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Timothy Lozier


Six Signs Your Document Control System Is Effective

How to spot a good document control system

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 11:01

Document control is probably one of the most sought-after applications within the quality management system (QMS). It allows an organization to manage the creation, approval, distribution, and archiving of all controlled documents and processes. It is an integral part of quality, environmental health and safety (EHS), or compliance management systems.

When we look at the changes to the ISO 9001:2015 standard, we see a greater focus on enrolling more people in quality management. This rings true throughout the processes we implement, but it all starts with documentation of processes.

How to spot a good document control system

Most businesses are built on establishing processes and procedures specific to their organization that will help them maintain a high level of quality and compliance. Document control is designed to keep records within a company organized.

Here are the six characteristics of an effective document control system:

1. Workflows for all document types: No two document types are alike. There are differences within each that should be taken into consideration. For example, a job description cannot be treated the same as a work instruction or procedure. Each of these types of documents may have separate approvers, managers, and workflows, and should be handled in a unique manner. A good document control system can automate and manage documents efficiently. A great document control system can facilitate dedicated workflows for all document types, each complete with its own routing options.

2. Intelligent business rules for review and approval: The power of an automated document control system lies in its ability to route documents along the workflow. Documents can’t just be checked in or out; there must be a process of approval and review as well as document signoff—it has to go through different phases of workflow. This makes flexible routing options a necessity in a document control system. A good document control system enables organizations to route documents to the next phase in the workflow, but also has intelligent business rules associated.

For example, delegation and escalation rules let the system assign delegates if someone is out of the office, as well as escalate approvals for an impending due date. Escalation ensures work is kept on track and that all deadlines are being met. Delegation allows an organization to go through the workflow, so if an employee is out of the office, the document will be assigned to a designated substitute for approval. Approval options provide an alternate method for routing approvals, such as parallel and sequential routing. With sequential routing, if an organization has five people, the document would go to all five in order. Parallel routing is similar but provides flexibility in approving and routing. With this method, the document would go out to all employees at same time, but it can have more intelligent business rules (e.g., if three out of five people approve, the document can go to approval). This level of flexibility enables documents to make it through the system efficiently—whether key personnel are in the office or not.

3. Integration with employee training: A critical component to any document control system is that if a new document is created or an existing document is changed, people need to be trained. This is a vital reason for having a document control process. During revision or creation of a document, the user should be able to specify the type of training associated with it. A bonus is the ability to automatically integrate training. Some companies include a “waiting release” phase. This means that before the document is released, it is in a holding pattern; this is when training happens. The benefit is that employees can train on the document before it is released to the world, so that when the document is released, employees are already trained and knowledgeable on it.

This process should be automated—manual tracking and training processes leave room for error. A document control system integrated with the training application helps to easily define who needs training on each document. It also automatically updates training records for each employee, allows for self training, and automatically updates each employee status upon training completion.

4. Change request and revision control: Document control is a continual process. Once documents are created and approved, there will most likely be changes made in the future. Change control and revision control in itself should be a workflow that ensures controlled access of all documents and changes to documents. A good document control system will have its own change request workflow that includes revision review and approval. It will also hold the original document until the new document is changed. Once the new document is approved, it will take the old document’s place.

Sometimes an organization will have changes that affect multiple documents. In this case, the system should be able to make a global change. This allows an organization to make multiple document changes within the same workflow and will show all documents to be changed, all affected areas, and where they will be changed. This is important because when making changes to a document, other documents may be involved or affected. The initiation of separate change requests can be time consuming. An effective change request process will ensure proper diligence when changing a record, and will take into account related documents, linking to multiple changes and generating the correct result efficiently and easily.

5. Reporting: When an organization has a lot of documents and data going into the system, it needs visibility to look at those data in a meaningful way. Using metadata can help by filtering documents by phase, keyword, and more. Having a system to filter data is key. Good document control has reporting engines built into or tied to it. This allows the system to quickly and effectively look at data on an aggregate level and run ad hoc reports, scheduled reports, and template reports on the health of the document control system. People want to be apprised of where overdue documents are so they can take steps to fix them. Reporting provides this visibility.

6. Intuitive filtering and data security: Within any system, the ability to ensure secure data and documents is critical. An organization wants to make sure that appropriate levels can access, approve, review, and make necessary revisions to the document. A good document control system will have the security in place that will allow the organization to filter each document to appropriate security levels. In multisite, centralized systems, filtering and securing data often becomes a concern. An effective document control system lets an organization limit data visibility to only what is necessary to the user. Depending on the access level of the user, the visibility of documents will change. This ensures that an organization can operate in its document control system safely and securely.

Closing thoughts

Document control is major information hub within the quality system. Document control sets the foundation for doing business in a compliance context. It sets the policies, practices, and enforceable regulations that drive the company’s quality initiatives.

These six traits of an effective document control system provide a holistic system for managing documents and extending to the other crucial areas of the enterprise.

The QMS ensures that this is done as easily and effectively as possible.

For more on this topic, join Quality Digest editor in chief Dirk Dusharme, and Tim Lozier, director of product strategy at Verse Solutions, on Nov. 7, 2017, at 11 a.m. Pacific and 2 p.m. Eastern for the webinar, “Effective Document Control in an ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System.”   Register here.


About The Author

Timothy Lozier’s picture

Timothy Lozier

Timothy Lozier is the director of product strategy for Verse Solutions, a quality and compliance management software provider that incorporates key quality processes, such as document control, corrective action, audits, and training in a dedicated cloud environment. Lozier has been involved in the quality and compliance industry for more than a decade and has an extensive background in quality and compliance management systems. At Verse Solutions he is responsible for driving the innovation and strategy of leading cloud-based compliance and quality management software solutions.