How to Manage Version Control on Documents and 4 Reasons Why it is Essential

All of us are familiar with this situation: We save a 'final' version of a file on our computer or the office shared network. The moment we've finalized it, an email arrives with a request for a few 'small changes,' and there we have another version of our hitherto 'final' file!  Once we've handed off the document to the client or internal stakeholder, there are always a few more suggestions and edits. Another final version? Our instinctive tendency to use the word 'final' in our file naming convention is relatively meaningless!

In smaller teams, it may take a few emails back and forth to ensure that the final version is known to everyone. But in a larger organization where multiple users work collaboratively on the same documents, this situation may cause serious issues. Handing off an older version of a file to a vendor, partner, or client is not a small error and may potentially damage the company's reputation or even lead to commercial losses.

A document management software with automated version control brings order back into the scene.

What exactly is document version control?

Document version control, sometimes also called version management or revision control, is a method of tracking and managing changes made to digital files while logging the history of the changes—so all changes are traceable and reversible.

Version control software centralizes documents, so remote users work collaboratively and synchronize their content edits or modifications. Modern version control systems also merge multiple changes from different sources into the same file. Version control also works on media formats such as video and image files. The system's end goal is that all users have access to the latest version, and they can restore a previous version if required. 

The version control mechanism works in this way:

  • If a user wants to edit a file, it is checked out first. That means it is tagged as locked for editing by that user, and no one else can claim it for editing.
  • Once the modifications are complete, the document is checked in again. The system updates the document's version number, and other users can now claim it for editing (i.e., check out the document for modifications.)

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Why choose a DMS with version control?

We have all encountered a situation in which we're searching for a file and discover it has multiple versions, and we have no idea which one is the latest or correct one! And sometimes, you make changes to a file, only to find you have updated the wrong version.

The risk of working on the wrong file or an older version of a file is very high when there are multiple versions, and there is no practical way of controlling these versions, especially when users are geographically distant or remote. If someone edits, changes, or deletes a document by error, and you don't have the version control feature in your DMS to restore old versions, all work done will be lost. 

There is a strong case for adopting version control systems. Losing track of file versions or working on outdated file versions may result in expensive delays, lost revenue and reputation:

  • If an important file is accidentally overwritten or deleted and there is no way to restore the correct version, it may have serious consequences.
  • When users are unable to locate the latest or most recent version of a document, they lose valuable time, go through unnecessary frustration and may make expensive mistakes
  • Signing off old versions of files or missing out on the latest updated version leads to audit issues and or failed compliance certifications.

4 reasons why version control on documents is essential

#1 Oversee and control updated information

One of the most critical functions a DMS plays is identifying the latest version of every document generated in an organization's business process. Managers and department heads need an overview of the most recent version of each file. As new information is created and modified by multiple users, a DMS that automatically names and indexes the latest version is an absolute necessity to keep the wheels turning!

#2 Accountability

It is vital to pin down ownership of mission-critical documents to the right individual. A robust DMS identifies and assigns document owners who will oversee the document through its lifecycle—from creation to modifications and approvals. Version control features assist owners to exercise control over final versions and restore the file to an earlier version if required.

#3 Audit Trails

Sometimes the difference between the two versions of a document is too small to perceive and confuses users. A DMS with version control automatically assigns a logical and unique name to each version of a document. A note of every change made to each version is maintained.

Keeping track of change history eliminates any confusion about who made what changes and when. It also records who accepted and approved the changes. Audit trails are critical in industries with heavy compliance regulations, and where stakeholders cannot ignore accountability and legal ramifications.

#4 Collaboration

Organizations with large teams have a peculiar challenge—they must make documents accessible to multiple users across departments but mitigate the risk of exposing the information to unauthorized access, modifications without permission, or accidental deletion. How do you enable collaboration without these risks? A sophisticated DMS with fine control over access rights, user roles and permissions, and version control is the answer. 

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Why DRS?

DRS kick starts your version control program, bringing order to the chaos with Mercury—an all-in-one ECM platform that makes document management a breeze. With built-in version control and several other rich features, Mercury creates a robust and scalable document environment that supports growth and innovation. 

Contact us at DRS to solve all your document version control woes!