What are Document Control Procedures?
Document control procedures are frameworks or guidelines that specify how to perform activities related to document control.
What is Document Control?
Document control refers to the profession and practice of ensuring that approved document management standards are followed for document creation, review, modification, issuance, distribution, and accessibility.
Document control is a key component of organizational risk management and quality management system.
Document control procedures ensure that the information contained in organizational documents is accurate and up-to-date, is updated regularly and that the proper process for documents updates is followed.
Document control procedures also ensure that inaccurate or obsolete documents are removed.
Why are Procedures Important to Document Control?
An organization is a collection of procedures. With numerous departments or divisions, hundreds or thousands of employees, and locations that can be spread out over vast geographical areas, it is only the procedures that a company puts in place that allow it to function in an organized manner.
Every department including HR, IT, Sales, Marketing, and Finance has its own procedures that ensure that everything works as it is designed to.
Document control is a specialized function. The document control system used by an organization is a set or collection of procedures that define the various functions that are needed for effective document control. Document control procedures that are based on best practices are standardized, documented in a document control procedure manual, and are then distributed through the organization. In this way, all employees know the exact procedure they have to follow for any type of document that they are working on or need to work on.
Types of Document Control Procedures
All the relevant procedures that make up the document control strategy for an organization are documented in the document control procedures manual.
For each type of document, the document creation procedure defines the particular employee who will create the document and how it will be created. The procedure will also define the document formatting, including the information to be included in the header and footer, naming conventions, and other relevant details.
Document Review and Approval
For each type of document, the document review and approval procedure defines who reviews and approves a document after it is created. The procedure includes the important parts of the document that require special attention during the review and approval process. The procedure also includes the method to be used for indicating the status of review and approval.
For documents that require revision on a periodic or as-needed basis, the document review procedure defines who can initiate or request document revisions, and who makes the actual revisions. The procedure also includes the method to be used for recordings information related to version control such as document owner, revision number, and chronological information such as date of current revision and next review date.
Revised documents also need to undergo review and approval before they are published.
For documents that are approved, the document publishing procedure defines how and where a document is published, and who can access it. The procedure also defines the relevant security restrictions for sensitive documents, and whether the document can be distributed outside the organization.
Different types of documents have different criteria that determine when they can be removed from the organizations' records. For example, a policy can be deleted after it is superseded by a new policy, or employee data can be deleted a certain time after the employee has left the company. Some documents and data have to be maintained for a certain time to comply with laws and regulations.
The document deletion procedure will define the relevant criteria for the various types of documents.
Document Control Software
Even though paper-based documents and document control procedures are still used, most modern document control is performed by electronic document management systems (EDMS). This is because of the many benefits offered by electronic document management systems such as:
The use of digital document management software allows you to save costs associated with paper and storage of paper documents. An electronic document management system also helps to reduce costs associated with lost or misfiled documents, paper and other resource waste, regulatory violations, and frequent data entry errors.
You can define automated document workflows that are optimized for your requirements. You can easily change and optimize workflows. You only need to make a few changes to the software, and you are good to go. Compare that to a traditional system based on paper documents, where you would have to arrange a few meetings before people would know and understand the new document workflow.
With a digital document management solution, sharing and collaborating on documents and processes is much easier compared to paper-based document management solutions. Audit trails that track the creation and editing of documents allow you to identify personnel in the event of intentional or unintentional errors and modifications.
When documents are saved in a robust document management system, the content is archived and indexed with metadata. This allows you to use advanced search capabilities to find needed documents within seconds. This allows your teams to save time and energy and ultimately leads to cost savings and improved productivity.
Fast document retrieval improves productivity by making it easy to retrieve filed documents. It also reduces costs associated with the time that is wasted looking and searching for misfiled documents.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
OCR is a software technology that is supported by modern document management systems. It can “read” written or printed content that is scanned and can convert it to machine-readable text.
Reduced Storage Space
With an electronic document management system, you save valuable physical space that would otherwise have been taken up by bulky and expensive file cabinets, boxes, and storage bins. With digital systems, the number of available storage options includes file servers, NAS servers, and cloud storage.
You can control access to business documents through password protection. Advanced security features will also ensure that your critical digital documents are protected from security breaches and cyber threats.
Document management software will allow you to backup critical company documents and data to either a disaster recovery (DR) site or to the cloud. Disaster recovery offers you peace of mind as you know that business continuity will be maintained even if a disaster, such as an earthquake, storm, or extended power outage, affects the primary data repository and makes it unavailable. Disaster recovery will also protect your data in case the primary repository is compromised by a security breach.
