I recently talked to an executive director of a community action agency that was interested in going more paperless. He talked to the salesperson that sold them their client management system. The salesperson tried to convince him to use the document management feature of their software.
The director asked me my opinion. I said from my personal experience, it was a bad idea. But, I can understand the sales person’s reasoning–you have the capability, and it doesn’t cost anything. That is the exact thought of a business owner I worked for several years ago. He insisted that we stored client documents in our CRM. But, after about three years, he decided to change to another CRM. We found out that there was no way to transfer those documents to the new system.
You may think you are never going to change your client management software. But, it is much more common than you think. In Minnesota, community action agencies have had three client management systems in the past ten years. The last two companies I have worked for changed their CRM system with about the same frequency. The chances you will change can be quite high.
Another reason that linking documents to an application is a bad idea, is that there is no way to find a document if it is linked to the wrong client record. Linking documents to your client management system is a manual process and we know people make mistakes. In fact, according to a study done by Price Waterhouse, 7.5% of all documents get lost; 3% of the remainder get misfiled.
If a document is misfiled, or if you do not know which record in the client management system it was attached to, it is nearly impossible to find the document. For example, you might have a person who is a member of a household one year, so the information is attached to that household number. But that person moves out and now becomes a member of another household. Finding all the documents for this person can be difficult if you do not have search capability. Some client management systems try to remedy this by moving the documents of that person. But that leaves the former household record with missing information. Others, duplicate the documents, which can be confusing, and increases the size of the database. This can slow down an application and make backups more difficult.
The next reason it is a bad idea to link documents to an application, such as your client management software, is because links tend to get broken. A few years ago, I helped Minneapolis Star Tribune migrate their documents from a document management system that used file links to their main application. We found that there were over 30,000 missing documents because of broken links.
Another reason not to store documents in your client management software is that it probably does not have records management capability. There is no easy way to dispose of documents that are outside your records retention period. And that brings up another point: can you delete your original documents? Are your linked documents legal documents?
For these reasons, I recommend that a community action does not link documents to their client management software. I recommend that you use Laserfiche. With Laserfiche, all the above issues are solved. You can be assured that your documents are safe, easily retrievable, and are legal documents.
If you would like to see how other community action agencies have used Laserfiche to go more paperless and become much more efficient, please let me know.