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Document Control: The Complete Guide

  • Written By: Cheyenne Kolosky
Document Control

Document control is the process businesses use to ensure the integrity and reliability of documents in various industries. This process includes the creation, storage, distribution, upkeep, and disposal of important documents used across an organization.

For many industries, document control is vital to the company’s overall health. Organizations must establish well-defined roles for key employees, ensure a traceable audit trail, set up a seamless transition of documents through different phases of the lifecycle, and integrate document control systems with other enterprise solutions where necessary.

Almost every company uses some level of document control. Smaller companies may use simple solutions, while large corporations may have dedicated employees and software to handle more complex processes. 

Key Takeaways

  • Document control is a systematic process used to manage documents in such a way that they are easily retrievable and up-to-date.
  • When building a document control process, an organization should consider its specific needs, regulatory requirements, accessibility, security measures, revision control, and integration with existing systems and workflows.

What is Document Control?

Document control is a systematic process used to manage documents in such a way that they are easily retrievable and up-to-date. It involves the storage, access, and update of documents in a way that ensures their security, integrity, and traceability. Document control is crucial in various industries and organizations, particularly where compliance with standards and regulations is required.

Companies with extensive document control needs may hire specific roles for this purpose, such as:

  • Document Controllers: They generally handle the day-to-day processes of storing, managing, and tracking records. They also help organizations locate documents for certain clients or projects.
  • Quality Managers: They ensure that documents are up-to-date with accurate information, regulations, and company practices. When new documents are created, they ensure that the old version has been archived.

How to Implement Document Control

To effectively manage documents in your organization, you’ll first need to plan out each step of the process. 

These steps often include:

  1. Identifying Documents: Understanding which documents need to be included in the document control process is essential. Focus on documents that may change often or are of legal or regulatory importance to the company. Any document that establishes a quality standard should be included, such as a brand style guide or product specifications.
  2. Setting Ownership and Standards: Many companies (especially smaller ones) fail to establish ownership over documents. This results in the documents rarely being updated or getting updated by two different people in a short amount of time. Define who’s in charge and how often they should review the documents.
  3. Naming and Organizing Documents: An easy system must be in place for finding documents, as even smaller organizations can quickly be overwhelmed. Ensure that documents follow a naming convention and are stored in organized folders.
  4. Managing Access: Establish who can access documents and set up permissions or sharing access.
  5. Archiving Documents: Outdated documents need to be archived or deleted so that correct and up-to-date documents are the only ones that can be accessed. Define who should manage this process.

Features of an Effective Document Control System

Organizations have many options for building an effective document control system. They can use something as simple as Google Drive or DropBox or turn to an enterprise-level solution. 

Here are a few of the features that should be considered when building your system:

  • Scalability: Massive organizations managing hundreds of thousands of documents must have a way to intuitively search for and interconnect related documents. The search function and folder hierarchy should still be quick and easy to use, even with many documents.
  • Change Management: An effective system will allow users to make changes that are passed through approval steps, such as when a critical safety process is changed at a manufacturing plant.
  • Access Management: Leadership, employees, and contractors likely need different levels of access. The simplest example is the “Sharing” option inside Google Drive, which lets you give access to your team or a specific person outside the organization.
  • Remote Access:  The ability to access documents with a mobile device is critical in many industries. A Quality Control Manager inspecting a plant may want to pull specific documentation on a tablet to show a supervisor.
  • Audit Trail: This defines what has happened over the document’s life, such as when the last changes were made, who made them, and what they changed. This can be critical in a highly regulated industry or if frequent e-signatures are required from clients.
  • Collaboration: An efficient system can help bring departments together to work on a project through transparent information and company-wide access to the same documentation.

Industries that Benefit From Document Control

Document control is essential to companies with a large volume of documents that must be revised and accessed frequently. Organizations with sensitive information or the need for strict regulatory compliance often spend considerable resources on document control.

