

Don’t make the mistake of choosing a solution that aligns perfectly with your current business needs without considering future growth. It's important to understand your business goals so you can choose a system that can grow with you. This is where moving to the cloud offers a distinct advantage.

Cloud-based services are ideal for every type of business, whether they expect growing and fluctuating demand or consistent high demand. It’s easy to increase capacity and add capabilities quickly. You can start small and scale as your business requires. Your company can also make the most of internal IT resources. Cloud services free your IT department from the responsibility of managing system upgrades, applying security patches and dealing with new cybersecurity concerns — so they are ready to focus on strategic projects. Cloud providers also leverage economies of scale to provide security beyond anything most businesses could do in-house.

2. Failure to define the right scope

An ill-defined scope is a major issue that can cause your project to lose steam. The scope is best defined in terms of what you intend to include and sometimes, just as importantly, what you intend to set aside for now or eliminate altogether. Scope refers to which documents will be imported and classified in the DMS, which departments will use the software and which of their processes will be automated.

Common errors include:

Not addressing the scope at all. If you don't define your project scope, everyone involved will make their own assumptions, and those assumptions will not be the same. So, while you might think that customer service will be managed in the DMS, but the legal team will not be included in the first stage of implementation. Someone else might assume that legal documents will be part of the initial rollout. When you begin setting up workflows, a divergent understanding of the scope of their use can lead to significant problems.

Starting with a scope that is either too big or small. You may take on too much by planning on rolling the solution out to the whole company at one time. In other cases, your approach might be too limiting. Someone might decide that only accounting information will go in the DMS, but that likely means that other departments that interact with the accounting department are still using paper processes. When you're working with a mix of paper documents and electronic files, such as emails and other documents. It’s hard to access these disparate items quickly and this can lead to extra (and unnecessary) work.

Allowing scope creep. This occurs when you don't maintain firm boundaries. Perhaps you set a scope of implementing DMS in the customer service department within the next quarter before moving on to other business functions. As people get excited about using new digital tools, employees may ask you to automate processes that are outside of the scope you've defined. If you give in to these requests, it can significantly diminish the speed of your overall implementation.

3. Not getting buy-in from end users

If employees at all levels don't accept the new system and believe that it will have a positive impact, morale and productivity are likely to suffer. Typically, one of the biggest barriers to buy-in is a lack of communication. When employees don't know what is happening or why changes are occurring, they can default to fear of the unknown and cling tightly to the processes they’re familiar with. Communicate regularly and be ready to fully explain the benefits of the new processes. Be specific. For example, if document retrieval used to require a walk to the file room and physical search and now retrieval is instant, the value of the automated process is obvious. Helping employees see how automation will make their jobs easier, smooths the way for your big digital transformation.

4. Not accurately assessing current workflows before creating new ones

Companies may expect that automated processes will be a mirror image of their current manual processes. Actually, existing ways of working are just a jumping-off point. Sometimes these processes aren’t even well-documented or many employees use informal workarounds. That’s why it's important to bring in subject-matter experts (SMEs) who are familiar with day-to-day routines and can map current processes accurately.

Gather SMEs from each relevant team and function. Work with them to understand exactly how processes and workflows function today and identify key steps, bottlenecks and frustrations. Then brainstorm about how these processes can be improved.

5. Moving from testing to going live too quickly

Figuring out when to stop testing can be a big challenge because it requires clear communication and full cooperation between company leadership, IT, the departments that are being automated and your vendor.

Here’s what to look out for:

Rushing the testing stage. Depending on the design, deploying your office automation solution should begin with the creation of a test system or occur in several phases. Test early and often. Testing is a great way to avoid surprises that could cause business disruptions later. Test runs enable you to resolve outstanding issues and demonstrate progress in regular review meetings.

Choosing which employees will test the system. Be careful about giving the impression that an elite group is doing the testing. Don’t fall into the trap of using only executives, department managers and your "best" employees to test the system. The assumption is that these star employees are most likely to find and point out issues, right? That can create an us-versus-them mentality that leaves others less than enthused about the implementation. It's also not an ideal way to find all of the potential deficiencies, because employees with varying skill levels and job responsibilities will find different issues.

6. Developing rigorous policies and procedures with scheduled updates

Take the time to create written records of comprehensive policies and procedures, and detailed technical documentation. Include design choices and system configuration settings. This will help current and new employees learn the system and troubleshoot issues. Return to those policies and procedures at least annually to ensure they're up-to-date as your business processes evolve.

Once you understand where you’re at and where you’d like to be, you’re well on your way to avoiding issues that can make implementation a headache. Stick to your plan, get everyone on board, test and document your processes and watch as an organized and efficient workplace flourishes.

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