Cloud-based Document Management: Why it Makes Sense for Manufacturers

The convergence of Industry 4.0 and Globalization 4.0 — two incredibly broad and philosophically-dense subjects — has created new challenges, responsibilities, and a wave of tech-related frictions for nearly every manufacturer coming into 2021. How do manufacturers meet evolving quality standards in the midst of a dynamic and radically-shifting supply chain? What investments, processes, and strategies should you implement as as a manufacturer to meet compliance standards? How do you achieve higher quality at a lower cost given an ecosystem where lean and agile are standardized and lack the competitive advantages they posed a decade ago?

Make no mistake; the times, they are a-changin'. And they're changing fast. Investments are no longer equipment-centric. Your focus needs to be on the digital riptide of data coming your way. We see plenty of major publications tackling complex subjects like IoT, augmented reality, and robot-based automations in industries across the board. While these are all important, they all share one common issue: they're data-hungry. 

In this article, we're focussing on what data means to manufacturing. Let's talk about the front line of manufacturing innovation: document management. Before building out complicated data flows that involve IoT, robotics, deep analytics, and all of that other cutting-edge tech that streamlines productivity and efficiency, there are certain front-end steps to put in place to take advantage of that data flow. How do you accurately capture, store, and use documents and data in a way that facilitates broader digital transformation?

What is Document Management

Document management is the process of capturing, storing, managing, and tracking documents across your organization. This includes everything in the chain from input (scanning paper documents using OCR optical character recognition), to throughputs and outputs (storing data in an easily searchable and accessible manner). For manufacturers, document management isn't optional anymore. You have specific compliance requirements that involve storage and digitization, and you need an easy way to manage the glut of vendors, training documents, work instructions, reports, and certifications floating around your work environment.

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To be clear, not all document management is smart document management. Workers spend an average of 18 minutes searching for a document, and 20% of employees' time is spent simply looking for information. Yet, many manufacturers have implemented a so-called layer of "document management" at their business, which often involves legacy Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems or SharePoint. Worse, many manufacturers patchwork multiple vendor solutions and cobble together disjointed internal department systems in a daisy-chain as their document management strategy. In other words, manufacturers are spending too much time caretaking single-solution systems and too much time trying to unwrap and "desilo" their giga-load of vendor solutions.

For example:

Awesome Co. manufactures parts for vehicles. Currently, Awesome Co. says that they have "document management" that's enabled by technology. R&D creates and uploads spreadsheets to their favorite spreadsheet program, which is automatically saved on their internal servers. Vendor documents are processed using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology from an OCR vendor. That newly-digitized document is then sent to a different department that uses a vendor-provided digital filing system to categorize it.

Financial documents are saved to the vendor solution that Awesome Co. uses to process financials and invoices. Simultaneously, compliance-centric documents are saved to a compliance tracking solution. All of these various pieces of vendor tech are patched into legacy systems and on-site servers, with a few of them using their own cloud-based systems (i.e., SaaS).

Awesome Co. has document management. They have a way to capture documents, store them, and find them. But it's a mess. Awesome Co. is simply overloaded with one-off solutions that exist in a different vendor-controlled universe. Workers have to pour through programs to find the data they need, different policies and controls are at work depending on the vendor used to process the data, and everything is bridged together with not-so-sticky glue that prevents documents from really existing in the same ecosystem.

That's poor document management; not only is there an obvious layer of labor attached to every single move in their document flow, but all the silos and proprietary vendor software make it difficult and time-consuming to find the right document in an acceptable amount of time. We won't even touch on auditing and versioning — since those are both defunct in these spider-web-type document management designs.

Fortunately, there's a way out of the never-ending document management trap: the Cloud.

Why Is Cloud-Based Document Management Smart for Manufacturers?

Imagine being able to automatically access the right document from the right source at the right time almost instantly. Better yet, imagine having a single window of truth for all of your documents —that gives you the freedom to apply broad and granular policies, feed document data into the right systems, and create comprehensive BPO strategies that eliminate the need for mundane and redundant tasks.

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Modern, cloud-based document management solutions connect the important dots across your entire document ecosystem. So, instead of bandaging together a variety of vendor solutions, all of your documents are ingested into one globally-managed location. The accumulating benefits outside of creating a "single window of truth" for your document flow include

  • Security: Cloud-based servers are jam-packed with security features. In legacy environments, security requires a plethora of vendor solutions (e.g., synthetic monitoring, scanning, firewalls, etc.) In the Cloud, world-class security is built directly into the architecture. Think of it this way: cloud server sites store data for thousands of companies. So, it makes financial sense for them to build out incredibly sophisticated cloud architectures with access controls, security-forward infrastructure, encryption, cross-region strategies, and all of these other expensive (yet necessary) security controls. To get that same level of security for an internal server, you would have to invest millions of dollars in R&D and vendors.
  • Disaster recovery: 40% of companies go out-of-business following a disaster that happens on-site. Cloud servers have a natively robust backup system that takes disaster recovery issues off your responsibility checklist. Due to cross-region policies, cloud servers also prevent disasters at the cloud company's server sites from impacting your data.
  • Scalability: Adding memory to on-site servers is a physical affair that is expensive and time-consuming. Cloud servers can instantly scale up-to-need by allocating more memory (that already exists) to you. So, if you ever need to increase (or decrease) your server capacity, you can toggle that in seconds — not months.
  • Elasticity: Even better than scalability, elasticity refers to how cloud servers rapidly flux their servers up or down to fit needs. For example, let's say that you suddenly have a massive influx of forms from a new supply chain partnership. Your cloud server can instantly adjust to that new volume without forcing you to make an on-the-spot decision regarding scale.
  • Outsourced maintenance: For manufacturers, maintenance is a way-of-life. In fact, manufacturers spend roughly 19 hours a week on scheduled equipment management. So can you really afford to maintain servers simultaneously? Sure! Cloud-based document management helps with maintenance by storing and categorizing maintenance documents (39% of manufacturers still use paper records for maintenance reports), but the Cloud also prevents you from having to maintain a complex IT infrastructure. Focus on equipment: not networks.

To put it simply, cloud document management systems are an accurate, automated, and cost-saving document management solution for your facility.

Improve Your Manufacturing Facility Document Flow with The Cloud

Manufacturers are dealing with new global challenges, and managing documents shouldn't be one of them. Before you embrace future-driven technologies like IoT, AI, and robotics, the building blocks that properly ingest, store, and deliver your documents should be put in place first. Those building blocks exist in the Cloud. DRS can help you capture, manage, store, and deliver critical documents across your facility. Our end-to-end, cloud-driven document management system provides rapid document management, a secure, compliant infrastructure, and layers of profit-driving benefits for your facility. Contact us to learn how we can improve your efficiency, productivity, and growth in 2021.