Document control provides many benefits for organizations such as increased efficiency, improved quality, and effective security. Document control also helps with legal and regulatory compliance.
Global standards bodies such as ISO consider document control as a key component of organizational quality management systems.
Document control is implemented through document control procedures that provide clarity for employees and those involved in document handling.
Modern document control is accomplished through electronic document control software that automates workflows and offers several additional benefits such as ease of storage and access, and improved security.
What is the Difference Between a Procedure and a Process?
This is a topic that generates and will continue to generate a lot of debate.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) defines the two terms as follows:
A process is a set of interrelated or interacting activities which transform inputs into outputs.
A procedure is a specified way to carry out an activity or a process.
There are many definitions that are preferred by different professionals. One definition that we like is the following: a process is a graphical depiction of the sequence of steps that are required to perform an activity, and a procedure is a description of the step-by-step sequence.
Why is Document Control Required?
Organizations cannot function properly without standards-based document control.
The purpose of document control is to ensure that documentation is trusted by users. Document control is required to ensure that organizational documents are
- Created after going through the proper review and approvals process.
- Distributed to authorized personnel only.
- Accurate and up-to-date.
Document control also creates auditable records of document creation, modification, and exchange.
What is ISO and Document Control?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is an international nongovernmental organization made up of national standards bodies that develop and publishes a wide range of proprietary, industrial, and commercial standards.
Many organizations get ISO-certified as it helps to improve efficiency and improves business credibility.
According to clause 7.5 of the ISO 9001:2015 standard, organizations must establish a documented procedure to:
- Approve documents for adequacy prior to issue
- Review, update as necessary, and re-approve documents
- Identify the changes and current document revision status
- Make relevant documents available at points of use
- Ensure the documents remain legible and readily identifiable
- Identify external documents and control their distribution
- Prevent obsolete documents from unintended use
- Apply suitable identification if obsolete documents are retained
What are the Benefits of Document Control?
Defined procedures and workflows ensure that employees know how to create documents, get them approved, know where to store them, and how to locate them when needed.
Having procedures in place ensures that employees are always working with the most up-to-date and relevant data and documents. The prevents a host of problems that could occur due to dealing with obsolete documents.
Every organization deals with data that is sensitive. Document control ensures that sensitive data is protected through the implementation of security protocols.
Your organization will need to comply with various local, state, and federal laws and regulations. A document control system that incorporates relevant legal and regulatory requirements will help you comply with those laws and regulations.
What is Document Control Terminology?
The following is a list of terms that are relevant to organizational document control.
Archiving: storing data securely for an extended period.
Audit Trail: a record of all actions related to changes made to a document over time, including the date/time, author, and purpose of change. It can be used to prevent as well as track down unauthorized access or any other activity.
Backup: a copy of computer data that can be used in case the primary data record is unavailable or compromised.
Disaster Recovery: use of plans and processes that ensure business continuity in the event of natural or man-made disasters. In the context of document control, it usually means maintaining multiple copies of the document repository, so that businesses can use backup repositories if the primary repository is in any way compromised.
Digital signature: a type of electronic signature that uses algorithms, certificate authorities (CAs), and trust service providers (TSPs) to authenticate the signatory and the integrity of the document.
Electronic Signature: the electronic method for signing digital documents.
Encryption: scrambling of data with a digital key for preventing unauthorized access.
Quality Management System (QMS): a system that documents policies and procedures aimed at enabling maintenance and improvement of quality for meeting and exceeding customers' expectations.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR): conversion of scanned text (handwritten or printed) to machine-readable documents.
Repository: the location where documents are stored. Paper-based documents are stored in physical repositories. Electronic documents are stored in electronic repositories such as databases.
Version Control: tracking and managing successive versions of the same document. Version control maintains a database of successive versions of documents so that users can refer to previous versions if required.
Workflow: a well-defined process that enforces business rules, sets escalation schedules, and ensures that authorization procedures are followed.
If you are new to document control management and are looking to learn more, we recommend taking our Technical Writing Certification Course, where you will learn the fundamentals of managing technical documentation.
Josh is the founder of Technical Writer HQ and Squibler, a writing software. He is considered one of the top product influencers in the world by Product School and one of the top technical writers. He has been writing software tutorials, manuals, handbooks, and white papers for over eight years. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.