  • Manufacturing: Manufacturing requires strict quality control over many product specifications. Procedures must be documented, safety protocols established, and industry regulations followed.
  • Finance: With the finance industry so highly regulated, documents must be kept up-to-date. Sensitive client information and legal contracts must be protected and shared with the right people.
  • Government Agencies: The government has an incredible amount of documents that must be updated as new laws are passed. Outdated versions of documents must also be archived or deleted so no one can access incorrect information.
  • Hospitals: With tens of thousands of patient records, nurses and doctors must be able to access the correct documents for their patients without breaking any HIPAA regulations. Document control can help with managing inventory, establishing safety protocols, and documenting new procedures as well.
  • Legal Services: Similar to hospitals, a law office must keep documents confidential. An effective document control process will give access to the right people and keep documentation on proper legal procedures.
  • Pharmaceuticals: This highly regulated field requires document control to help establish correct protocols and safety procedures. Document control can also be used to manage the steps of a clinical trial or drug development. 
  • Engineering and Construction: These companies handle blueprints, safety protocols, quality standards, and more. A document control system helps workers at each step of a project access the correct and latest version. 

Maintaining Document Control

One of the basic features of document control is establishing an audit trail. This allows users to see a historical record of each document, specifically what changes have been made to the document over time. For example, industries (such as real estate) require electronic signatures at many stages. This allows the real estate agent to show proof that the client did sign a document and when. 

Maintaining document control also requires an understanding of each step of the document’s lifecycle. This usually includes:

  • Document Creation: This is the origination of the document. The creator must be authorized to create a new document to be added to the system and understand the intended use of the document to draft it effectively.
  • Circulation: This critical step ensures the document is seen by the right people. In sensitive industries, setting up proper access and transfer protocols is paramount. 
  • Using the Document: This is a document that’s up-to-date and is used during the day-to-day business processes. Examples of this could be a hospital accessing a record or an assembly line worker viewing product specifications. 
  • Collaboration: This is for documents that are being viewed and edited by multiple stakeholders. An example could be a product roll-out strategy that the CEO and VPs at a company are working on together. It should be understood what types of changes can be made, such as adding a note or suggestion rather than editing the document directly.
  • Maintenance: Keeping documents up-to-date is critical, and organizations should clearly define who should update them and how often.
  • Archival: Once a document is no longer in use, it should be disposed of so that no one will accidentally find it and refer to it when a newer version should be used. Organizations can clearly define whether a document should be moved, archived, or deleted.

An essential part of the document lifecycle is disaster recovery. If, for some reason, essential documents are lost, a company can be critically damaged. Ensure that redundant systems are in place, such as backup servers or even a completely replicated version of all documents, are located elsewhere.

Document Control and Quality Management

Document control is an essential part of maintaining an effective quality management system (QMS) within a company. Organizations that incorporate a successful QMS can qualify for ISO 9001 certification, the world’s most widely used standard of quality management. This certification demonstrates that the company consistently produces products and services that meet regulatory and customer standards.

Without proper document control, achieving ISO 9001 certification would be nearly impossible for many industries. A hospital that doesn’t maintain its records or a large plant with employees accessing outdated product specifications wouldn’t qualify.

To ensure the proper quality of a document control system, document controllers should measure the following KPIs:

  • User Satisfaction: How happy are the users with the document control system? This is a catch-all metric that incorporates all the rest. A simple survey of a company’s employees can help upper management understand how the process is received.
  • Information Accuracy: Up-to-date documents are the most critical aspect of document control. A company that frequently accesses outdated information will make critical mistakes, which could result in noncompliance with regulations, poor product creation, and ineffective communication with stakeholders.
  • Average Query Response: This measures how fast a user can find a document within a database. A search that takes 20 minutes isn’t part of an effective system.
  • Frequency of Document Updates: Certain documents, such as legal or regulatory information, must be reviewed regularly. Companies should set a standard and measure that this is happening.
  • Status of Documents: This won’t apply to every industry, but client paperwork that moves through a process (such as someone buying a house) can be measured. For example, you can measure how long clients stay in each stage before moving on.

