Electronic Filing System Overview
You've heard of electronic filing systems. You know you need one. What you don't know is how to proceed. With the number of options today, the complexities can be overwhelming. We hope to tame that decision for you.
In this article, we explain the ins and outs of electronic filings systems, what they do, how they work, and, most importantly, the key features to look for as you're deciding which one to use. We also include a description of our recommended top pick: FileCenter.
What is an Electronic Filing System?
Since the advent of cheap printing, paper has flooded our desks, filing cabinets, and storage rooms to overflowing. And until recent decades, it has felt impossible to stem the tide.
Salvation finally arrived in the form of fast professional scanners that can feed in paper just as fast as printers can spit it out. These scanners, paired with the right software, can digitize paper back into an electronic format that is far more environmentally friendly. Additionally, the PDF file format has made document capture and document archival a safe proposition, even for organizations that need to maintain long-term archives of documents.
You will notice, however, that this puzzle requires one more piece: a way to organize these digital archives. Enter the electronic filing system, sometimes called document management software. These computerized filing systems provide electronic file management. In other words, they give us a simple way to store, organize, and retrieve digital files and digital documents.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of computerized filing software solutions available, creating a maze of options and features that can be daunting. In this article, we'll point out the most important features and considerations when setting up your own digital filing system.
What are the Most Important Features to Look for in Electronic Filing Systems?
Electronic filing software must do two things perfectly: capture and retrieval. We often get caught up in lists of minor features, getting lured away by trivial bells and whistles just to later discover that the filing software we chose does not handle these core tasks smoothly – capture and retrieval. So let's look more closely at how these features should work.
Capture Scanned Documents. You should be able to scan digital documents directly into your electronic filing software. The best filing software will double as document scanning software to streamline this as much as possible. Look for automatic document separation, automatic routing, automatic file naming, and built-in optical character recognition ("OCR").
Capture Printed Documents. Most electronic filing software provides a way to "print" documents directly into the system. This is usually done through a virtual printer that, instead of printing to paper, captures an image of the document and stores it in the filing system. This is fine for archival, but it doesn't let you save documents in their native format. In other words, you can't edit these captured documents. The filing software must also provide a way to easily capture Word documents or Excel spreadsheets or any other kind of Windows file in its native format. Leading to ...
Capture the Save Function. The best digital filing system will tie into Save function of your other programs. This makes it effortless and automatic to save documents directly into the system. Any other kind of "plug in" or "inbox" that requires extra steps will create a nightmare. Why? Because users won't put documents into the system. Let's face it, no-one is going to work harder than they have to. If the filing software requires six steps to import a document, but the user can just save it to their desktop in one step, a lot of documents are going to end up on their desktop. So look for a system that can tap into the Save As function of any Windows program. This will ensure that your filing software captures everything.
Retrieval. Document retrieval isn't given enough consideration. The ideal electronic filing software will still allow you to edit any file in its native software. That seems obvious, but the vast majority of softare packages make this difficult and cumbersome. How? Because they cut off the files from the rest of your Windows software. Here's the problem: most electronic filing software stores your files in a database. A database is a black box. Windows has no access to the files in the database, and the files in the database have no access to Windows. This means that the filing software must release the file from the database before you can edit it, share it, or use regular Windows tools and utilities with it. Worse still, if you decide to switch to a different computerized filing system, you have to export all of your files from the old system. Is there a better way? Yes. Choose filing software that stores your files in regular Windows folders. This gives you complete access to your files and complete control. You can still use all of your familiar software packages to work with your files and you don't run a risk of the files getting permanently locked in a database.
What is an Electronic Filing Cabinet?
Some filing software solutions employ a concept called the electronic filing cabinet. The idea is simple. We're all familiar with how to file and organize paper documents. Organizing digital documents should work the same way. Documents should be organized into electronic filing cabinets which have drawers and folders just like physical filing cabinets. In short, our digital filing systems should mirror our physical filing systems as much as is reasonable. Electronic filing cabinets are an excellent way to organize digital files because any user can figure them out quickly. Additonally, our minds like a predictable, well-structured filing system.
Database-driven systems, on the other hand, tend to be unstructured. They rely on keyword lookup to find documents. When keyword searches fail, there is no structure to browse. Electronic filing cabinets, on the other hand, can provide both. Users can typically navigate the structure in just a few mouse clicks. If they fail to locate what they're looking for, a quick keyword search can comb the cabinet for them.
How Do I Set Up an Electronic Filing System?
Setting up a document filing system depends on which filing software package you choose. If you choose a system that uses a database, expect to hire an IT professional to set it up for you, and expect to keep that person on retainer so they can keep it maintained for you. If you choose an document filing system that stores your digital documents and electronic files in regular Windows folders, it will be able to seamlessly pick up the files you already have then provide you with better organizational tools going forward.
If you are on a network, you'll want to put your files on a shared network folder that everyone can see. Setting up a shared folder is a fairly simple task that anyone with some computer know-how can do in just a few minutes.
What's the Easiest Way to Set Up an Online Filing System?
The ideal location for your electronic files is on your machine. This gives you complete control over them. At the same time, there is no denying the appeal of online filing systems. So perhaps the best solution comes in the form of today's popular Cloud services like Google Drive, OneDrive, and DropBox. These services let you keep your filing system on your own computer, but then mirror your computerized files onto the Cloud, maintaining the same folder structure and layout. Thus, you have the best of both worlds: computerized filing on your desktop but easy mobile access through the Cloud.
Incidentally, if you choose electronic filing software that stores your files in a database, you can't use Google Drive, OneDrive, or DropBox.
What is the Best Filing Software?
In our opinion, your digital filing system needs filing software that easily captures documents from any source, that integrates tightly with any Windows software package, that doesn't lock your files in a database, and that lets you organize your digital files in electronic filing cabinets. Despite the fact that there are, literally, hundreds of different filing software choices out there, precious few meet all of these criteria. And among those, the low-cost leader is FileCenter.
Our Electronic Filing System Recommendation
FileCenter carries all of the features that a proper electronic filing system should, along with many more to streamline your work. And it does all of this at a price the competition can't touch. Download a free trial today!
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