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Document Controller Procedures: The What, Why, and How to Get Started

With intelligent planning up front and customized document controller procedures, your organization can improve efficiency and reduce costs.

April 26, 2023

Two women in an office discussing work. Their hands are visible, gesturing and pointing to documents.

If you’re looking to design or enhance your organization’s document controller procedures, the first thing to understand is that you’re not starting with a blank slate. You actually have document controller procedures already. How can we be sure?

These procedures exist in every organization—even where no formal document controller position exists. Most people don’t consider this, perhaps because the word ‘documentation’ can be misleading. It’s often only associated with compliance-heavy industries like pharmaceuticals, engineering, and finance. Companies in these industries are keenly aware of their documentation responsibilities, but the activities that comprise document control systems are actually common to every organization.

Typical document control activities:

  • Keeping records of transactions, clients, or contracts
  • Maintaining documentation of items like internal policies or procedures
  • Destroying out-of-date or private client information
  • Tracking accounts payable and receivable
  • Distributing internal announcements or newsletters
  • Ensuring that information is the most recent and accurate version
  • Capturing information as it flows into the organization
  • Storing records so that they’re easy to find when staff needs them
  • Controlling access to sensitive information like HR documents

In other words, a document control system by any other name is… still a system. Even if there’s no intentional design and it exists as a patchwork of seemingly separate activities and workflows. 

What is a document controller?

Job titles vary, even though the activities are the same. Similar position titles include: document specialist, records manager, archivist, and document compliance officer. Regardless of title, a document controller designs and maintains documentation systems and activities.

It’s important to distinguish between designing systems and performing associated activities. There are some instances where the document controller does both, but often there’s a separation. For example, a document controller ensures the accounts payable workflow is efficient and set up to work smoothly, but processing actual invoices is left to the accounting department.

Why shouldn’t each department do their own document control?

Many organizations are set up this way, and it’s not necessarily the wrong approach. After all, each department knows how to get the work done. But, unless the department is very large and well resourced, precious time is often filled with getting the work done, with no one investigating how to get it done more efficiently. That’s where the 40,000-ft view comes into play. 

A dedicated company-wide document controller can see the big picture, which means finding efficiencies, identifying common workflows, and researching tools. That involves understanding how everyone works so they can keep information flowing to the right people, in the right positions, at the right time. This results in huge operational cost savings and sets up the organization for rapid scaling when the time is right.

How can we get started?

Whether or not your business has a dedicated document controller, there are lots of options to improve your document systems. As outlined before, you already have some kind of system, even if it’s haphazard. Here are some tips and considerations to improve your document control procedures.

Start with pain points

This step is actually easier than most people think. All you need to do is talk to people—and listen. Every department has its bottlenecks and frustrations. Speak to as many people as you have time for, and get a full picture of the issues at hand. Make sure the discussion is focused on areas where there can be improvement—you don’t want it to devolve into personality politics. At the same time, you’re likely to be surprised by how many people want to offer helpful ideas, once they’ve been invited to do so. In addition, you may start to notice patterns and common issues. You’re also likely to get a pretty good idea of how simple or complex each problem is. 

One step at a time

At the end of your chats, you may have dozens of issues on your radar so this step is crucial: take a breath. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with too many options. There are multiple ways to prioritize issues or projects, and probably no wrong way, as long as you get started somewhere. Here are some options:

  • Use an Eisenhower Matrix to map out issues by urgency and importance.
  • Take a look at which issues are blocking the most crucial parts of your organizational strategy
  • Move through department by department
  • Go for low-hanging fruit: start with the easiest problems to fix so you gain momentum and support

Research, test, iterate

It’s important to understand what tools can help you, and what issues they can solve. DocuXplorer can automate almost any workflow or repetitive document control task, freeing up time for you and your colleagues to do more important work. 

Once you’ve chosen a project, start small and test. Make sure you—and anyone affected by the changes—are happy and comfortable with the new tool or procedure before you move on. It may take some time to find the right process, so plan for time to adjust and iterate. People are reluctant to change, even when they know familiar systems are inefficient. It’s important to show some success and get employee buy-in to gain momentum before you move on to the next issue you’d like to tackle.

Get expert help

If time is tight (and when isn’t it?), look to experts in documentation processes to help you. They can shave hours off your research and testing by clearly explaining what a given tool can and can’t do. Combine your expertise in the work you do and their expertise in what’s possible in terms of automation, version control, and other important features. You’ll be able to come up with a better plan together—and do it much faster than you could alone.

Whether you have a dedicated documentation role, or are just starting, a quick call with one of our experts can give you a realistic picture of how our software might fit into your goals for workflow efficiency, document security, or custom organization. With intelligent planning up front and customized document controller procedures, your organization can improve efficiency and reduce costs.

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