Organizing Your Documents

As your business creates more and more documents, you face the document management issue of organizing these in a meaningful manner. Without organization, it would be impossible to retrieve any document later. Or at best, it would be extremely costly to sort through all the documents and find the one you want.

Logical Organization of Documents

Documents can be organized under departments, by topic and subtopic, alphabetically, regionally, by date, by person, and so on. Typically, documents are organized using a combination of these criteria. Thus you might organize sales orders by region, product line, sales office, sales person, and date.

The exact scheme of organization depends on the type of documents. While you’ve seen how sales orders might be organized, the scheme could be quite different for drawings. These might be organized by customer, project, project component, date created and other relevant criteria. Employee documents could be classified by office, department, job category, employee grade and employee ID & name.

Ensuring Adherence to Document Classification Policies

As documents proliferate, the task of allocating each document to a particular class and subclass would inevitably have to be delegated to staff persons. It then becomes necessary to ensure that everybody follows the practices prescribed in the policies.

This requires that the document organization policies are clearly described and written down in document management manuals. Concerned staff persons then have to be trained in using the manual for deciding how to classify each document they handle.

Physical Aids to Document Organization

Before computers came into the picture, organizing documents correctly was an error-prone and monotonous task. Inventors were regularly coming up with devices to facilitate this task. There were rolodexes, segmented folders, pigeonhole cupboards, and other equipment that few of the present generation might even be aware of.

You sorted documents into pigeonholes, and then stored the contents of each pigeon hole into a folder or folder segment, for example.

Document Organization in the Computer Age

Organizing documents has become far easier with the arrival of computers. You can now design "key" values that would identify a document under multiple classifications. For example, one single ten-digit key could indicate the region, office, department, job category, employee grade, and employee ID. This key would be entered while creating the employee record on the computer.

Computers also made it easier to create documents using word processors, spreadsheets and other specialized software. The documents created could be saved under appropriate classifications (folders) on the computer disk itself.

Then came the facility to scan paper documents and store these in digital format in the computer. The scanned documents could even be made editable using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology. These created documents could also be classified and saved in relevant folders.

Computer databases transformed the practices of records maintenance. Bookkeeping is an example in case. Earlier, you had to transcribe document details into classified journals like Sales Book, Purchases Book, Cash Book, Bank Book, General Journal etc. and then "post" summaries from these books into Ledgers. Next, you computed the balance under each "account" in the ledger, listed these in a Trial Balance and finally classified the Trial Balance items into P&L Account and Balance Sheet.

Using a computer-based accounting system, all you had to do was enter the details from the original transaction documents into a transaction "record". While doing so, you also added "key" values to each record identifying different dimensions of the transaction. Thus a cash payment to a creditor would have key values that identified it as a Cash transaction and a payment to specified supplier.

Once all the transactions for a period have been recorded, you just asked the accounting system to sort the records by different keys. If you sorted by Cash and Date, you got a cashbook. If you sorted by supplier account and date, you got a supplier ledger.

If you also asked the system to sort and summarize, you could get a Trial Balance, and even P&L Account and Balance Sheet.

Document management became far easier. However, new solutions brought new dangers. Data on computer disks could get corrupted losing all the work done over years. These and related issues will be discussed in a separate article in which the data storage functionality of document management software systems is explored.