The history of document management has its origins in the late nineteenth century with the invention of the file cabinet. In 1898, Edwin Grenville Seibels devised the vertical file system, in which paper documents are organized in drawers contained in stacked cabinets. These cabinets would remain the main method of document storage in the business world for the greater portion of the twentieth century.
However, there remain significant problems with this system. File cabinets take up lots of room, making them a cumbersome means of storage for businesses with limited office space. In addition, searching for specific documents among piles of paper requires a great deal of time and energy, as does manually filling out fields on paper. Searching for and modifying documents often takes employees, managers, and business owners away from other important responsibilities. To make matters worse, paper documents might be destroyed in disasters like fires and floods, or lost to theft. Most frequently, paper documents are simply misplaced.
It was during this time that Biel’s Photocopy Service began taking its place the history of document management. Specializing in the use of microfilm to photograph, modify, store, and reproduce unlimited copies of documents, Biel’s began operating on Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo, in 1939. Early customers included the Buffalo Museum and Erie County Historical Society.
The history of document management took a dramatic turn in the 1980s, with the increasing availability of computer technology. The development of servers allowed organizations to store documents electronically in centralized mainframes. This was the beginning of electronic document management systems (EDMS). Meanwhile, the invention of scanners allowed for the conversion of paper documents to digital documents. The rise of PCs gave businesses the ability to create and store documents on computers in the office.
Together, these developments spurred a shift from the physical to digital document management. However, the distribution of PCs was highly unstructured. Network deficiencies resulted in a lack of version control, audit trails, and security. Better systems of document management were needed.
In the 1980s, an EDMS could be managed only by a word processing center operator. In the early 1990s, the development of more user-friendly systems allowed knowledge workers to operate DMS on their own. DMS could now be used to collaborate directly with clients. Some companies, such as Biel’s Document Management—previously Biel’s Photocopy Service—adapted to the new trends by specializing in top-quality document management services. Companies like Biel’s provide a variety of cutting-edge tools to help businesses develop their own document management systems for greater efficiency, ease of access, and security.
The implementation of search engine technology soon made locating documents a breeze; full text searching allows knowledge workers to search a DMS for documents in the same way a user searches Google for information or media. Meanwhile, innovative use of the Internet led to the development of cloud technology, eliminating the need for companies to host their documents locally on expensive servers. Instead, companies can host their documents on the Cloud, which has become a vital part of modern DMS.
Today, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model has DMS infrastructure built into the Cloud, so that knowledge workers can create, modify, and share documents from anywhere in the world—even on their smartphones, with the touch of a screen.