These are just a few examples, and every industry can and should have different metrics to measure the success of their document control systems.

Document Control Technologies and Integration

Most companies choose to integrate their document control processes with enterprise resource planning (ERP) to help automate processes. One such example is customer relationship management (CRM) tools, which are designed to manage contact databases and provide marketing opportunities to them. 

A CRM combined with a document management system can organize the documents associated with a specific contact and even send out behaviorally triggered marketing automation. For example, a customer signs a document and sends it back to the sales rep. The sales rep can add the document to a folder that triggers an email to the client detailing the next steps in the process.

With any such system in place, organizations must ensure that they are compliant with regulations. Effective document control can help with compliance by limiting access to only those who should see the item, or there may be actual documentation that outlines the latest regulations that can be distributed and viewed across a company. Documents can also be encrypted for safe transfer to the recipient.

A few specific examples of regulations document control can help with are GDPR and HIPAA. GDPR is a data protection law that outlines how companies can use an individual’s information, while HIPAA protects medical records. Other regulations protect financial data and prevent discrimination. All of these regulations are easier to follow with a document control process that outlines processes and limits access.

Maximizing Document Control Efficiency

To properly set up an efficient document control system, consider these best practices:

  • Start With a Plan: Ensure from the very beginning that you define roles, structure, naming conventions, access, and more.
  • Set Goals: What’s the main objective of your document control process, and what metrics can you measure to determine success?
  • Be User Friendly: Whatever structure you build or software you employ, be sure that the users want to use it. Higher adoption means more accuracy and efficiency.
  • Plan for the Worst: If a disaster destroys your document control infrastructure, having a redundant system in place can save a business. Consider maintaining a copy of your entire system that lives in an off-site location.
  • Create Consistent Names and Structure: While it seems simple, naming files with a consistent format and putting them in a place that makes sense can increase user efficiency dramatically.
  • Automate, Automate, Automate: Many document management software allow for simple tasks to be done on autopilot. It’s worth the time to set up as many of these as possible.

Document Control Made Easy With Knack

Document control is imperative in modern business operations, impacting quality, security, and regulatory compliance. An effective document control process helps companies share information across an organization, allowing for easy collaboration. By following the strategies outlined in this article, you can create an effective document control system that dramatically increases your company’s efficiency.

Knack provides a user-friendly option for document control, with the ability to design a system within hours. With the no-code platform, users can design a document management system using drag-and-drop functionality and a beautiful graphical display. 

With Knack, users can select a template based on their industry and needs. Here are a few examples:

  • Government Contracts Portal: This template allows users to manage potential contracts and proposals, allowing easy submissions.
  • Construction Project Management: With this template, foremen can manage the various blueprints, work orders, and project deadlines easily.
  • Equipment Tracker Template: Useful for manufacturing and construction industries, organizations can keep a detailed file of checkout logs for equipment.

With Knack’s free trial option, start building for free today!

Frequent Asked Questions About Document Control:

What is document control?

Document control is a process for managing, storing, and ensuring the integrity and accessibility of documents to maintain their accuracy, security, and compliance with relevant standards and regulations.

What are the benefits of building a document control process?

Building a document control process enhances efficiency, ensures regulatory compliance, improves document accessibility and security, and maintains version control and integrity, leading to better decision-making and operational consistency.

What should an organization consider when building a document control process?

When building a document control process, an organization should consider its specific needs, regulatory requirements, accessibility, security measures, revision control, and integration with existing systems and workflows.

Are technical skills needed for document control?

It depends on the organization’s needs. Many smaller organizations rely on simple solutions like Google Drive, which anyone can learn to use in a few minutes. Companies with complex needs may wish to build a custom solution requiring developers. They may also choose to use software designed for complex document control, which would require a learning curve.

How do I set up a document control process?

To set up a document control process, identify document types, establish creation, review, approval, and update procedures, define access controls, implement a document management system, and train staff on policies and software use.