Quality document management systems can be customized to almost any situation, but some decisions need to be made up front. Without the right planning, you risk wasting time and money.
What problem are you trying to solve?
It may seem obvious, but that question is one you have to have detailed answers to before you start working with a document management vendor. "We have too much paper" isn't a good enough answer. Be specific: "We need more remote access," "We want to cut filing costs," and "We have to enforce better security" are all better answers.
Gather details on what types of paper you're working with. How are they created, labeled, and filed? What are your needs like for retrieval or ongoing usage? If you can easily categorize your documents into types, such as delivery slips or W2s, suppliers may be able to offer specific advice. A rough count of how many new documents you'll need to enter per day is also useful.
Don't overlook your existing electronic documents: you'll want to be able to incorporate text files, PDFs, spreadsheets, and other important files into the document management system. Don't get over-aggressive: stick to the types of documents relevant to the problems you're solving.
Also look at your processes. What approval or editing steps should be built into the system? Which documents need to be permanently archived, and which should be editable? What types of documents need to be filed together for easy retrieval?
Then make sure you have management buy-in. Because of the costs and the transformative nature of document management systems, "grass-roots" efforts to implement them rarely succeed. With well thought out ROI analyses, you should be able to get executives on board.
While you may eventually want a comprehensive, company-wide system, document management vendors strongly recommend you start by implementing a solution for one application in one department. It's much easier to get management support for a new effort that only affects a single department at a lower cost. Tackling one problem at a time also makes installation less disruptive.
Once it's been implemented, vendors indicate that it's very common for a company to come back to expand the solution to multiple departments or processes months or years later. The success of the first, smaller solution leads to greater support for a more significant investment later. For example, a successful implementation in HR can serve as the launching point for larger, company-wide projects.