Blog Post

The 2024 Smart Buyer’s Guide to Document Management Systems

July 13, 2022

Few technology leaders need convincing that a document management system is the necessary efficiency jetpack for the modern workplace.

However, despite its clear value—or maybe because of it—selecting the right document management system requires thoughtful consideration, and many organizations haven’t gotten it right. According to the Simpler Media Group report, only 12.6% of respondents said document management is working effectively for the digital workplace.

That’s why it’s critical to select a document management system to addresses your needs today and can also handle the unexpected for your organization. In this post, we’ll guide you through the options so you can make a smart choice that will serve your employees and customers long-term.

Document capture

How a Document Management System Works

Let’s start by clarifying what a document management system is and why it’s important in a modern digital workplace.

Document management is a system used to capture, track, and store electronic documents and digital images of paper-based content. A document management system is essential to a successful enterprise-wide digital transformation—for government agencies and private businesses. The goal is to reduce, and eventually eliminate, paper and related processes that slow workflows and service delivery, drive up costs, and present security risks. Enterprise-level document management systems offer digital document capture, storage, and workflow and process automation.

Document Capture. With a sophisticated document management system, you can capture and save documents from any source—paper, email, CRM applications, reports, microfilm/fiche. It enables document data to be easily indexed and searched.

Document Storage. The right document management system securely stores digital documents, enabling retention and deletion as needed. When your digital content is stored in one central location, users can access it easily and quickly with permission settings for added security.

Workflow and Process Optimization. A document management system also enables automated workflows and processes. For example, invoices can be automatically routed to an accounts payable system. In the event the system detects a problem, it can send a notification for necessary action.

Choosing On-Premises or Cloud

Document management systems are either hosted on-premises or in the cloud.

On-premises software requires you to install licenses on individual employee computers and your network. You’re entirely responsible for maintaining current versions, and some software providers may charge additional fees for updates. Besides buying the software, you’ll need hardware for storage and processing, and you will pay to power the hardware. You’re also responsible for added security if needed, especially for compliance.

Cloud-based solutions are installed and maintained by the vendor, so you won’t incur hardware or maintenance costs. There are also built-in security safeguards for compliance. You pay a monthly fee for service and can easily scale up or down as needed.

Features Checklist

To be effective, the contact management system you choose should include the following features. Consider the scope of your needs and determine how each feature optimizes operations within your organization—today and in the future.


The first step in a document management system is data capture—converting physical formats to digital. An experienced provider can help you determine the best approach for content input based on your business and regulatory compliance needs. When selecting a scanning service, consider these options:

On- or off-site.

You’ll need to choose whether you want your content scanned on-site or at a secure off-site scanning facility. If you select off-site, ensure your service provider implements strict chain-of-custody practices that enable document tracking throughout the entire process, follows strict security protocols, and uses ANSI/AIIM standards.

On-demand or Ongoing.

Services should be scalable to meet short- and long-term imaging needs, handle volume spikes, and deliver services quickly regardless of volume.

Archival and Day-Forward.

You can digitize historical documents associated with archival scanning, or scan documents that are actively entering the workflow with day-forward scanning. Usually, a combination of these two types should be considered.


Inventory your content to ensure the provider you choose can handle all your formats, including documents, microfilm/fiche, books, maps, drawings, and large formats.

Intelligent search

Intelligent Search

Intelligent search features enable users to find and deliver information quickly with full-text searches on content and metadata tags. Ideally, search criteria should include any combination of content, properties, or details about a file, such as notes or workflow information.

Electronic document search is a significant advantage over shared-file servers, personal drives, and filing cabinets, where information is often difficult and time-consuming to find. Plus, with a sophisticated document management system, searches can be saved, and shared for optimal efficiency.

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation increases the benefits of a document management system. An effective document management system should drive intelligent workflow automation with features such as automated routing, tracking, and notifications. It should allow administrators to create rules that dictate the flow of documents throughout an organization, and allow users to create their own workflow sequences and track progress.



Redaction (blackout or whiteout) is a security feature applied within documents to make portions of the document inaccessible, except to authorized users. A document management system should offer the ability to redact portions of a document’s image and/or text. Users’ ability to view redactions can be based on pre-set permissions determined by role or department. Redaction features should maintain the integrity of the original document.

Security and Permissions Controls

Security is a critical component of a document management system for any organization, and especially for those that must comply with regulatory requirements. A document management system should provide multiple levels of security, including authentication, authorization, audit trails, and disaster planning. The system’s security should parallel that of the network and be simple to administer.

Integration Matters

How your digital document management solution integrates with other business tools affects the value it delivers. Consider how digital document management will be part of your daily workflows and, when choosing a vendor, map out the necessary integrations with other systems (e.g., accounting, human resources, reporting). Then ensure the system you choose can handle integration easily and understand the related costs and timeline.

Some ways vendors offer integration:

Application programming interfaces (APIs). If you have the staff resources, you can code custom integrations with APIs to creatively solve any communication issues between systems.

Pre-built integrations. These are typically offered by the vendor or a third party and built natively into the software. They integrate with external systems and can appear directly within an application’s graphical user interface.

Code-free tools. Some vendors offer code-free integration tools, which work by mimicking human behavior, but with the processing speed and accuracy of software.

Benefits and Use Cases by Industry

Document management systems deliver industry- and department-specific efficiency, security, service delivery and cost-savings benefits. Here are some examples:

Use Case Examples

Human Resources Digitize employment agreements, tax documents, termination notices, severance packages, benefit information, and paystubs. Entire HR processes can be optimized by automated processes such as onboarding and training.

Finance and Accounting Quickly locate information needed to process payments, improve turnaround times for accounts payable, automate procurement workflows, and ensure PCI compliance.

Healthcare Safeguard patients’ personal health information by automating regulatory compliance and easing administrative burdens.

Legal Securely manage client content and communications, improve client service with online collaboration.

Education Keep student records secure with security controls, and digitize testing and grading systems.

Manufacturing Keep complex projects moving with collaboration and search tools, improve interdepartmental communications and vendor relationships, optimize inventory tracking and purchase order processing.

We’re Ready to Help You Make the Right Choices

While the benefits are clear, there’s much to carefully consider when making the move to digitize the modern workplace with a document management system.

We’d love to talk about how Image API can apply our extensive experience to help you navigate the buying process and identify the best options for your organization—with quick time to value and a scalable solution that keeps delivering benefits long-term.

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