NIGHTMARE-FREE DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT – EPISODE 36
In this episode of The Digital Broker, Steve and Ryan discuss document management systems. By listening to this episode, you will learn:
- How the issues of document management are more complex than simply deciding whether to go paper-free
- How a specialized, standalone DMS compares to what your AMS offers, and which products are on the market
- What to keep in mind as you evaluate a DMS solution, and which operational challenges are likely to accompany implementation
We’re not trying to give away Steve’s age, but when he was starting out in the insurance business in the late 1970’s, the industry was vowing to be “paper-free by ‘83!” This slogan hasn’t aged well in the last thirty years. Agencies have adopted digital solutions to some extent, but the bane of many agents and brokers continues to be an avalanche of paperwork big enough to be buried under.
And why wouldn’t it be? Ditching paper wasn’t ever going to be the whole solution. If your document management system (DMS) was disorganized in the file cabinet days, you don’t solve the problem by going digital; you merely import it. You might even be multiplying it. It is easy to store a document electronically—it’s a nightmare to retrieve it when you don’t even know where to look.
Document management isn’t a contest between paper and pixels. We need to reconsider our whole mentality toward documentation. (4:11) Most of us take it seriously as a means to ensure compliance, but a document management solution translates to customer service: the faster you can retrieve a document, the less you keep a client waiting. Storing is just the tip of the documentation iceberg: retrieval is everything underneath it. If it’s taking your account manager ten or twenty times as long to retrieve a document as it is to store it, that’s a nasty timesuck on the entire organization.
Where are agencies going wrong? Most of them have some sort of electronic document solution in place—they’re just using it badly. A common error is to think of a DMS solution as a box you need to check only once: “We’ve acquired the DMS we need, now we’re good to go.” Something as complex as keeping thousands of different documents organized cannot possibly be that simple.
(9:50) Many agencies default to whatever DMS capability came with their agency management system (AMS). The problem is that the built-in DMS of many agency management systems is rudimentary, falling short of today’s demands. Luckily, enterprising developers have stepped in to supply the market with standalone, specialized DMS solutions that provide features your typical AMS doesn’t. We review some of your DMS options beginning at 11:04 of this episode.
A quick example of what we’re talking about is optical character recognition (OCR)—the ability to scan every document you store in order to let you search for documents by the words they contain. Many AMS’s don’t provide this, but no respectable DMS is without it. Furthermore, DMS’s set themselves apart for how they structure and differentiate what is stored. Consider all the documents your employees have to sift through: audits, endorsements, declinations, claims, etc. These must regularly be subfoldered per client, adding to the web of complexity. When employees get overwhelmed by this, they seek safety in the clandestine folders of their own creation—but this defeats the whole point of retrieving from a centralized source. You must find a DMS that can govern the storage and distribution of documents in a way your employees understand and appreciate. You can make their jobs a lot easier by finding a DMS that does tagging.
For all of their day-to-day ubiquity, folders suffer from a one-to-one limitation: one folder to a document, thank you very much. But anyone who’s had to work with documents knows they rarely fall under a single category so cleanly. An endorsement could have financial implications that concern other parts of the agency, meaning it should be available to, and searchable by, various employees. You could solve for this by cloning copies of the document in different folders, but you’d be replicating work and taking up more space than you need to. Tagging allows you to tag the document with as many keywords as needed to make it accessible to everybody with an interest in it.
But a document management system is only as good as your agency’s commitment to leveraging it the right way (19:21). You can tag the hell out of any document and still make it useless by using tags nobody understands. Normalizing naming conventions is a critical part of any DMS implementation, requiring the input of several voices inside the organization. But you should be used to these conversations by now, for they are a key precursor to operational excellence. We’ve talked before about how most of your agency’s decisions are reversible—but some aren’t. Choosing a DMS isn’t exactly irreversible, but the amount of work and content you end up putting into the system makes it a laborious thing to undo later. Also, DMS’s tend to be expensive. Look at your options carefully, and poll as many voices inside your company as you can to make sure you pick something that has lasting operational value.
Are you using a document management system at all right now? Are you using it as effectively as you think you should? Or is it really more of an electronic place to put stuff?
Your employees shouldn’t shudder any time it’s their turn to retrieve a document. That’s a sign that you need to step back, reevaluate how you’ve implemented the technology, and decide whether it’s time to look for another product.