Documents are created primarily for distribution. They’re attached to workflows to follow specific routes and reach specific people. They can be sent via e-mail to one or more recipients. They can be produced during document discovery or made available for inspection during a due-diligence study. Different kinds of distribution typically require different practices for effectiveness in each context.
- Business documents typically require the involvement of more than one person before they serve their intended purpose. For example, one person might create a document, others might review it and add or change content, and a manager might then approve it for publication. This is a typical example of a document workflow.
- Electronic document management systems these days come with the facility to create workflows and attach documents to relevant workflows. The document will then be available for the required persons to work upon. The system can also monitor whether all concerned persons have received the document.
- A typical feature of workflow distribution is the facility to check-out and check-in documents. When several people need to work on a document, it’s sometimes necessary to lock a document when one person is working on it. Locked documents cannot be modified by others, so the danger of one person’s modification being overwritten by another is avoided.
- In addition to automated workflow-related document distribution, there are other kinds of internal document distributions that tend to be ad-hoc in nature. For example, during a conference, relevant documents can be distributed to attendees. This distribution can take the form of on-line distribution through devices such as bulletin boards or as a video presentation where all attendees can see the document.
- Business correspondence involves another kind of document distribution. In this case, the document typically originates in one organization and moves to another. The movement can occur through e-mails, instant-messaging chats, fax transmissions, or postal mail. Each of these methods has its own best practices to ensure effective distribution. For example, e-mails require specific attention to the issue of deliverability with consideration given to spam filters.
- Business transactions involve the movement of documents between the parties involved. Invoices, payment advices, and delivery notes are examples. These can sometimes move directly from system to system as when systems are integrated under supply-chain management (SCM) and suppliers access the production plans of their customers.
- Documents can also be distributed widely to the public, as when an organization allows downloads of whitepapers by prospective customers. In these cases, document readability becomes a critical issue. Documents created using proprietary formats might be unreadable if the recipient does not have the relevant application. Applications such as Adobe Acrobat, which produce PDF documents, and the freely available Adobe Reader, seek to address this problem.
- In litigation, the process of document discovery typically requires both parties to produce documents supporting their claims. The documents can be sent to each other’s attorneys or produced for joint inspection. In litigation, parties can remove parts of a document that hurt their claims. In the case of electronic documents, such redactions can cause unexpected problems as when attached text files still reveal removed content. Special care is needed in such cases.
- A similar situation arises in the course of due-diligence investigations of mergers-and-acquisitions negotiations and loan negotiations. In these cases, documents might be made available in a virtual data room to the investigators.
- Special programs exist that allow documents to be viewed, commented upon, and redacted before being converted into PDF or TIFF formats for distribution.
- To ensure authenticity of the documents, they can be protected against further changes. Protection can also prevent unauthorized access by requiring passwords to open and view the documents. For example, PDF documents can be locked against modifications with password protection.
- There are third-party services that provide distribution fulfillment services. These service providers can attend to the numerous issues involved, and can also offer cost-effective solutions for document distribution.
Documents need to be distributed under very different contexts. The varying requirements can pose special problems and can also prove expensive if you’re not a document-distribution company. Readability, security, unintended disclosure of protected information, and deliverability are some of the issues. Cost of distribution can also be a significant issue. Specialized document distribution fulfillment companies can help when there are serious issues involved.